UW News

October 18, 2001

Fact sheet for reporters: Canopy research could lead to better forest management

News and Information

The crane and forest around it are closed to the general public because of safety concerns (the forest around the crane, for example, is a hard-hat area), there are scientific instruments on the forest floor and the area needs to be kept as pristine as possible for research to be meaningful. Please don’t include the crane in travel or outdoors stories leading readers or viewers to think they can visit. This will only frustrate people and cause them to be upset with the research staff.

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 gondola of the 250-foot (25-story) Wind River Canopy Crane, scientists can gather samples, install instruments and conduct experiments in the canopies of trees as tall as 220 feet. It’s at 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 such things as how trees absorb 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 timberlands.

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 crane in 1995.

Location: The Wind River Canopy Crane 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. Most researchers return to their own labs to process samples and analyze data.

Largest: The Wind River crane is the largest canopy crane ever operated in the world. Seven others are currently operating in Australia (the second tallest at 165 feet), Venezuela, Switzerland, Japan, Germany and Panama (which has two cranes).

The Wind River crane was the first in a temperate forest. Three others have since been erected in temperate forests in Switzerland, Japan and Germany, none of which have the kinds of trees that grow as tall as Douglas firs. 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 these forests is of worldwide importance.

Used by scientists from many institutions: A national scientific committee oversees research. It costs scientists $182 an hour to use the crane.

University of Washington responsible for day-to-day operations: The crane is used year-round, weather permitting. It is used most heavily from June through September.

Nearly 100 years of research: The crane is located in an area of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest known as the cradle of forest research in the Pacific Northwest. A nursery was first established at Wind River in 1902 and the PNW Research Station established the Wind River Experimental Forest in 1932. Over the years 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. 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.

Crane erected in 1995: The University of Washington bought the used Liebherr 550 HC crane for $620,000. Installing the crane took four days, required the use of 180-ton and 50-ton mobile cranes and cost $260,000. Some dimensions:
— 250 feet tall, about 25 stories
— Load jib is 279 feet long
— Counter balance jib is 85 feet long
— Crane weighs 190 tons
— Crane sits on a 635-ton concrete platform, 33 x 33 x 8 feet
— Operator’s cab is just below the load jib; operator climbs a series of ladders, a total of 300 rungs (takes 7 to 10 minutes)
— Ecologist who accompanies researchers in gondola is called an arbornaut

Website: http://depts.washington.edu/wrccrf/

Inquiries about media visits to the crane contact: Sandra Hines, University of Washington, 206-543-2580, shines@u.washington.edu

University of Washington
PR contact: Sandra Hines
Jerry Franklin, UW professor of forest resources, director of crane program, 206-543-2138, jff@u.washington.edu
Dave Shaw, UW forest ecologist and crane site director, 509-427-7028, dshaw@u.washington.edu

Pacific Northwest Research Station
PR contact: Sherri Richardson, 503-808-2137, srichardsondodge@fs.fed.us
Rick Meinzer, research team leader, 541-758-7798, fmeinzer@fs.fed.us

Gifford Pinchot National Forest
PR contact: Tom Knappenberger, 360-891-5005, tknappenberger@fs.fed.us