PSU Old Growth Forest Ecology at Opal Creek

Last week in Jawbone Flats we welcomed the Old Growth Forest Ecology class fromPortlandStateUniversity, taught by Dr. Trygve Steen. I was able to join the class for many of the educative hikes and lectures led by Dr. Steen and his assistant John Villella.

The students formed groups and came up with their own scientific study based upon their curiosities about the ancient forest. Some chose to venture all the way up to the top of Whetstone Mountain, a 12 mile roundtrip, in order to set up motion sensor cameras to survey mammalian diversity, while others stayed close and focused on some of the more miniscule organisms.

The new coffee machine was put to the test as these eager students met in the wee hours of the morning identifying pins (small lichens and non-lichenized fungi) differentiating between truffle species, trying to coax tiny arthropods out of mosses and lichens, or doing night time amphibian surveys in old mine shafts. All in an effort to compile as much data in a three day study as humanly possible. On presentation day it was clear that they had done just that.

The group studying mammals found many signs, including scat belonging to Black Bear, Snowshoe hair, Bobcat, Cougar and Coyote. They also found a nest belonging to the illusive Red Tree Vole (Arborimus longicaudus). This small rodent spends most, if not all of its life, living in the forest canopy and specifically in ancient Douglas Fir trees. It eats the needles of the Douglas Fir like corn on the cob, chomping either side of the nutrient rich needle and leaving the small resin duct, which it does not waste but uses as nesting material. The Red Tree Vole is an old growth dependent species and the main food source of the Northern Spotted Owl, the species that helped in the effort to preserve the Opal Creek watershed.

The group studying “Pins” got up close and personal with some of the older buildings found here in Jawbone Flats. “Pins” are very small lichens, so small that you probably wouldn’t notice them unless you are our favorite lichenologist John Villella, or an ant crawling up a tree or building. Many of these species can only be found in ancient forests, because they colonize very old wood. Many of the cabins found here in Jawbone Flats are over 80 years old and are a suitable habitat for a variety of “Pins.”  The group identified 19 total species, 13 of which had not previously been identified in Opal Creek.

It was a week full of adventure, education and hard work and I am so happy to have had the opportunity to participate.