Bark Alert: Report from the Field

Celebrate Bark’s fieldwork!

This summer, Bark adapted our field work in order to safely operate during the pandemic. More than 50 new volunteers trained for groundtruthing and wetland surveys via webinar; Ecology Club and Bark About leaders navigated online platforms to continue connecting community members with the forest; and Bark volunteers gathered on-the-ground information about the forests we depend on. With one month left for fair weather field work, Bark volunteers have already surveyed over 40 units of ZigzagGrasshopper, and Pocket Timber Sales, started mapping wetlands in Mt. Hood National Forest, and continued surveying beaver habitat.

volunteer wearing a sun hat points to pooling water in wetland while on a beaver habitat survey

Bark volunteer measuring water depth at a wetland site.

Last month, Bark volunteers groundtruthed the Pocket Timber Sale, a logging proposal planned by the Forest Service in the Hood River District. During this trip, I had the chance to compare an area of never-logged forest to a plantation just downhill. The unlogged area was filled with 4 to 5-foot-wide Doug firs, Grand firs, and Engelmann spruce. Large snags and fallen, decaying trees abounded providing ample homes for the many birds we heard. Crumbling logs and exposed roots nursed saplings and herbaceous plants while insects crawling through them provided food for the deer and bear whose trails we followed through the forest. While following deer steps under, over, and around massive logs, we marveled at the lack of cut stumps and the lush understory.

Photo taken within the Pocket Timber Stale Project Area

Lower on the hill was the plantation. As we walked into it, the light darkened as the trees surrounding us became smaller, denser, and more uniform. The biggest tree in the previous area was 59 inches wide while one of the bigger trees in the plantation was a quarter of that. Similarly-sized logs covered the ground, making it impossible to navigate without scrambling over piles of small trunks precariously stacked atop one another. These tightly spaced trees and fallen logs left little light for understory plants, marking a vast difference between the brown ground of the plantation and the vibrant green understory of the forest just uphill.

View of plantaion floor from within Pocket Timber Sale

Getting firsthand experience of these differences is part of what makes groundtruthing such a meaningful way to interact with the forest. Groundtruthing is a powerful act of community oversight because we witness and record areas planned to be logged. This requires paying attention to details, looking for clues to understand an area's history, and continually asking questions about the impact that the Forest Service’s plans will inevitably have on the climate, waterways, and the many beings who depend on the forest’s health. More broadly, groundtruthing is an opportunity to notice and experience the many ways the Forest Service influences this land. Whether it be the maze of roads, the plastic mesh mixed amongst old stumps in a meadow (evidence of failed attempts to replant a clear cut), or the recently marked and felled trees scattered throughout a unit, more time spent walking through the forest necessarily brings up more questions about the ways the Forest Service manages the land.

One of the exciting aspects of Bark’s new Beaver Habitat and Wetland Survey and Restoration Project is that it is an opportunity to interact with backcountry wetlands in a similar way. When out on beaver habitat and wetlands surveys, we search for evidence of past beaver activity, identify the types of wetlands around Mt. Hood, and try to understand how these wetlands came to be — all while working toward restoration and a better understanding of potential effects on water flow and quality. While our work with wetlands in the Clackamas is paused due to the Riverside Fire and current public closure of Mt. Hood National Forest, the presence of fires in the area will provide a unique opportunity to see how wetlands can influence the course of fires and regeneration. 

We’ll need as much help as possible in the coming months as we adapt our work to these new landscapes. There are still many days this year to get into the forest with Bark; so if you are interested in participating in this work, watch these training videos and reply to this email to get involved!

Between the pandemic and the fires, this is a difficult time for many Barkers. For some, homes and loved ones have been lost, and for many, the places that we treasure are changing significantly. It seems many of us are learning a lot about grief this year. While I am sad that we can’t currently be together in the forest, I want to take a few moments to celebrate Bark’s work and invite you to join us as we continue to grow and adapt with these new landscapes. 

Thank you to everyone who has helped make this summer’s work possible! 

       Misha VanEaton, Bark Forest Watch Assistant