The Forests Are Lonely

On Saturday, I visited Edgewalkers Social Forestry Winter Camp, located this season in the mountains outside of Ashland, Oregon. This group of nomadic forest restoration workers is learning about forest restoration and fire ecology in oak woodlands through sharing knowledge and skills and also through sitting in quiet observation of the processes and creatures around them.

 They have been at the camp for four weeks now, and are beginning to apply their learning - cutting and burning small firs and brush that crowd the old oaks and compete with them for water and nutrients. These forests are adapted to a natural fire interval of a few decades, where wildfire used to clear out the understory on a regular basis, without damaging the big, old trees. A century of aggressive fire suppression has left the forests thick with small fuels that set the stage for conflagration - the explosive wildfires that have raged in the western forests of the US at an ever-increasing rate.

In the past, Native Americans lit fires at the top of watersheds that would slowly burn down the slopes, making a cool under-burn that fertilized the oaks (the source of acorns for food) with ash and restored soil carbon with charcoal. That’s why the Edgewalkers say the forests are lonely. They need interaction with the humans that they now share the land with, to recycle nutrients through managed fire.

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I brought the Edgewalkers a Pyramid Kiln so they can make biochar during their evening campfires - Social Biochar! I hope they will use it to also bake potatoes and grill food. I enjoyed meeting these dedicated forest workers and seeing how they are developing new life paths as nomadic workers in relationship with forests.  - Kelpie Wilson

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