Forest Thinning for Forest Health – with Preserve Manager, Michael Gillogly
Our mixed hardwood and oak woodlands and forests are threatened from the incursion of small Douglas-fir trees creating dense overstocked forest conditions that reduce water availability for the whole system while also decreasing fire resilience. During my tenure as Pepperwood’s Preserve Manager, I’ve been evolving a program of forest thinning with the objective of increasing forest health. This late summer and fall have seen a flurry of activity in the forests of Pepperwood, with chainsaw crews thinning Douglas-fir trees to enhance our oak woodlands, improve wildlife habitat, reduce fuel loading and ladder fuels. The goal is to foster mature stands featuring larger trees that sequester more carbon. A fire control line has been established around the thinned areas in anticipation of Cal Fire conducting a 150 acre prescribed burn once conditions are adequate following recent rains. We are collaborating with our Native Advisory Council to restore a comprehensive cultural burning program to these lands in the years to come with leadership from staff member Clint McKay.
Ecology-backed Stewardship – with Preserve Ecologist, Michelle Halbur
As Pepperwood’s Preserve Ecologist, part of my role is measuring and reporting on indicators of forest health – especially in areas where we’re conducting stewardship like forest thinning. It’s no small feat – with 3,200 acres, we have a lot of land to cover. Our field crews have been working hard during the hot summer months surveying 15 quarter-acre plots in our forests to assess their structure and health. When we say forest structure, we’re referring to the horizontal and vertical distribution of layers in a forest including the trees, shrubs, and ground cover like vegetation as well as dead and down trees. In seven of these plots we are collecting long-term data on climate; wildlife (including small to medium sized mammals, reptiles and amphibians); and vegetation from the herbaceous layer to the upper canopy. We’ve collected data on about 1,800 trees and about 2,900 seedlings and saplings so that we can monitor the ecological impact and benefits from our forest stewardship activities.
Community Powered Land Tending – with Assistant Preserve Manager, Devyn Friedfel
One of the best parts of my job as the Assistant Preserve Manager is getting to host Community Volunteer Workdays with my colleague, Sonja Barringer. I love bringing community together around something I’m passionate about: land stewardship. It’s a way to give back to the land that sustains us, and facilitating that human-land bonding time is what I’m all about. We’ve been able to host these great events since June – the first we’ve been able to host in more than a year. Five months may seem like a short amount of time, but wait ’til you hear all that we’ve accomplished!
All of these workdays have been filled to capacity, up to 35 people. We’ve had long-time Pepperwood volunteers, as well as new folks from local organizations, such as Americorps Watershed Stewards program, an SRJC Natural Resource Management class, Medlock Ames Winery, and the Good Fire Alliance. Here’s what our volunteer community has achieved:
- Collected tens of thousands of seeds from five native grass species at Pepperwood
- Cleaned and prepared those native seeds (very tedious and time consuming AND there were 0 complaints about it!)
- Sowed those seeds into 25,000 grass plug containers
- Cut and consolidated dead fire hazard fuel by building over 40 burn piles
- Prepared burn piles for burning by removing vegetation from around the piles and covering them with wax paper
- Conducted over two miles of trail maintenance
- Prepared for our fall prescribed burn by improving our fire line
- Removed multitudes of invasive plants – more than ten different species
It’s ALL Connected…
Want to understand how all of the work at Pepperwood unites to create fire resilience? Michelle presented to the California Society for Ecological Restoration on this exact topic, and between the epic photography and the articulate storytelling, you’re bound to understand your own backyard a lot better. Check it out here! (Her presentation starts at 1:29:38)