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Cedar Ecology

On July 7, 2012, local botanist, George Thornton, lead a group of community members into a seldom seen Western Redcedar ecosystem near Chesaw, WA. Mr. Thornton opened the first Highland Wonders series in November 2010 by sharing his knowledge and photos of unique and rarely seen Okanogan Highland plants; in the summer of 2011 he led a walk along the wetland fringe and woods at Lost Lake, and 2012 brought this opportunity to learn more about Okanogan County's remnant cedar populations. A group of community members ventured Northeast of Buckhorn Mountain, where an extraordinary ecosystem thrives because of the shade, stable soils, organic matter and habitat provided by the Western Red Cedar.

Our first stop was among the headwaters of Cedar Creek, from which the drainage heads north into Canada. "It's quite an interesting community of plants," Mr. Thornton said. 


"Just by finding these Botrychium ferns, I know then that we've got a very well established, healthy, fungal net - because you don't seem them everywhere. They need a well- developed, long term net, or they're not going to get established."



Mr. Thornton pointed out four different species of Botrychium ferns, each special in their own way. "They are really dependent on the mycorrhizal communities," Mr Thornton emphasized. He pointed out that it is typical for Botrychiums to be green above ground, transitioning to red below ground, such as the Virginia Botrychium, or Rattlesnake Fern.

He spoke about both the sexual and asexual fern reproduction that can occur, depending upon the conditions, and how these "complicated yet fairly successful" processes influence identification of species. He also pointed out other moss, lichen, and orchid species, and discussed the clone-based manner in which aspen trees grow.


The importance of large woody debris was also covered during the discussion. Mr. Thornton drew attention to old logs that have fallen both across the creek and in the forest. "Notice how that log has started building up a dam, there is a level spot behind it; it's the start of a whole new ecosystem. The role of big, dead, woody material in a creek environment is incredibly important. Cedar is particularly important because it lasts so long... it will gradually build up in here a series of pools in here, and you'll get a really saturated soil environment... " Saturated soils can support unique wetland plant communities not found in drier soil conditions.

Although this area has been logged in the past, many large cedar trees remain. 
The group enjoyed the opportunity to look up into the heights of the cedar stand.
Cedar Creek meanders among the base of large Western Redcedar trees.

"To me, when I stand in an area like this, with the smells and the sounds, and the way the trees are making their own environment, it makes me feel pretty special," Mr. Thornton said.

OHA thanks George Thornton for providing such a unique learning opportunity to the community, 

and the Tonasket Ranger District Forest Service for providing access to the site through a locked gate.