UW News

June 1, 1997

Canopy research could lead to better forest management

News and Information

Purpose: Just as doctors couldn’t begin to understand human health just by looking at the lower third of patients’ bodies, scientists can’t understand what makes forests thrive unless they can examine whole trees.

From the Wind River canopy crane’s gondola, scientists can gather samples, install instruments and conduct experiments in the canopies of trees as tall as 220 feet. It’s the tops of trees and tips of branches where most budding, branching and photosynthesis occur. It’s here, where the forest meets the sky, that scientists want to study how trees absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and how moisture evaporating from the forest helps cool the planet.

What is learned can be used to manage forests of many ages including timber lands.

Three partners: The University of Washington and two arms of the U.S. Forest Service, the Pacific Northwest Research Station and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, erected the 250-foot crane in 1995. (Operation of the crane would not be possible without the support and cooperation of all three partners. All three should be included in stories about the crane.)

Location: The Wind River Canopy Crane Research Facility is in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Southwest Washington. It is about 90 minutes from Portland, Ore., and four and a half hours from Seattle, Wash. The largest city in the immediate area is Stevenson, Wash., about 30 minutes from the facility.

Centerpiece of research facility: The Wind River crane is just like those looming over construction sites in many major cities. The crane’s gondola can be lowered in a 550-foot circle, giving researchers access to nearly six acres of old-growth canopy.

The U.S. Forest Service provides space for offices, a shop and staging areas. Most researchers return to their own labs to process samples and analyze data.

Largest in the world: The Wind River crane is 250 feet tall (about 22 stories) and is the largest canopy crane in the world. It’s the only one located in a temperate forest. Most of the world’s people — in North America, Europe, most of China and large portions of Russia — live near temperate forests. Learning the best ways to manage them is important the world over.

Used by scientists from many institutions: Research is overseen by a national scientific committee and a local operations committee. It costs scientists about $185 an hour to use the crane.

University of Washington responsible for day-to-day operations: The crane can be used year-round, weather permitting. Usage is heaviest between June and September.

Off limits to public: Except when guided tours are offered, the forest around the crane is closed both for safety and to keep the area as pristine as possible. It is not possible to see the crane from outside the fence surrounding the area. For tour information call (509) 427-3344 April through September.

Ninety years of research: The crane is located on the Wind River Ranger District in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in an area that’s known as the “cradle of forest research in the Pacific Northwest.” Starting in 1909, when a nursery was first established at Wind River, workers and scientists have conducted hundreds of experiments and field studies into nursery practices, seedling survival and growth, genetics and the ecology of Douglas-fir forests.

Fir and hemlock: The crane operates in a stand that is typical of old-growth Douglas fir and western hemlock forests that once covered much of the Cascade Mountains in Western Washington and Western Oregon. The forest originated hundreds of years ago, probably after a fire. The oldest trees are 500 years old. The tallest are between 180 and 220 feet.

Other tree species include western red cedar, western white pine, Pacific silver fir and grand fir. The lower tree canopy includes Pacific yew and Pacific dogwood. Shrubs include vine maple, salal, dwarf Oregon grape and vanilla leaf.

Birds include brown creepers, winter wrens, warblers, juncos and cavity nesters such as chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches and hairy and pileated woodpeckers. Spotted owls nest in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest but no pairs are found in the crane area.

Cavity nesting mammals include bats, weasels, martins and flying squirrels. Thus far, the Douglas squirrel is the most often sighted animal. Large mammals include bear, elk, bobcats, deer, cougars and coyotes.

Weather: Up to 100 inches of precipitation falls each year, most of it from October to May. Drought conditions prevail each summer, making the stand only a seasonal temperate rain forest.


Overview of projects

University, agency researchers and students among those using crane

More than 45 projects: In the first two years of operation, more than 45 research projects have been completed, are under way or have been approved for crane time. The projects involve more than 70 researchers from more than a dozen agencies and institutions such as the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Forest Service and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.

From forest structure to wildlife: What is learned can be used to manage forests of many ages and timber lands. Research topics fall into the general areas of:
Insects and diseases
Forest structure

Comprehensive list of projects: For abstracts, see the World Wide Web at http://weber.u.washington.edu/~wrccrf/ or call Sandra Hines for a printed copy.

On board a gondola over a sea of trees: Among the newest projects are half a dozen funded by a Department of Energy program trying to understand the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed and given off by forests, prairies and coastal areas; how ecosystems might be affected by climate change and the ways society might respond.

Although the crane is a hundred miles from salt water, the block of new projects even includes oceanographers as principal investigators. In general, they are interested in coastal processes concerning climate change but need inland data for perspective.

Projects are funded through the energy department’s National Institute for Global Environmental Change (NIGEC) and its western regional center (WESTGEC), both located at University of California Davis.


Who to call

Contacts for general information about the crane: The Wind River Canopy Crane Research Facility was established with support from the:

University of Washington, Seattle, Wash.
Spokesman: Jerry Franklin, professor with the College of Forest Resources
(206) 543-2138 or jfranklin@lternet.edu
For help: Sandra Hines, News and Information
(206) 543-2580 or shines@u.washington.edu

USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station, 11 labs in the Pacific Northwest
Spokeswoman: Sarah Greene, Research Natural Area scientist, Corvallis, Ore.
(541) 750-7360 or greenes@fsl.orst.edu
For help: Sherri Richardson, public affairs specialist, Portland, Ore.
(503) 326-7132 or /S=S.RICHARDSON/OV1=R06A@mhs- fswa.attmail.com

USFS Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Spokesman, PR help: Tom Knappenberger, public affairs officer, Vancouver, Wash.
(360) 891-5005

Contacts at crane site
David Shaw, canopy crane site director and University of Washington forest ecologist
(360) 427-7028 or dshaw@u.washington.edu
Buz Baker, arbornaut and forest ecologist
Mark Creighton, crane operator

Chair of national scientific committee
Nalini Nadkarni, forest ecologist with Evergreen State College
(360) 866-6000 ext. 6621 or nadkarnn@elwha.evergreen.edu

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