Wildlife can be hard for forest owners to bear


Wildlife is something that all forest owners have to deal with, for better or worse. Yes, animals are beautiful to see, but they can also harm your trees. The Capital Press and Coos Bay World both did stories in the last week on the struggle of forest owners to control the damage of black bears in Washington and Oregon. In search of sap, the bears tear off bark at ground level, killing or heavily damaging trees.

Ken Miller, a forest owner near Olympia, told the Capital Press that bears have damaged half his trees and that one-fifth of the damaged trees are dead.

“I enjoy the wildlife,” he said. “If only they could take every third tree and thin my crop for me. But they’ll destroy holes in the crop.”

Tree farms and “reprod,” the uniform-age trees planted after clearcuts, are the most vulnerable to bears, according to the Coos Bay World. These types of forests are nothing new, but for some reason, landowners are seeing an unprecedented amount of damage from bears in the last few years. State officials say that may be because more bears are learning how to strip bark, but that in the end, bears are a mysterious animal about which humans still don’t know a lot.

Bill Hitner, a timberland owner in Coos County, is a cautionary tale demonstrating how bad the bears can be.

In 1991, Hitner planted 380 trees per acre on one 78-acre parcel. Since then, he has been counting the trees that remain on sample plots.

In 2002, 341 trees per acre were left alive. In 2010, that number had dwindled to 88. Of that number, 21 are likely to die, and 44 are so damaged that their timber yield will be reduced. That leaves 23 healthy trees per acre, with some acres down to five, he said.

Between seedlings, planting, three courses of herbicide spray and some hand brush control, he has spent $406 an acre.

Hitner planned to harvest the trees at 40 years of age, expecting to net $7,600 an acre. Instead, because of the bears, he’s looking at almost a total loss.

Groups like the Washington Farm Forestry Association and Washington Forest Protection Association provide some help.

Georg Ziegltrum, animal damage control program director at the Forest Protection Association, said he works with industrial-scale growers, but smaller operations can use the same process of applying for (bear) hunt permission. “It’s a pretty good, pretty fast, pretty safe process. We usually get a permit within one or two days.”

Speaking of wildlife, no species has had more impact on the U.S. timber industry than the spotted owl. The spotted owl, of course, isn’t doing well right now because of the arrival of a more aggressive species: the barred owl. So much so that the U.S. Forest Service is planning to shoot barred owls to protect their quieter, endangered cousins.

The Yakima Herald-Republic took a compelling look this week at the differences between barred owls and spotted owls. The barred owls are so aggressive about protecting their habitat that they will ram or even kill spotted owls nearby, and they are much more resourceful hunters, eating snails or frogs while spotted owls eat only rats and squirrels.

The story makes you realize why the barred owls are so effective at keeping the spotted owl species down, but it’s still an open question about whether shooting barred owls will solve the problem.

“It’s the survival of the fittest,” says (Dale) Phipps, the Yakima wildlife technician. “Don’t get me wrong — we do root for the spotties. They’re the gentle one. But … if we get rid of (barred owls) today, they’re going to be back tomorrow. The barreds are more aggressive. They’re prolific. You’d have to (kill them) continually.

“I don’t see the point in that.”