Helping timber rise from the ashes

small tree growing

Charred logs where trees once grew serve as a reminder of the ever-present threat of wildfires to foresters. Today, herbicides are playing a larger role in mitigating the risk of these devasting events while effectively protecting seedlings from weeds and incompatible woody species that would overtake them.

Growing timber requires good planning and lots of patience. Nowhere is that truer than in California, where restrictive state and federal regulations, the ever-present threat of devastating wildfires, insect infestation, rugged terrain and drought cycles are just some of the realities foresters must deal with. There’s also the 75 years or so it takes for trees to get from a seeding to a mature tree ready for harvest.

The payoff comes in the form of some of nature’s finest-quality timber. But more than that, listening to foresters here, it’s about the opportunity to preserve the land and ensure the sustainability of the industry for the next generation.

Sierra Pacific Industries, based in Anderson, California, is a third-generation, family-owned forest products company that owns and manages over 2 million acres of timberland across California and Washington. Mark Gray is the reforestation manager for Sierra Pacific’s Coast Cascade region in northern California. He’s been involved in reforestation for nearly 25 years, and before that he spent 14 years as a herbicide contractor to the forestry industry.

“This is a fraternal industry, and foresters here want to pass our knowledge down to the new generation of foresters to help ensure the sustainability of this industry for years to come,” Gray says.

It is knowledge built on many years spent refining effective management practices to prepare foresters to deal with whatever comes their way. A big part of that is vegetation management.

Providing a strong foundation

To hear foresters like Gray talk, it’s pretty simple: Vegetation management means life or death for newly planted trees. For Sierra Pacific, herbicides are an important tool in safeguarding the 6 million trees it plants each year across its ownership. Without proper site prep in a true Mediterranean climate, competition from weeds would cause a high mortality level. Trees planted in March or April may not receive much additional rainfall until late fall, and that makes weed control crucial. 

Prior to re-establishing a forest, Sierra Pacific applicators will make what Gray calls a preharvest spray to knock vegetation back. Then, trees are harvested and the next spring a site prep application may be made. 

“We let everything emerge, treat it with a mix of Cleantraxx, Accord XRT II and Transline herbicides and then plant right through that,” Gray says. “With that mix, we’re seeing good results even in Year 2, so in many cases there is no need for further treatment.”

Applications are primarily made by ground crews of around 12 applicators. Those crews can cover between 60 and 80 acres a day walking and spraying, usually at an application rate of 10 gallons per acre.

New herbicides such as Cleantraxx® herbicide have helped Sierra Pacific and other foresters make better site prep applications. With excellent tree tolerance, Cleantraxx provides applicators with the ability to safely apply it right over the tops of seedlings, eliminating the need to shield them during an application. And the proven long-lasting residual control reduces application frequency.

In addition to effective weed control, Sierra Pacific goes the extra mile in its site prep, as part of an overall commitment to ensure the lands is well-maintained. On many sites, bulldozers are brought in for contour subsoiling. This process breaks up any compaction from previous logging and creates ridges in the soil to reduce erosion and save moisture for trees by increasing water infiltration.

Helping break the scourge of wildfire

Beyond just establishing new forest stands, vegetation management is helping protect forests from wildfires. Many foresters are making herbicide applications to control brush that emerges in established fuel breaks. These shaded fuel breaks are typically corridors with widely spaced trees in which the small trees and undergrowth have been cleared. Establishing them allows firefighters the opportunity to safely work at controlling active fires.  

“We place them in strategic positions that include ridge tops and roads that are accessible to firefighters,” Gray says. “These breaks can be as wide as 300 feet or as narrow as the width of two bulldozer blades and go for miles.”

Gray believes that establishing and maintaining these breaks is critical, and Sierra Pacific has recently added four new Vegetation Management forester positions dedicated to doing just that. While much of that work will be done with herbicides, some will utilize integrated approaches like goat herds, which are capable of clearing vegetation from even hard-to-access areas.

“We treat these fuel breaks with herbicides as needed, using Accord XRT II for the broadleaves and using Vastlan on brush species," Gray says. "Vastlan helps establish low-growing grasses to keep woody species out of these areas."

Responsibly reforesting

Certainly, even the best laid plans are hardly guaranteed to work against something as unpredictable as wildfire. And Sierra Pacific has certainly not been immune.

In the summer of 2008, near Redding, California, Sierra Pacific lost 12,000 acres to what was known as the Moon Fire. Then, in the fall of 2018, the Carr, Hirz, and Delta Fires scorched almost 350,000 acres of land north and west of Redding, including portions of the previous Moon Fire and more than 50,000 forested acres owned by Sierra Pacific.

Fires like these enact major unplanned reforestation efforts. The first step is a salvage harvest to try to recover the timber of value that remains before it deteriorates. Then, the normal site prep process begins. Cleantraxx herbicide is an important component on the acres that are reforested.

“We go in and spray, and there is no waiting to plant because of the excellent crop tolerance,” Gray says. “It helps us get these acres planted back quicker and results in a rapid restoration of the forest.”

Reforestation is good for both Sierra Pacific and the land.

“Our goal is to responsibly reforest as many acres as we can — even land that is very difficult to access,” Gray says.

Going the extra mile in site prep, wildfire prevention and reforestation are big reasons why Sierra Pacific has been producing quality timber for generations.

™ ® Trademarks of Dow AgroSciences, DuPont or Pioneer, and their affiliated companies or their respective owners. Cleantraxx and Vastlan are not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. State restrictions on the sale and use of Accord XRT II and Transline apply. Consult the label before purchase or use for full details. Always read and follow label directions.

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