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Soil or Smoke?

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Location: NW California, 1500-1800ft,
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Soil or Smoke? :
Why and how permaculture can reduce wildfire risk while improving farmland fertility, with examples from Taa-'at-dvn Chee-ne' Tetlh-tvm' (Crescent City Food Forest)

I am a permaculture student, teacher, designer, consultant and on the ground practitioner. I hope to ultimately be an old-growth food forest instigator. I have been a professional environmental steward and educator for my entire career in one way or another. Working as a landscaper, gardener, trail worker, restorationist, park ranger, and teacher has informed how I understand permaculture design. My work experience in these related but varied fields shaped my implementation of permaculture practices and ethics, which I see as the synthesis of science with my highest ideals and aspirations. In my understanding, the essence of permaculture is to take responsibility for ourselves while doing good for the Earth and humanity. I can understand how it may be difficult to see ways to be a force for a greater good right now. In this article I hope to communicate how every person who grows food or pays someone to do it for them can take part in helping convert potential pollutants and hazards to humanity into sources of soil fertility, watershed health, and bio-diverse abundance.

I love forests of all kinds, and am planting hundreds of trees each year on mostly degraded and difficult land to grow on. The Earth needs more forests, and humanity will always need diverse, nutritious food, so I design and plant diverse food forests. At the same time, I know the Earth has never had so much young forest, and re-growing forests following logging or other disturbance generally require active human management for their first few centuries. If not actively managed, nature will usually do its own thing with fire, and is rarely convenient for people. On the bright side, woody debris, young trees, and dense underbrush characteristic of young, fire prone forests are also excellent resources for regenerating healthy, fertile soil. With soil loss being one of our nation’s oldest and largest problems, it would seem that if we have a solution that also reduces wildfire risk and helps restore watersheds at the same time, we might want to do so in every way we can.

Before industrial logging, relatively small patches of young forest recovering from fire, flood, wind, or infestation would go through ecosystem succession that naturally thins out the vast majority of young trees. The non-human mechanisms included herbivores, insects, fungi, windfall, and almost always wildfire. Massive, catastrophic canopy fires were rare because adjacent, large intact old-growth forests were so fire-resistant that they acted as firebreaks. This is in part because they held so much water in the large living trees, massive nurse logs and snags, and yards-deep spongy, humus rich soil, that they could literally create their own fog and rain. In addition, many old trees had fire retardant tannic bark a foot thick. Another essential and oft underappreciated factor in historic fire cycles lies in how coastal old-growth forests were actively managed by people (Yurok, Kuruk, Tolowa, Hoopa to name a few local to us), whose cultures coevolved for innumerable generations to live in and around them.  People periodically burned the understory (small trees and brush) at strategic intervals to make these old-growth coastal forests more hospitable to humans, and in doing so helped them become largely immune to catastrophic fires.

In my opinion, as much as we have lost forest, we have lost the predominance of cultures that coevolved with and stewarded forests. We can learn a great deal from these local cultures while supporting their resurgence, and will all benefit from doing so. Yet we are in a landscape with problems like wildfire and soil loss that those local indigenous cultures would likely never have created. This is not about blame, it’s about understanding the nature of our current problems so we can turn them into solutions that benefit all of us and our descendants. Nobody should be held responsible for their ancestors’ actions, but we can all learn to be better ancestors ourselves.

In my decade-plus of experience in ecological restoration, I’ve seen that in most cases the best available tools to undo the damage of industrial extractive civilization are the very ones used to cause it in the first place. Similarly, restoration projects with many benefits can employ those with skills to run those machines who are often out of work due to depleted resources. In this way positive ecological and economic feedback loops replace self-destructive and exploitative ones. If heavy equipment operating restorationists run themselves out of work, that will be a very good problem for society to have. Every homeowner and gardener can apply the principles I will discuss below by hand, and would benefit from doing so. However, these methods can and must be scaled up with dormant excavators, backhoes, bulldozers, chainsaws, feller-bunchers, and wood-chippers and the people who know how to run and maintain them all being essential to restoring extensive landscapes of forest and farmland.

When a resource goes unutilized, it becomes a pollutant – Bill Mollison

We can choose to use the unprecedented and exceedingly abundant resources of sickly young trees and woody debris in our young forests in a biologically and economically beneficial way, or allow it to continue to be an unprecedented risk to our lives, landscapes and livelihoods. Helping dead and unhealthy wood become the biological sponge it can be by putting it in contact with soil and the life therein is the key to turning the wildfire fuel problem into a solution to soil loss. Soil life will decompose wood with fire retardant fungi, eventually becoming rich spongy humus, which improves the soil’s water retention while potentially storing carbon for millennia. This is in addition to producing food, medicine, wildlife and human habitat. Native fire practices can also then be more easily reintegrated because the forest is in a healthier state more similar to what these techniques were historically designed for.

The basics are really quite simple. Have you ever noticed that fire, like a housecat, doesn’t like getting wet? So, it seems obvious that water management is a key to living with fire. In addition to being an excellent cat and fire repellent, another amazing quality of water is that it can be used innumerable times by a nearly infinite number of species without being exhausted. Old-growth forests have mastered reusing water, and we can learn from and mimic the patterns we see in these amazing ecosystems that support more life than any other on Earth, and clearly thrive in our bioregion.

Woody debris of varied sizes is an integral component of our old-growth forest ecosystems, with over ¾ of the water in August being held in dead wood like nurse logs and large snags. Trees grow largely in soil of their own making. Above and below ground, trees and other plants grow and die back annually (even evergreens), and in doing so pump immense amounts of carbon into the soil. For every decaying leaf you see, there’s an equal amount of root decomposing underground as well. This healthy forest soil gets packed so full of spongy carbon based organic matter that it holds 1/3 its volume in water. At 6-12ft deep, the soil of healthy old growth forests is the equivalent of a lake of equal surface area averaging 2-4ft deep, and which continually seeps clean water downstream. These massive woody sponges, like the large living trees themselves, are extremely fire resistant. This is largely because a healthy forest has so much water holding capacity and so many ecological niches it can use the same raindrop over and over again as it passes through innumerable living things of mind boggling diversity, and each organism just makes the sponge larger. Going through thousands of species, a single raindrop falling on an old-growth redwood can take over 70 years to circuitously make its way into a river downstream, supporting decades of diverse life along the way.

Tall trees like redwoods, Douglas firs and Sitka spruce also absorb most of the water evaporated from the soil below in their canopy, and provide their ecosystem with twice as much water as they consume. Their canopy alone absorbs up to ¾” per hour of rain, allowing them to utilize much of the immense winter rain we get for use in our dry summers. Each large tree has many acres of surface area on its innumerable leaves, and all this has to be saturated before any runs off. What does run off, is then more fertile due to its inoculation and fertilization by insects, birds, and fungi on these large trees, which support evolutionary islands of soil life in their massive branch shoulders. These canopy soil pockets often host their own endemic microscopic species, with the individual giant trees acting evolutionarily like the islands of the Galapagos.. An immense amount of water from winter storms and snowmelt is held in old growth forests, much like a glacier, and this is an ecological water bank for anywhere downstream and downwind. Remember what doesn’t like water? Housecats and fire.

What water vapor does escape the canopy seeds rainclouds downwind. Trees host bacteria that can go airborne by hitching a ride on this water vapor, and these microbes are responsible for the formation of most raindrop nuclei over land. So forests can literally make it rain. Coastal forests hold winter storm water in their spongy woody biomass through the summer, when it is evaporated through transpiration as they photosynthesize and grow (for every sugar molecule made, a CO2 molecule is taken in, and an O2 and H20 goes out). Virtually all summer moisture more than 150mi inland of a coast has been through a coastal tree that caught and held precipitation from the rainy season. When the coast was covered in 2-million acres of old-growth, with each large tree evapo-transpiring around 500gal of water per day into the atmosphere, and ten large trees per acre, that amounted to 10-billion gallons of water, from the large trees alone, to seed rain clouds and humidity downwind. The prevailing winds from the North Coast rainforests took those rain clouds and humidity east, right to where the worst fires in recorded history have occurred in the last few years. In addition to being largely regrowth forests with large numbers of relatively young trees, inland forests are in a predictable drought that results from removing the coastal rainforest sponge. Coastal rainforests prime and moderate the entire water cycle. In Australia, this pattern of desertification inland of coastal deforestation is called “the California effect.” Working together, I believe we could implement the “California solution”.

In permaculture, the problem is the solution. We can decide, is this the darkness of the tomb or the darkness of the womb? Instead of dwelling on what has been lost, can we see the unprecedented opportunity for restoration surrounding us? Global watershed experts have said that if we wanted to restore the hydrology and watersheds of North America, and maybe even the world, we could start nowhere better than Northern California. That is largely why I live and make my stand here.

It takes decades, even centuries, for a tree to become ecologically and hydrologically positive in any way resembling old-growth. Selective thinning can provide a harvest to reward forest regrowth projects while simultaneously increasing the growth and health of remaining trees. We must regrow our coastal forests, and prioritize retaining the larger, more fire resistant and ecologically beneficial trees for as long as possible.  However, just like a clump of carrot seedlings, in regrowth forests, the vast majority of any dense clump of young trees will die before maturity as they compete for sunlight, space, water, and soil nutrients.

Nature’s ways of dealing with dead and dying wood are fire, and biological decomposition via herbivores, insects, fungi, bacteria. Many of the latter organisms are in population decline due to loss of habitat, and widespread use of household and agricultural herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. With 96%+ of the west’s forestland being regrowth, we also have an unprecedented amount of relatively small dead trees and underbrush. Many of us who live here are well aware of how brush acts as a ladder for fire to reach and torch even the healthiest and tallest trees that are so beneficial to everything around them. Ladder fuels can lead to catastrophic canopy burns of larger trees and entire ecosystems, which we have seen on an unprecedented scale the past few years.

On a large scale, historic native low intensity burn practices seem to be essential, as they are in many ways the most efficient and proven way to go. Native cultures here have shown them to work long term on large landscapes. However, with an unprecedented amount of understory and brush needing to be managed, and this posing unprecedented risk for every burn, much of the woody debris could be beneficially diverted into soil building and water retention practices that are smoke free.

Many gardeners and landscapers are aware of the benefits of wood chips for water and fertility retention in soil, and I have long advocated for a CCC scale “Great Mulching” of the American west. This is just one way to use woody debris from fuel reduction, but it could be greatly expanded and expedited by supportive collaboration with fire and land management agencies that need help managing fuel filled forests. Local fire-safe councils and forest service offices are a place to start and get involved, as they often have large chippers for public use to encourage wildfire fuel reduction. We could also get together to have collective community understory clearing efforts, with every homeowner or community garden nearby with enough space to grow some strawberries (and many other plants) in deep mulch getting all they could want. With millions of acres of regrowth forests in the west needing fire mitigation, there could be more than enough wood chips going to local farms and ranches for livestock bedding to significantly reduce water use and manure/fertilizer runoff contaminating everything downstream. Feller-bunchers and other logging equipment can also be used to break down dead standing small trees that dry out quickly and put them in contact with soil right where they are. This wood will then become part of the soil sponge and retain water in the ecosystem.  Woodchips and the like are energy intensive options though, and just the tip of the soil-berg.

If you have ever walked through an old-growth forest, you’ve probably noticed that trees and numerous other plants and fungi often grow on fallen trees, or nurse logs. An old central-European method that mimics these nurse logs is called Hugelkultur (roughly translates to raised bed in German). It is essentially a lasagna style raised bed with layers of wood and native soil. One can also include optional layers of manure or other organic matter (kelp, weed seed free yard waste, food scraps etc.), and ideally a top layer of compost to inoculate it all with beneficial microbes and help the first planting succeed. The sponge of decaying embedded wood can hold 1/3 the bed’s volume in water, and greatly reduce or even eliminate the need for irrigation. Established six-foot tall hugelkultur beds can go without irrigation for six months, allowing for dry farming of many crops. Many fruit growers insist dry farmed fruit is vastly superior in flavor, and when irrigation is unnecessary many costs and other hassles are avoided. Hugelkultur is a very forgiving and resilient technique based on natural processes but common mistakes include:

- Burying wood chips) Wood chips come from larger pieces of wood that have had their surface area drastically increased. This creates the need for soil nitrogen to decompose that wood surface, creating a temporary deficit for plants. The nitrogen deficit only occurs in a bubble a fraction of a millimeter thick around the surface of any given piece of wood. While older logs are higher in carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, larger pieces naturally have low surface area to volume, and so they cause little nitrogen deficit problems relative to their immense moisture holding capacity benefits. Ramial wood (from smaller trees or branches) naturally has higher nitrogen to carbon ratio, making it easily decomposed without causing a nitrogen deficit. Basically, bury wood in as close to its live form and size as possible. Use chips for mulch.

- Leaaving wood sticking out of the bed from inside) Much like a small dead standing tree, an exposed stick acts like a moisture wick and dries out the soil touching it. This makes it necessary to contradict the prior tip and lop off long branches and break down bendy pieces at times to ensure full burial of the wood. Y-shaped sticks on the top/outer layer of wood help hold soil in place on steeply sloped sides. One of the last steps is always to remove what sticks you cannot bury, or lop them off below the surface.

- Using redwood, cedar, black locust or treated wood) The complex natural tannins in these (and some other well preserved) species makes them very slow to rot by suppressing fungus and other decomposers. We want decomposers to be active and abundant in breaking down the wood in the hugelkulture bed into humus rich soil. They are also often very valuable for their long-lived usefulness as fence posts, raised bed frames and in other soil and water contact outdoor applications. Treated wood can carry toxins that I avoid altogether. Any wood should be considered for a use that could precede it going into a hugelkulture bed. Broken untreated indoor furniture can easily become hugel wood, but it’s harder to take the wood out of a hugel bed and make a chair.

- Using wood contaminated by biocides (fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides)) Many of the most common products are registered antibiotics and have shown persistence in wood and soil for decades. Broad-leaf herbicides are designed to kill any non-grasses, and any biocide will suppress unintended types of soil life as well. In some places it can be hard to find anything local that’s entirely free of contamination, but do the best you can to know the source of your wood. This goes for woodchips as well. It makes me wonder, do we really want to put poison on everything?

- Making layers of wood that are too thick) This inevitably leaves large air pockets where soil doesn’t reach. This dries out the bed and increases settling over time that can expose plant roots and destabilize them. Start another layer any time the previous one is 90% covered, With each layer, either bounce on the bed like a trampoline, or use an excavator/backhoe bucket to settle the soil. A bed with 1/3 wood, which is composed of 90%+ carbon (organic matter is mostly carbon), will inherently have 10%+ organic matter. Soil this high in organic matter will be virtually impossible to over-compact, much like the spongy, springy old-growth forest soil.

- Unintentionally building a dam embedded with dry wood, which floats!) Leave this to beavers. Avoid blocking any drainage completely with wood. Always leave an outlet level sill and at least 1% grade around the bed for water to flow passively. Armor edges in flood prone areas with rocks and plants. The main danger is in the first storm when the embedded wood is dry and buoyant and the soil has yet to be filled with living plant roots. Be especially careful directly uphill of structures.

- Forgetting that “I am not as young as I used to be, nor as strong as I’d like to imagine myself to be”) This leads to failing to enlist the help of friends, neighbors, local youth or elders in need of usefulness to others. In many cases it makes sense to rent an excavator that can do a month of hand labor in a day. Many of us would benefit from a good day’s soul labor moving wood and dirt, but it would also be easy to pay off the excavator’s expense in a single season’s worth of harvests off a larger hugelkulture bed.

Woody Debris Filled Absorption and Drainage Trenches:

An inverted application of similar principles to hugelkulture are woody debris filled trenches that can function as a French drain, outlasting pipes or gravel in function by decades, even centuries, in long-term tests uncovered in archeological excavations of Ancient Roman structures using them. One caveat is to use gravel and drain tile pipe instead of wood within 10ft of any structure to prevent the foundation sinking, as wood does decompose and settle. The added benefit of wood is its function as a biological filter, and it hosts a fungal network in humus rich soil that is left behind by the wood. This can transfer soil moisture and trade sugars and nutrients between any adjacent soil life or plant roots tapped into it. This exchange has been shown to occur over linear miles in healthy forests.. These woody debris filled trenches have many of the benefits of swales, while being more flexible in application in tighter spaces and on slopes. Swales can be very useful as well, but they are very labor intensive. Such a trench below one’s home that could slow, spread and infiltrate into the landscape the tens of thousands of gallons of water running off a typical Northern California house each year can also only help to slow the spread of fire.

Biochar): The charcoal can be made in specialized kilns or less efficiently with a pit and a sheet of roofing metal to quench the fire before the wood becomes ashes. This charred wood has incredibly high surface area for hosting beneficial microbes and filtering out contaminants. The charcoal becomes biochar when inoculated with diverse microbes by going through a compost pile, worm bin, or some other animal’s digestive tract. It makes an excellent addition to animal bedding to reduce odors, and they will eat it to help their digestion, as many soil microbes are also beneficial gut microbes. This recalcitrant carbon is very stable, and will stay in the soil for thousands of years, as demonstrated by terra preta soils of the Amazon several yards deep that are the result of indigenous human cultural activities over millennia. In many cases these were found in the remnants of vast food forests intentionally stewarded by innumerable generations. Similarly anthropogenic food forests have also been discovered on the west coast of North America, with their own indigenous cultural burning practices as part of the management. Biochar is its own large field of research that is being scaled up quickly.

Keyline Design): This is an overarching design system that deserves a lot more space than I can give. In essence, keyline uses earthworks like swales, ponds and deep soil-ripping plows (that are designed to minimize disturbance of soil life by not inverting and pulverizing the soil) to steer water, and any soil or nutrients it carries, from wet, fertile valley bottoms to dry, bony ridgelines. Start research with The Keyline Plan, by P.A. Yeomans, which is freely available.. What he knew in the 1950’s about saving soil and watersheds will blow your mind and put a palm to your face if considering how much damage its implementation could save.. Supporting farms using keyline design is a way to support watershed health, which again is key to living with fire. They are also likely to have healthier, more biodiverse soils that allow these farms’ plants to photosynthesize more completely and create more diverse flavors, colors, aromas, and health supporting chemical compounds.

Holistic Management and Grazing) Holistic management is a lot more than just grazing, but this is its broadest scale application right now. Holistic land management that would reduce fire risk and aid fertility includes rotational mob grazing mimicking and possibly even including our native herbivores, as well as their predators. Livestock guardian dogs and herding dogs that fill ecological niches of their wild cousins are a big part of these systems. This beneficial use of animals to harvest and add value to difficult to digest vegetation that, left unchecked, will become wildfire fuel, can also extend to silva-pasture (trees with livestock grazing between them). A millennia old example from the Basque culture incorporates fruit trees, cork oaks and chestnuts with pigs feeding for free while fertilizing the trees and managing their pests by eating any rotting fruit or nuts and the larvae inside. Goats, cattle, and pigs can also be effective in forest understory thinning for wildfire mitigating if well managed, which is much easier with modern improvements in mobile temporary electric fencing. In many cases where we find ourselves doing hard work like brush clearing, another animal better designed for the task would be happily doing it for us in exchange for just some fresh water and a bed of wood chips or straw. Of course, “If we don’t want pigs, then we must do the pigs’ work”.

Woodchips are also a very good source of bedding for chickens and pigs, which will naturally add their manure to it, and turn it over looking for bugs to eat, helping it decompose into humus. The carbon rich bedding in return reduces the animal manure’s odor, downstream runoff, and pathogens therefrom. The ecosystem in deep woody bedding controls many pests for plants as well. Holistic management has many shared aspects with permaculture, one of which is to design for diverse, mutually beneficial elements that function symbiotically as or akin to healthy ecosystems. The output of one element is always the input of another.

Combined in sound design and employed on small as well as large scale, these methods could address two of our most pressing problems – wildfire and soil loss. We can use a hazardously overabundant natural resource to create biological sponges out of our farmlands, gardens and landscapes that benefit everything downstream and downwind, making the region, and even the continent, vastly more verdant and resistant to catastrophic fire. Hugelkulture beds, woody debris filled drainage trenches, and entire keyline designed watersheds soaking, spreading, and sinking water off of our buildings and roads can be designed to replicate the way old growth forest soils are akin to lakes in their water capacity. We can use so much of the water and organic matter that is now wasted and sent directly to the ocean and atmosphere to our benefit many times over before it gets there. We can design anthropogenic old-growth food forests. People have done it here for millennia.

As much as I am an environmental steward who intends to go down swinging if I have to, it need not come to that. In some worse case scenarios from climate chaos, maybe even old-growth coast redwood forests that have never burned before could succumb.  Each of us has power to make this vastly less likely if, instead of being abutted by unprecedented tinderboxes of unhealthy forests, these ancient arboreal islands of evolution are surrounded by the verdant water retaining and soil regenerating landscapes that are possible. We know how to do it.

The very process of symbiotic stewardship itself can benefit us all, including the self-realization to be found in doing it. As this is for a food related publication, I should also point out again that organic matter rich, water retaining and purifying soil requiring little to no irrigation makes the best tasting, most nutritious food and drink. Irrigating French wine grapes is illegal because it makes watered down, bland, homogenous juice that fails to reflect the unique part of the Earth on which it is grown. Rich soil made from woody debris diverted from wildfires and burn piles can also grow healthier, more naturally disease and pest resistant plants. This healthy, biodiverse soil helps farmers need less fertilizer and water, making more profit off less land, leaving more habitat for every other living thing. If a set of practices can beautify and rejuvenate fire resilient forests, reduce fire risk to humans, make farmers more profitable, make food taste better and be more nutritious, and help every living thing dependent on water downstream and downwind of where these techniques are implemented, how can we afford not to try?

In the past decade, I have implemented all of these old-growth ecosystem-mimicking practices on varying scales on my own land. I was then employed in doing so by a non-profit supporting food systems change in Del Norte County and Adjacent Tribal Lands (DNATL). The best example site I have worked on which the public can freely observe the use of hugelkulture, deep woodchip mulching, woody debris filled trenches, and many other permaculture principles for growing food while working with nature is the Taa-'at-dvn Chee-ne' Tetlh-tvm' Food Forest on the College of the Redwoods’ Crescent City campus. The name is Tolowa, and their leadership and partnership has been integral to the project. While I helped lead the design and project management from 2017-2020, interns, students and volunteers have done much of the hard work. It was a literally barren field of soggy, leached out and compacted dirt in 2017. With the help of many, as of my turning over leadership of the site in early 2021, the 1.5-acre site had:

- 6000+ square feet of hugelkulture beds, some up to six feet tall. The vast majority of this was done with a small rented excavator in less than 10 days. These hugelkulture beds have produced thousands of pounds of food for the community and volunteers. They store thousands of gallons of water in the soil for plants to grow with minimal irrigation, and help sustain summer flows in nearby Marhoffer Creek. They also embed many tons of carbon in the soil, kick-starting the sequestration of much more by the plants and trees growing on the beds. Over 200-cords of (non-firewood quality) woody debris has been diverted from burn-piles or landfills into these hugelkulture beds, offsetting the carbon output of over 100yrs of firewood heating of an average Northern California home. Another way to put it is the same amount of carbon buried as that emitted in 400,000 miles of driving in the average American car. Hugelkulture beds also make an excellent windbreak and sound buffers, aiding the educational use of the site and generally making it more pleasant to be in.

- Hundreds of cubic yards of wood chip mulch on beds and pathways. My goal is no B.S. (Bare Soil)
- 600ft of woody debris embedded trench throughout the site, aiding drainage while absorbing as much water as possible before it flows off site. This was partially necessary because the site gets the hardscape (roof and road) runoff of 14-acres uphill, which in a typical Crescent City Rain year (100”) amounts to 80-feet of rainfall equivalent. This is many times the rainfall of the rainiest place on Earth, so nothing is adapted to absorb that, especially a former heavy equipment pad, which it was. Most trees’ root crowns also need to be at least 2ft above the water table, so elevating them and helping drain the site somewhat was necessary, but we tried to hold as much water in soil as possible.

- 60+ fruit trees (Apple, Plum, Pear, Mulberry of numerous varieties)

- Dozens of species of perennial edible and medicinal plants, and over 150 plant species total.

- Thousands of row-feet of strawberries, which are one of the plants that benefit most from hugelkulture, as it gets an extra couple weeks of harvest due to improved drainage in spring/fall rains and increased soil warmth due to biological activity. They also continue to produce throughout the summer due to retained soil moisture and moderated heat spikes from the thermal mass of the beds.

- A native dominated conifer grove to the north and upslope for windbreak, dew collection, beneficial bird and insect habitat, and the fertility such ecology weeps downhill to the rest of the site

- Restored wetland areas and water gardens with many native plants and amphibians.

- The site had become a destination for birdwatchers, with several rare species frequenting the food forest for its diverse food sources, shelter, nesting habitat, and water.

- Dozens of species of mushrooms returned on the woody debris and chips

In the past year, under the leadership of Food Forest Site Manager Angela Gray, the site has added or hosted:

- 9 new raised beds made from reclaimed materials
- An improved and artistically painted tool-storage shipping container
- 100 row feet of raspberries on trellis
- 150 row feet of annual cropping strips
- Design and installation of solar power system in collaboration with HSU engineering students
- Well-attended volunteer work events every Tuesday 2-5pm (come join!)
- Partnership with TPP students working 2 days per week, with 4-week work crew over summer
- Week-long summer camp for kids in Partnership with Open Door (2 sessions)

To help, volunteer, or inquire about youth programs, contact:
Family Resource Center of the Redwoods

I can only take a small part of the credit for the ecological and human benefits of this food forest site. What I was successful in doing largely revolved around the techniques discussed in this essay. I think the best we can hope to do as stewards of a living Earth we hope vastly outlasts us, is to lay a supportive foundation for the next generation to build on. Lets plant and tend to forests that will long outlive us. I look forward to seeing the work done by Angela and her crew as she leads the site into the future in collaboration with the community it is embedded in. May food forests reclaim the Earth, and overwhelm us with abundance.

This is an unpublished article I originally started writing for the North Coast Local Food Guide, but which went well beyond their available word length and focus. It is not cited properly, but I'd definitely like to give credit to the many here and elsewhere in the Permaculture community that seeded or outright came up with many of these ideas that I mention. Bill Mollison, Sepp Holzer, Zach Weiss, Paul Wheaton, Matt Powers, Brock Dolman, Tom Wheeler (an NPS Ranger who taught me a ton about Redwood Ecology and history) are names that come to mind, so thanks to them and many others!
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This is lovely. Hello from Ashland! xo -Isaak
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hugelkultur foraging homestead
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Thank you for this thoughtful essay about wildfire. I keep being inspired to write music about forests being alive and about the calamaties of wildfires in so many places. I hope that the living Earth is getting the attention she needs from lots of people like you. I practice my own kind of hugelkulture in New Hampshire. It is my response to a summer when I was basically unable to garden because of a drought. It has changed the way I do everything in the garden and given me so much joy as the fertility of my place and the wildlife I share it with have visited so much more often.

Although my work is not so direct, I do hope it raised awareness. Maybe some of you permies would like this little segment of a piece I wrote called "This Forest is Alive."
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Location: Jefferson, North Carolina (mountains)
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The concept of turning dead, fire hazard wood into useful moisture holding soil on a large scale makes great sense.  My first thought is how to implement the program at a scale that will be effective in the near future.  I have recently heard about two programs: Transition Networks which helps people organize, find funding and accomplish tasks and the American Forest Foundation which is working to help family-owned forests become more sustainable and to serve as carbon offset markets.  The latter is only available in 5 states so far.  Their approach is interesting though.  They have partnered with the Nature Conservancy and issued a $10 million dollar green bond underwritten by Morgan Stanley to pay for the start-up costs.  Ben Zumeta has laid out a reasonable, well thought out plan or road map and done a major successful pilot project.  So who implements the plan? How?  Is there a state agency that could be approached?  Or is it better to work through a non-profit organization?

On a more personal level, I live in the North Carolina mountains where fire hazard is rare but not unheard of.  We bought a property that had about 3 A of mostly pine forest with a large number of dead small pines still standing.  We cut the smaller ones and hired someone more skillful to cut the larger dead trees.  We had made numerous brush piles.   Our wonderful hired person laid the trees (branches mostly removed) in linear arrays outlining paths throughout our forest.  We still have the dead wood, but it is mostly in contact with the ground.  I have often thought of hugelkultur but cannot conceive of where the soil comes from to cover the wood.  I would like to do some thinning of live trees but am afraid of increasing the fire danger by adding more dead wood.  
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Visiting that food forest in Crescent City  is on my list. Good work
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