Lifetime forester Javier Goirigolzarri leads forestry tours where community members get off the beaten path and into areas where fire has impacted the landscape. Javier’s passion for education and forestry is obvious as he immerses members of the tour into the story of what happens to the forest after fire.
Staff Writer | Communities For Healthy Forests | 9/16/2022
Communities for Healthy Forests asked Javier for more details about the way forestry tours impact the people who choose to look deeper into woods.
Communities for Healthy Forests: What’s the goal of a forestry tour?
Javier Goirigolzarri: We talk about these issues of forestry and we take photographs about different aspects of forestry, we write about them to go along with the photograph. If we are lucky we are able to capture some video and tell the story verbally while the audience is looking at the video.
But you still can’t get the magnitude of what we are talking about unless you are out there in the middle of it all. Because you can’t bring that into a 12-inch screen or monitor or overhead projector to accurately depict the story because it’s a big story. When you are on tour you have time to share details of that big story. You can’t do that in a 20-minute segment at a rotary club meeting.
CHF: What are some key things you point out to people?
JG: A lot of different things around fire, how fire behaves and what it does to the landscape, and what happens after the fire for decades, generations at times. Different types of forests and how they were established and the condition they are today and what could be done in those forests to insure they do not become a catastrophic event tomorrow or next year.
CHF: What are those things that could be done?
JG: Reducing the fuels. Creating corridors that are fuel breaks where the firefighters have the opportunity to stop the fire at that point. However they need to do that. By thinning. Spacing the trees out so that those trees – the ones left over – are able to grow and survive and thrive. You remove the sickly, weak ones so they do not become fodder for the fires, leaving everything crowded and dense. Opening up the canopy so that when the fire does come through the ground or the canopy there isn’t a contiguous blanket of fuel that carries that fire or traps the heat under the canopy and cooks those treetops. It doesn’t burn them, it cooks them and kills the entire stand of trees that then become the snag patch that becomes the huge fuel loading for the next fire that comes through.
CHF: People say to leave those burned areas the way they are because they will come back on their own. You are showing how stands of trees come back on their own without help. The brush was incredible and dense.
JG: The people that say leave the forest alone to come back naturally don’t talk about it coming back in centuries. They leave that part out. We recognize that if we don’t somehow actively intervene in the rehabilitation of these burns, it will be centuries before there is a coniferous forest in those areas.
We saw all kinds of spectrums there today. When people say brush field I think people think oh,
sage brush, right it’s a brush field. But in a conifer forest, especially ones like the ones I knew before it burned to see it what it looks like today and what it is going to continue to look like for decades and maybe centuries because it’s going to burn again and it’s going to burn again after that and it’s going to leave
no seed source for the new baby trees to grow. It’s easy to say brush field, but my goodness when it’s so thick you can’t walk through it, you can’t see five feet through it and it’s 20 feet tall, it’s tinder. It’s gasoline that is ready to catch fire and burn. Everything that has come up, like good things like seedlings that come up through there naturally – they don’t survive it. Those big parent trees that spawned these seeds we were walking in the middle of – they are still green. But they are going to die too and there will be none.
CHF: When you manage those plots, what’s the difference with active management?
JG: The active management side of the plots we did was very simplistic. All we did was introduce some seedlings of various species and spacing on that side of the plot. We didn’t do any thinning or brush control, we just put seedlings there to see how they do and how the natural seedlings – if there are any that germinate in here – how they do and how they compare. In several cases the only seedlings we saw were the ones we had planted. In some of the cases, for every one we had planted there were fifty more that had come in. So the learning opportunity with that says there are some areas we don’t need to worry about planting. But there are other areas that we need to do a much better job about planting because even the ones we planted don’t survive unless we control the brush and vegetation and do these other things.
CHF: There is going in and planting, but there is also salvaging a plot, clearing the brush and taking the timber and then planting.
JG: At the time we planted there was very little brush. There were snags, we were planting through the snags and so on. The snags don’t hinder the successful growth of the seedlings we plant. What they do create is an obstruction to firefighters coming in and protecting the work we have done – the seedlings we have planted and it creates a very intense fire situation that nearly sterilizes the soil or at least makes that soil so inhospitable for any natural seedlings to come in they just can’t survive. It turns that top A horizon layer into gravel. There is no organic matter, there’s no duff, there is none of those elements that soil needs in order to grow conifer trees.
On the other hand, the brush seeds that were there the first time they generate and they take root and grow. When the next fire comes, it burns the top of the bush away, but it doesn’t kill the bush. It just burns the top off. So there will be barely little fingers sticking up out of the ground, but the root system is underground. By the time the ground cools, those roots are sprouting new growth. Within the first year, it’s not unusual to see four-foot tall brush, in the second year it’s double in height and continues to grow and it dominates the site.
CHF: What are some of the things people say after they come out of the forest when they haven’t had much experience with the things we have been talking about?
JG: So often, people are just aghast at what they have seen. Because they drive up and down this river corridor often for decades but haven’t gotten back into the hills to see the after effects of these fires year after year after year and they are astounded how it looks like a wasteland out there. Now we have the Archie Fire that burned down through this canyon and we’ll see this for the next 50 years and how it recovers. If we are lucky, it will be an interesting contrast that they will be able to observe because we have a mixed ownership pattern through here where you have private landowners, small ones and larger industrial ones that have removed the dead material, salvaged the timber and came back and
replanted those forests to return them to a productive state so they turn into brush fields and right next to them we have blm patches that have been left alone, untouched. The snags are there, they will fall over and create a fire hazard for the blm ownership as well as for their neighbors who have invested so heavily in trying to grow the next conifer forest. Then you go up the river and you have the large block of the forest service which is even more largely untouched landscape so people will be able to see how the recovery of all this progresses and it will be a very interesting contrast we will observe. Unfortunately it will may well take 50 years for people to look at this and learn and decide maybe we should do things differently. In the meantime we may lose these forests all over again.
Communities for Healthy Forests is always planning the next Forestry Tour. For more information on the tours, or to join our next trip into the forest, subscribe to our newsletter or email email@example.com.
Javier graduated from Oregon State University with degrees in Forest Management and Business Administration. His career has taken him to most of Oregon’s forested areas over the last five decades, starting out as a firefighter. For the last 20 years in his consulting firm Resource Management Services, he has been helping small woodland owners maintain their forests for their families. You can reach Javier at firstname.lastname@example.org.