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Debate Over “Hack & Squirt” Treatment

Camp 19 (2006). Effects of Typical Hack and Squirt on tanoak.

May 2015, Ryan McKillop, Inventory Forester-

Excerpts from the Press Democrat: April 19, 2015 Glenda Anderson

Potential Mendocino County Ordinance Would Seek to Limit Effective “Hack & Squirt” Vegetation Management Practice

Mendocino County fire authorities have added their voices to a heated debate over a timber-management practice that poisons unwanted hardwood trees and leaves them to decompose in forests, creating what some say is an increased fire hazard in a state already plagued by tinder-dry conditions in its fourth year of drought…

…Cal Fire too has expressed concern over volatile forest conditions. In anticipation of a severe fire season, the state agency has increased its staffing and is warning residents to clear debris from around their homes, something Williams finds ironic in light of what he sees as Cal Fire’s passive reaction to the added fuel load from chemically killed trees. But Timberland managers and the Cal Fire officials who regulate their harvest operations said they’re listening and responding to citizen concerns but have downplayed the fire danger, saying the dead trees may increase forest flammability initially, but the danger dissipates over several years and eventually, after about a decade, actually leaves forests at less risk from large wildfires. “It’s a question with a lot of variables,” Cal Fire Battalion Chief Shawn Zimmermaker said. “It could actually make for less fires.”

My take on the debate? The use of “Hack and Squirt” type treatment has been an effective rehabilitation tool used by private land owners and land managers for at least the last 15 years. It eliminates unwanted hardwood species in areas that are understocked with conifers, increases the growth rates of the remaining conifers, and allows for successful conifer regeneration in the understory.

When I came to work here, the Hack and Squirt technique was in its infancy. Over the years it has become a very useful tool. We have used it on multiple sites where invasive species like Tanoak have taken over prime timberland.

The important thing that most people don’t realize is that this kind of treatment allows for intelligent forest management in areas where in the past it wouldn’t have been economical to do so for another 10, 20, or even 30 years. The technique actually decreases fire danger while fostering vigorous restoration of redwood forests.

Live Tanoak has a waxy and highly flammable leaf. Within the first year treatment, those leaves dry and fall off, which reduces fire susceptibility while increasing organic material in the soil. This helps increase crown separation and decrease vertical continuity of fuels, which decreases the risk of a devastating, wind-driven crown fire.

In terms of increased productivity of those lands, the effect has been dramatically positive in restoring redwood forests. The treated areas create a micro-climate which helps our newly-planted redwoods survive, and as the wood decomposes, it adds nutrients to the soil.

Naturally-occurring fungi go to work on the wood which becomes soft very quickly, so typically within two to five years, very little is left standing. At this point most of the wood has “melted” down to the forest floor where its compost gives our young redwoods a great start.

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