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Fire and Forests

Waldo Lake Forests
The Waldo Lake Wilderness is located in the Willamette National Forest. The 37,162 acre Waldo Lake Wilderness ranges in elevation from 2,800 to 7,144 feet. Waldo Lake, the obvious namesake of the wilderness, is one of the cleanest large lakes in the world. It has no permanent inlet to bring nutrients into the lake for plant growth. A secchi dish, a visual tool used to measure the clarity of water, can be seen at a depth of 125 feet. It's unfortunate we didn't have the opportunity to see it. The forests around Waldo are also quite interesting, however.

Excluding the lake, the wilderness is 98% forested. The High Cascades are mostly mountain hemlock, Douglas-fir, Lodgepole pine, and some true fir. Some of the other trees we saw in the Waldo lake area were Pacific Silver Fir Abies amabilis, Grand Fir Abies grandis, and a Ponderosa Pine Pinus ponderosa.

These high elevation forests are slow growing and covered with snow much of the year. This has limited the amount of logging that has occurred in these stands, which makes them good areas to observe landscape level patterns of fire disturbance. Under the current wilderness distinction no logging is allowed, of course. A significant amount of US wilderness areas are not forested, rock and ice or desert, or they contain forests like those at Waldo that are of marginal commodity value. You just will not see many trees the size of the one to the right in wilderness areas. Most of these very large trees were cut down first because of their size and because these larger trees were generally in bottom-lands and close to waterways which were used for transportation.

One of the most interesting organisms we covered in the Waldo Lake forests was Laminated Root Rot. The disease is a typical root and butt rot, which causes expanding centers of mortality. Laminated Root Rot is restricted in distribution to the PNW and Inland Empire area, but it occurs on a variety of important conifers here and causes very significant losses. The spores of this fungus don't seem to play much of a role in its distribution. All the inoculum of significance comes from infected stumps and roots. It can't grow through soil but root contacts and grafts are sufficient to get it around.

There are two forms of the pathogen, one on western red cedar and the other on Douglas-fir. Phellinus weirii, the traditional name, went with the one on cedar and the more important one on Douglas-fir is called Phellinus sulphurascens. There is a range of resistance to these diseases. Pines, cedars and hardwoods are most resistant (to the Douglas-fir form).

Although the disease causes high fatality in Waldo Lake forests, it contributes to forest diversity. Furthermore, it provides refugium (seed source) for both early and late successional species. Promotion of species diversity by disease, however, is not limited to Phellinus sp. Moderate frequency disturbance in general helps maintain and increase species diversity in many ecosystems. In the Cascade forests disease, fire, and insects are important parts of functioning ecosystems. We have much to learn about how these ecosystem elements interact with other forest ecosystem functions and organisms. We do know, however, that functioning forest ecosystems are vital to our well-being. I hope you enjoyed this short tour of these issues and you are inspired to learn more.

Related Links

Forest & Shade Tree Pathology State University of New York

Ecological Subregions of the US

Waldo Lake Forests





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