Oaks See the Light on Ridgefield's Carty Unit

A crew brought in by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe has been removing fir trees from Ridgefield NWR’s Carty Unit since March 18th, creating some “elbow room” for Oregon white oak.

A crew brought in by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe has been removing fir trees from Ridgefield NWR’s Carty Unit since March 18th, creating some “elbow room” for Oregon white oak.

 

The buzz of chainsaws and the echo of trees impacting the ground have co-mingled with the chatter of wildlife at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge’s Carty Unit since March 18th. As the project is reaching the end of its first phase of completion, the landscape has changed - and it’s pretty stunning.

Stacks of Douglas fir trees dot the area surrounded by the Refuge’s Oaks-to-Wetlands trail. What once felt like a heavily shaded forest, now beams with light, illuminating the spring buds of Oregon white oak leaves. What was once a vision to return the area to a thriving oak woodland is becoming reality.

A two-person crew, one operating a chainsaw and one operating the heavy lifting machinery, are delivering on the challenging task of removing very large fir trees, while leaving Oregon white oak largely untouched. The highly regarded crew was hired by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe for their ability to handle a job that requires this kind of precision. Eli Asher, who is representing the Cowlitz Indian Tribe in this collaborative effort, noted that a traditional logging operation would have less concern for its impact on surrounding trees, particularly in a clear-cutting scenario. The oak release project at Ridgefield NWR, on the other hand, requires a lot more selectivity and care in determining which trees come down and how.

The project has been a tremendous success so far, even if not every tree in the original plan has come down. Some Douglas fir have been left in place to provide a wind buffer to small stands of red cedar trees. Other Douglas fir were simply too entangled with their neighboring oak trees to take down without significant damage risk to the oaks. These are the normal, adaptive decisions that Refuge biologists have been working on with the crew, to determine what the final site will look like.

The last trees came down on April 17th, nearly a month to the day from when the project began. Following this milestone, the fir trees will begin their removal from the Refuge and travel to their next life as an integral part of a stream restoration project on Abernathy Creek to benefit salmon. That project has been underway by Cowlitz Indian Tribe since 2012 and the ability to acquire fir trees the age and size of those at Ridgefield NWR will be a tremendous boost to the restoration effort.

Tree removal was, of course, just the first stage of restoring a thriving oak woodland. The Refuge and Friends will continue the effort by planting native understory vegetation and establishing a new trail. Also remember that even though the trees are down and on their way out, access through the site will remain closed into at least June 2019 as Refuge staff monitor for falling debris. Once deemed safe, Refuge staff will assess the trail for improvement needs and announce the schedule for reopening a new and improved recreational experience.