AoR 79: The Forest Overstory Podcast, with Sean Alexander

Forestry and range sciences are tied to each other in a long and complex social history, and many areas of the Western U.S. and semi-arid parts of the world host rangeland and forest plant communities in the same space and within the same management boundaries. So there is good reason to encourage range folk to given some attention to forestry, not necessarily 'board-feet' production forestry but the ecology of forests and their interactions with rangeland plant communities. This interview with Sean Alexander introduces a high-quality forest ecology-focused podcast with similar background philosophy to The Art of Range -- long interviews on a diversity of topics. Consider subscribing to The Forest Overstory Podcast if you live and work on rangeland with tall range weeds, I mean trees (the late Dr. Kendall Johnson's joke).


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>> Welcome to The Art of Range, a podcast focused on rangelands and the people who manage them. I'm your host, Tip Hudson, range and livestock specialist with Washington State University Extension. The goal of this podcast is education and conservation through conversation. Find us online at

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My guest today on The Art of Range is Sean Alexander. He's an extension forester with Washington State University in northeastern Washington. Sean, welcome to the show.

>> Hey, Tip. Thanks for having me out today.

>> I think I got your title correct. But what exactly do you do? I have some ideas since I work for WSU Extension. But for those who are -- there will be some people that are not so familiar with forestry in the context of Extension. So just by way of introduction, you know, who are you and what do you do?

>> Yeah, you know, every time I always think about the question, what do I do for my work, it's always hard to describe with Extension, because I think Extension coordinators and Extension faculty, we do quite a bit of stuff. So if I were to describe what I do, I would actually go back to the beginning of why Extension even started, right? And there's those old photos that you can go get at the thing called the MASC. It's an acronym, MASC. I don't recall what it stands for. But it's an old archive that WSU has, and there's photos in there of the original Extension coordinators hopping on the backs of trains. And they would ride these trains from Pullman out to the surrounding towns, and they would stand there and give lectures from the backs of the trains. You know, back in the day, it was largely just, you know, here's the newest wheat variety. And, you know, if you spray this, then you'll get rid of this insect. So, you know, if I were to describe my job, I would say that what I do is I take education in the forestry field, the forestry sector, and I extend that to the multitude of small forest landowners in Washington State.

>> Yeah, I can't remember now whether or not we've talked about some of the history of Extension on the podcast. In trying to tell other people sometimes what I do, I do the same thing, I go back to the idea behind land grant universities, which was that there was these new fields of agricultural and material science and food science that was sort of new in the world of higher education. Prior to that point, most of higher education had been a liberal arts education.

>> Yeah.

>> Which some people kind of looked down on. But the idea behind even the liberal arts education was that these were the things people needed to know in order to be free people, to exercise liberty.

>> Yeah.

>> But then you had these land grant colleges that were set up to do more practical research in specifically agricultural sciences, food science, and some of the building trades. And the idea behind Extension was that it doesn't do much good for us to be doing a lot of research on agriculture if farmers don't have any access to that research base.

>> Yeah.

>> And so Extension was put into place in the early part of the previous century in order to extend these research results from the land grant universities out to people that could actually use it and make a living better, based on better data.

>> Yeah, yeah. You know, I think it's interesting. I don't know a ton about your listener base. But you know, the WSU and many of the land grant schools around the United States, you know, they have animal science programs, they have agricultural programs. And so I think a lot of farmers, they'll send their kids to go off to college and get a degree in this and then hopefully, they come back to the farm and, you know, they apply some of that information that they learned in college. Well, there's an interesting phenomenon that happens with forest landowners in that you don't necessarily see people making a livelihood out of owning forest land. So there's not the same educational background in the landowners that we serve.

>> Yeah.

>> And so what ends up happening is -- so I'll just throw some numbers. We have 217,000 small forest landowners. When we define small forest landowners, there's a couple ways. Some people define it as the amount of board feet that you harvest. I tend to not like that example just because it really narrows down the discussion of, you know, who can be included in that conversation. And I know people that harvest a lot and, you know, manage it really well on not large acreages. And I know people who own a lot of acreages and don't own a lot. So the other way we can define that is, it's largely the cut off line has been 5,000 acres. And so when we think about what a small forest landowner is there's anybody in Washington State who owns forest land under 5,000 acres. And when we look at that, it actually ends up being close to about 15% of the forest acreage in Washington State. So that's a huge portion of Washington that is directly impacted by individuals who usually -- not always, but usually -- don't have a forestry background. And so they need this education. They want this education. And that's what I'm here for.

>> Yeah, that's interesting. Maybe to back up just a bit, people may be wondering, why are we talking about forestry in a range podcast?

>> Yeah.

>> And I guess I would say, a very large number or large percentage of western US ranchers either own or graze forest land. There's an awful lot of dry forest types in the West that have a lot of forage. And in fact, the Forest Service was really where most rangelands and livestock research started. And so I think, for many people, either livestock producers or natural resource professionals, range professionals, we're dealing with forests, nearly in the same space that we deal with range lands. And so I think this is important. I think I mentioned just before we got on the recording that I almost did a double major in forestry and really enjoy forestry. So I'm excited to talk about this. I also failed to mention when we first got on that Sean has a new podcast called The Forest Overstory. Is that right?

>> That's correct.

>> And maybe that's a good segue to begin to talk about the podcast. Why did you start a podcast about forestry?

>> Oh, man, this is the true podcasting dilemma, is you say about four things that I want to jump into. And then you end with a question that's going to take me on a completely different path. So this is great.

>> I knew we weren't going to get an answer, whatever.

>> Yeah, we're going to get way past 30 minutes on this. All right, let's start with the podcast, because you ended with that question. Let's see if I can remember to get back to some of the other things. Why did I start a podcast? Well, I think that we are in a major transformational era. You know, like, if you looked back at the 1880s, to about the 1920s, right, we've defined that era as the Industrial Revolution. Okay. And so then a lot of people through the '70s, '80s and '90s, especially as we see it continuing to ramp up, we see this technological revolution. So I think it's important that as our society and as our culture and as our technology advances, that our education and the means in which academic education is delivered also advances. And one of the ways that have been, you know, exploding in the past is podcasting. And this is probably something, you know, you realized as well, Tip, but there are -- oh man, I don't have the numbers with me in front of me. But I had pulled them up on a recent presentation, it was something crazy, like, there are 3 million podcasts with 28 billion hours of recorded time out there on the internet. Again, don't quote those numbers. I'm probably overemphasizing those. But I think it gets to the point that, you know, it's prominent.

>> Yeah.

>> And then we were looking at statistics, and it was like 50% of, you know, our population or 50% of the people in the world actively listen to podcasts. And then the growing demographics of people that are actively engaging in it are, you know, we already know that 19- to 40-year-olds love podcasts. But we're seeing that a lot of the 40 to 55 and 55 to like 65, those age groups are starting to realize, "Oh, hey, check this out." You know, we grew up on the radio, you know, we grew up clicking through the AM channel as we're driving our old Chevy down the highway. And, you know, you got on the other crest of the hill and the static wave is starting to cut in. You're like, no, what is, you know, whatever the person I'm listening to saying? And, you know, it's always frustrating, but it's great. That's what we grew up on. It's nostalgic. And so podcasts I feel like kind of fills that niche.

>> Yeah, and I would add to that, at least in the world of livestock producers, there are a lot of people who never owned a desktop computer.

>> Yeah.

>> That just didn't fit their lifestyle and didn't do much for their workflow. And so there's a lot of ranchers who went straight from, you know, rotary telephones to smartphones.

>> Yeah.

>> And with a smartphone, they now have access to all this stuff that that fits a lifestyle where you're not stationary in an office or in a house. You're out doing stuff. But all this world of information is now available to those people, you know, through a podcast technology.

>> Yeah, that's precisely right. And I think in today's day and era, you know, we're seeing that the average workload of an individual is increasing, right? We have to do more work today to get the end result that we want, whether that's, you know, as a livestock producer, you know, as a trades person, or if that's, you know, as you're -- I'm going to butcher this, not I think a white collar worker. I'm trying to remember if it's blue collar or white collar, however, they want to define that. But, you know, across the board, every single individual in the United States and probably internationally, you know, we're seeing that workloads are increasing.

>> Using their labor saving devices.

>> Yeah, yeah, exactly.

>> I want my money back.

>> So what that means, though, is that, you know, if you're a livestock producer, or you're a forest owner, when are you going to have the time to sit down and, you know, take a class that would teach you how to manage your land? Or when are you going to have the time to read that book? And you know, especially if you're a reader, you've probably got 16 books sitting on your coffee table, that you've probably read halfway through half of them. So the great thing about podcasting that I always hear is, you know, we get people that will send us emails and say, "Oh, I'm chopping salad for dinner tonight and I loved your podcast." Or, "Oh, I was listening to it while I was running on the elliptical this morning." or, you know, you know, like us, I was driving to work, or I was, you know, doing something mundane. And I could just throw on your podcast, and enjoy it and multitask at the same time.

>> Yeah, I think that's a pretty accurate summary of why this is of interest to people. And I think also why there's such a wide variety of podcasts out there. They wouldn't continue to exist if people weren't listening to it.

>> Yeah.

>> I talked a bit about, let's see, what else did I say that you wanted to respond to? One of the things was the combination of forestry and range?

>> Yeah, yeah. So earlier, you had mentioned that you have a lot of range owners that also own forest land. And so I actually can put a little bit of numbers behind this. The Rural Technology Initiative, which was an initiative, I think, funded by the state, or it might have been the Department of Natural Resources. The University of Washington, did a landowner database trend analysis, just pulling off all this county assessor information. And they were looking at -- it was focused on forest ownership. But what they did was they overlaid this with satellite data within parcels. And they looked at the percentage of the parcels that had forest land. And then of that acreage, what was the percentage of the acreage that was forested? And what we saw was that about 70% of the total parcel acreage owned by forest landowners was forested. So that means that about 30% -- and again, I don't have those numbers right in front of me, so don't exactly quote me on it. If anyone's curious, I'm happy to go find those numbers. But about 30% of the land is actually non-forested. Well, what does that make it? Well, it could be residential. You know, maybe it's a non-timber area, it's a steep slope, something like that. But a lot of the times what that ends up being is it's pasture land, and it's open grazing area that's perfect for the combination of livestock or whatever. You know, if it's, you know, you're growing hay or Timothy or anything like that. I mean, these totally mesh up together.

>> Yeah, I had a range professor at the University of Idaho who called trees range weeds.

>> Yeah.

>> And then of course, there's even a term for forested areas that get grazed. The terms transitory range and transitional range have similar meanings, but they refer to -- the transitional range would be, you know, areas within forest that are grazable. And of course, the idea behind it being transitional or transitory is that that's a constantly shifting mosaic.

>> Yeah.

>> Assuming that there's forest fires and timber harvest patterns, you know, you have areas of understory that are being released through removal of some of the canopy periodically, and that's constantly changing. You know, within a given say Forest Service grazing permit, that would be transitory in that the specific areas that are grazable are moving around. And then viewed collectively you would call it transitional range with the idea that over a large area, there are always some areas that are going to be more graceful than others. But in general, there is a significant amount of grazing occurring in most western forests, especially once you get, you know, below the higher elevation, more closed canopy, rugged terrain.

>> Yeah, so it's interesting to see a parallel here, because when I was in school, we talked about the same phenomenon, we just use a different word. And the word in forestry is not transitory, or transitional, it is mosaic. And I love the concept of a fluid mosaic, right? Because a mosaic is this broad painting, right? The whole forest is the mosaic in and of itself. But a mosaic is composed of multiple fragmented pieces that combine to make a bigger picture. And a fluid mosaic then is one that is those pieces are changing, or maybe a dynamic mosaic. And so I love this like kind of moving, swirling photo of the forest above. And, you know, these processes are coming in like bark beetles and fire and, you know, drought, or maybe just wind or an avalanche, or something comes in and causes the structure of that forest to change. And then when it changes, maybe it opens up, you see things like your forbs and your grasses take over. And that will become an optimal place for your livestock to be able to graze and reach that, you know, high protein, high nutritional forage.

>> Yeah, and that diversity of vegetation structure has pretty significant known benefits for wildlife in particular. In fact, one of the guys I've had on the podcast before, Sam Frielandorf, is a range ecologist from Oklahoma. And he's done a lot of work on heterogeneity as a basis for ecological resilience and makes the case, I think, a pretty compelling case that we should be managing for heterogeneity, you know, both in terms of deliberate management effort that creates it, as well as trying to maintain ecological patterns and processes that create it on its own.

>> Yeah. You know, it's interesting to think about this idea of heterogeneity or diversity or structural diversity, because I think the thing that's challenging -- you know, like, if we get into the conversation around forests, right, I know in the past, you've discussed grazing as a mechanism of reducing fire severity. And so if we want to talk about wildfires, one of the things that's interesting is wildfire is one of the biggest primary drivers of forest complexity and this heterogeneity structure. And so as wildfires are burning, right, like we saw historically that we always had this constant disturbance process that would drive this. And so then, you know, about 100 years ago, we started to systematically remove fire from the landscape. You know, we really changed our logging practices. And because of that, we saw this shift towards a more fuel-rich, fuel-dense forest system. And so now what the problem is, is we're lacking that, you know, that complex fire pattern to create that diverse landscape. And so because of that, you know, what we really need to do is we need to get back to that diverse pattern. But the problem is now we're in a situation where there's not enough commercial wood on the landscape. And we're, you know, dealing with other issues like of the layered effects of climate change on top of that. So it's like not economically viable to necessarily fit in everywhere, or even go out and harvest everywhere. And so like, you know, one can make the point that like, it's going to be incredibly costly to get us back to a forest structure that's going to be resilient. You know, this idea of heterogeneity through resiliency. But I also think that like you could make an economic argument that the investment in the beginning would ultimately be a huge boon to the forest wood economy, that will, in the end, create a system where we can actually have jobs and have people that are continuously out there moving that heterogeneity around, creating that complexity on the landscape, you know, helping the environment, helping reduce fire severity, helping with, you know, human safety, and creating jobs all at the same time.

>> Yeah, that makes me think you mentioned that you're mostly working with landowners that own less than 5,000 acres.

>> Yeah.

>> Larger than that tend to be, you know, commercial operators. For the ones that are less than 5,000 acres, to what extent do they expect some economic revenue from that property? And is there -- you know, are there enough mills around to make use of that? So I guess there's a couple of questions there

>> You're opening a can of worms.

>> To what extent, you know, do they expect -- I realize that many forest systems, you know, you may be looking at a 60-year harvest cycle, which is sort of the lifetime of a single forest manager.

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah, but taken as a whole, assuming that not everyone is doing that at the same time, you know, is there enough capacity, you know, for that to be profitable? Or does somebody have to haul six hours to get to a mill and therefore, they don't do say a commercial thin? I think going back to the original question, if they don't need the money, that people have to spend the money, you know, a net economic loss in order to do say, a pre-commercial thinning.

>> Yeah.

>> Do those things still get done?

>> Yeah. Okay, so you're opening a big can of worms here. And I'm sure I'm going to end up taking this off on some tangents here, so you'll have to help wrangle me back in here. Okay, for that, what I'm going to do is I'm going to use this as a plug to say you and anybody listening, if you own forest land, should take my coach management forest planning class, because we talk all about this stuff. And you can really get some depth out of this conversation, because there's no way I could cover this in even just 30 minutes. All right, so let's see where to start this thought process. So I think it's highly dependent on many factors, right? So we have to break down what all these factors are. First of all, you've got to think about, if the question is economics, then what is the economy of scale here? Actually, no, before I get into economies of scale, one thing I would say is just look at the values of landowners, right? And actually, it's like less than 20% of landowners actually put management of timber at the top of their value list. So it's usually a byproduct of something else. Most landowners don't actually intend to buy forest land, and the purpose of managing that on a return interval or a rotational harvest system. So that's important to recognize, and so a lot of our education does not tend to center around it. However, that doesn't mean we couldn't talk about it if that was somebody's goal.

>> What do those people say is the purpose in ownership? Is it just an investment long-term?

>> Oh, there's a lot of things. The National Woodland Owners Association has done some really interesting studies, kind of needs assessments of landowners. And, you know, it varies. I would say the top ranking things are, yeah, so legacy investment, owning something that they can put their hard work into and pass down to their children. I'd say habitat, so the goal of buying and preserving land for the sake of either, you know, enjoying the wildlife, enjoying the scenic view, maybe they're hunting on it, whatever ecosystem services are provided by that. We see a lot of recreational, so people buying it so they can do hiking, and people buying it so that they can do, you know, mountain biking or, you know, whatever the recreational activity you love to do outside, you can do that. I mean, the list goes on and on of what people want to own forest land before they even get to, I'm going to manage this for a crop. But I think that you hit it on the head of why that is. And I think that that's because, you know, people don't usually own enough acreage to be able to effectively manage a sustainable, you know, rotating cycle of trees, because of that 60-year return interval. And so then most people see that and then they go, "Okay, well, I might see one harvest in my lifetime." So that actually gets me to this concept of economies of scale, right? So we have to think like, so if I want to do a harvest, I need a certain amount of board feet stored in my trees. And board feet, for anyone who doesn't know, is a volume measurement of trees. It's often what's used by mills to get an idea of pretty much like how much volume of lumber is the mill going to get out of this. So I need X amount of board feet, and that's what the mills going to pay you for. And then it's going to be determined on what's the species of the trees, because different trees species tend to have different prices based on, you know, what their structural integrity is, blah, blah, blah. I'm sure most people here know like pine versus Douglas fir versus cedar, right? We've all had that conversation. And then you have to think, okay, so what's the cost that it's going to take for me to do the logging operation? And so that includes sometimes, but I would always encourage somebody to hire a consulting forester and the costs that go with that. And they're going to be the ones that will determine what the board feet on the property is. Then you have to hire the logger, then you have to hire the processor, then you have to hire the log hauler. So like that's four people right there that you've just hired that's going to cost you money. So there's like all this upfront cost that you have to get over. So if you want to do a rotational system, then the trick is I have to have enough land that I can pretty much section it off. If you think about it, like rotational grazing, it's very similar. So right, rotational harvesting, but it has to be a big enough chunk of land that you can break the cost of getting the operation there, and then make enough money past that, that it is then lucrative for you to do the harvest in the first place. And so that sale of land ownership coupled with all those other variables is oftentimes too much for people to be able to actually effectively do a rotational harvest. So that's my five-second breakdown of that.

>> Yeah, let's shift to talking in some more detail about the podcast. You say on the podcast website that the mission of The Forest Overstory podcast is to investigate topics related to forestry, forest management, natural resources, ecosystem services in the environment, wildlife, and other topics. If somebody asked a question, why should ranchers and range professionals listen to The Forest Overstory Podcast? What would you say?

>> I think the first obvious answer would be what we've sort of already discussed. And that would be just that many of them do own forest land. So if you're in that category, then I think that the information is pertinent to you. Now, that being said, not everybody who's going to be listening to this, and not everyone who's going to be a livestock professional owns forest land. So why would they be the ones listening to this? And I think I would think of a couple things. I think the first thing is, you know, we have a really interesting society of, you know, transfer of information and knowledge and news and whatnot. And I think that sometimes it's really easy to get a picture of somebody from the eyesight or perspective of some somebody else. And you might, you know, you might not get the full story. And so, you know, for example, our first episode that we did, we sat down with a fellow named Paul Hesburgh. And Paul is a wonderful fire ecologist, works for the US Forest Service. And I think that the Forest Service has gotten a pretty bad rap over the last 20, 30 years. And there's a really complex discussion around why that is, and some of its warranted, and some of it is, you know, there are variables behind it. And so I think that, you know, if you were to take the time to listen to that and listen to Paul talk about, you know, the history of fire and the history of mega fires, I think it would broaden, you know, our perspective of who those people are and hopefully give us, you know, a better understanding of the subjects that are going on. So like, you know, take again, wildfire, for example, we're all impacted by it. Every single one of us, whether or not we own forest land, own livestock land, or live in downtown Seattle, we're all impacted by wildfire smoke. So whether your ability to make change happens through thinning your forest or grazing your cattle for, you know, weed reduction, or it's, you know, going out and making an informed decision in something else in your life, then you know, you're going to hopefully make a better decision because you listened to this podcast. So I think that would be my answer.

>> Yeah, and just adding my own thoughts to that while you're talking, you know, at least on Forest Service permits, permitted grazing is integrated, or it's supposed to be into a big picture forest plan. And, and so it's important for livestock operators to have some idea of the big picture thinking that goes into those plans in order to manage grazing well.

>> Yeah.

>> I also am aware that ranchers are often rubbing shoulders with foresters, harvest crews. You know, they're often grazing in the open areas that have been recently replanted as part of, you know, reforestation after some kind of a timber harvest. There's been a lot of talk about grazing to reduce fire risk. And also, sometimes grazing to reduce some of the competition with those new tree plantings, whether we call it prescription grazing, targeted grazing, strategic grazing.

>> Yeah.

>> It's careful grazing, whatever you want to call it.

>> Yeah.

>> And sometimes there's damage and sometimes there's benefits to be had there. But I just think the more I think about it, the more I think there's an awful lot of overlap between the world of both range professionals and ranchers, particularly the ones that are grazing in areas that are forested.

>> Yeah, no, I completely agree. And I think that, you know, as we're looking forward to, you know, solving our food systems, right, because that's a complex topic right there, there is a big discussion to be had for, you know, small scale livestock producers. And I love it. Since I've moved to Colville, I love going down to the farmers market. And you'll see a couple of the local livestock producers. They're selling, you know, their cuts of meat and whatnot. And I think it's great. Personally, I'd much rather buy my product from them than go into Walmart or somebody else and buying something that I don't know. And you know, I take that same philosophy. So I'm a hunter. I love to hunt and the way I've always looked at hunting is it draws a narrative to my food. It's actually something we just discussed on our recent podcast with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and their natural resource department. And so we kind of get into that philosophy. And I think that, you know, ranchers and livestock professionals, they understand that philosophy. You know, they're the ones that are waking up every single day, going out there, growing that hay, planting those fields, moving those cattle, you know, doing all the work, putting up the fencing, that's hard work. And they understand, you know, what it takes to be, you know, honestly, what it takes to be a meat eater. And I think it's great, you know. So I have cousins actually that live in Moses Lake who are livestock producers. So I've gotten a small snippet of what it's like to be a livestock producer.

>> Yeah. Yeah, regarding the scope of your podcast, Washington's an interesting state, because we have, you know, some of the broadest diversity of forest types and ecological types, vegetation types, anywhere in the country.

>> Yeah.

>> You know, we've got everything from glaciers, high elevation, Alpine forest types, you know, clear down to a five-inch annual precipitation alkali desert, and everything in between.

>> Yeah.

>> And a lot of people that are not from the northwest and don't know about Washington State, just think of Washington as being a place with trees, with forest.

>> Right.

>> And they would typically be thinking of, you know, mixed conifer, Doug fir forest that is extremely productive. But nearly half of the state -- and maybe, I don't know, you'd know better than I do it -- it looks like maybe a third of the state is drier forest types on the eastern half of the state, and much of that is more open. And would look similar to forest that exists in other parts of the West. To what extent is your podcast designed to be specific to Washington or, you know, Northwest inner mountain west forest owners? And how much of it would you say as applicable more broadly than that?

>> Yeah, you know, that's kind of a challenge that I've been facing, as I've done the podcast. And that, you know, as we have these conversations, the complexity of the topics and the regionality of application can be pretty challenging to meet, especially when even just the broad dissemination between East and Western Washington is in and of itself challenging to meet. And so, you know, a lot of what we've done so far have been more of these kind of big picture, philosophical, kind of just engaging, thought provoking conversations with different professionals in different backgrounds. So we've had entomologists on and we've had wildlife experts, we've had landowners on, and we've had, you know, forestry field professionals on. So, you know, really, it's more of a perspective type thing. And the conversation actually always tends to be very similar. However, in the future, what I've thought about doing and maybe I'll get more of my time funded to produce more podcast episodes, is to actually make like kind of a mini series, where we do that. Where, you know, maybe my question is, you know, what is ips pinae, the pine beetle management in lodgepole pine and the troughs of northeastern Washington? You know, something extremely specific that, you know, maybe a small handful of landowners might be interested in. But yeah, right now, it's hard to get down to that level. I mean, you hit it on the nose, because if we look at -- there's a map out there that was produced, I actually don't know who made it. But a long time ago, they produced a map called the fire regime map. And this is a pretty much this matrix of how often fire returns versus what is the intensity and severity of the fire when it comes through. And we see that there's like, I think six or seven different fire regimes across the United States. And Washington has like six of the seven of them. So we are extremely, extremely diverse. I mean, you get over to the lake states and, you know, the Midwest, you know, most of what they have is these high severity, high return interval grass burned ecosystems, which are really cool. We don't have a lot of those here in Washington. But you know, over here, it's extremely complex. And so that makes, you know, being a landowner and also makes my educational targets very challenging, but it also makes it fun. You know, every time I talk to a landowner, the first question I have is, "Well, I've got to go visit your land, because I've got to know what we're talking about here."

>> Yeah, and I think it's in general a challenge that applies to any podcast. I mean, one of the obvious benefits of the podcast is that it's not place-based, and you have access to really an international audience with the podcast, depending on how widely you advertise it. But, you know, the nature of most natural resource management is that all solutions are necessarily context specific.

>> Yeah.

>> But there are also plenty of things that can be applicable, you know, to other areas. And I think we learn a lot about what we could be doing in our own local context, by hearing what somebody is doing, say, in southern Africa, for example.

>> Yeah, yeah. You know, what's the famous quote of a scientist? It depends. It totally does, it always depends. But I actually like what you said, because I think some of the -- you know, the greatest advancements in technology have come not from thinking within the box, but from thinking outside the box. And it's hearing, you know, an analogy of something like you said, of maybe -- so I actually was reading a paper in college one time. I was reading it for a class, looking at large-scale mammal conflicts, or large mammal or your megafauna conflicts. And so this paper was specifically around African elephants invading crops over in Africa. And they couldn't figure out what was going on. And so what they ended up trying -- and this was written quite a while ago -- they ended up making bumper crops. And so I'm sure everyone listening to this, who are you know, ag people and livestock people are laughing going, "Oh, yeah, we've been doing bumper crops forever." Well, they didn't realize it over there. And they went over and tried it, and sure enough, the elephants got to the edge of the ag fields, they found whatever the you know, the resource that was planted right there and they stopped right there. And they just started munching around that edge. And they never really needed to get into the more lucrative crops being grown in the interior.

>> Yeah, I think I just learned something. Whatever idea I had in my head about a bumper crop, it wasn't that.

>> Maybe I have the wrong term. So don't go -- I'm not the livestock guy.

>> I like that idea, though, of yeah, this edge effect. And that's commonly used, I would say in various kinds of biological or integrated pest control, you know, where you may attempt to attract a pest into something that's slightly more desirable to them than the thing that they're damaging, which is a cash crop.

>> Yeah.

>> Yeah, maybe give some specific examples of people that you've talked to on the podcast so far?

>> Well, so I already talked about Paul Hesburgh. However, I would say for anybody that's interested, Paul is a wonderful fire ecologist. And he did a TED Talk called The Era of Mega Fires. And you can find that video, excellent video. He's got a website. I think it's called EraOf or .org. But yeah, go check that out if you're interested in learning a little about the history of why we're in the wildfire situation we're in today.

>> Yeah, we can link to that in the show notes, too.

>> Yeah, yeah. Check that out. So we've interviewed a few others. We interviewed a fella named Ken Bevis. And if anybody has been a part of my programs, Ken is the wildlife stewardship biologist for the Washington Department of Natural Resources, an extremely enigmatic person. He's just a hoot and holler to sit down with him, and he was a fun one to talk to all about wildlife practices and principles. And then we actually had a really cool podcast, we interviewed two people, Anne Stinson and Lou Gene Clark. And so and Lou Gene are the -- I'm going to butcher this -- I think they're the president or the chair of the Family Forest Foundation.

>> I think you're right. Yeah. I knew Steve Stinson pretty well before he passed away and I believe that is the name of the foundation.

>> Yeah. And so if anyone doesn't know, Steve Stinson was a forester with the Department of Natural Resources, huge in the industry, huge in getting resources to small forest landowners. He and his father and sister were small forest landowners themselves over in the west side area. And so they started up that program and you know, sadly, Steve passed away. And so management had kind of passed over to their father again, but as with, you know, anybody understands successional planning and that kind of, you know, the ever winding clock, it had to move into the next person in the family. And so it moved over into management of Anne Stinson, his sister, and Lou Gene Clark, who was his wife. And they have taken it over. And it's been a fascinating journey to listen to them. And Anne actually wrote a book called The Ground Beneath My Feet. And it's a really excellent -- the first part of it is more of a memoir about her growing up, and her brother and their time on the forest land, which is great. I think a lot of, you know, a lot of the people that would be listening to this would really enjoy that book, just from that personal connection you would have to somebody who has, you know, grown up on the landscape. And then she did this really fascinating journey, where she wanted to know more about where the logs were going after they were harvested. So she like followed the logs down to one of the local mills, and she interviewed a bunch of the sawyers down there, or the millwrights and anybody who's working in the mills, talked with them, got their perspective on life. And then followed the logs. And it's this really beautiful journey of her actually going over to Asia, and tracking where the logs were going into different countries in Asia, and looking at how they perceive the log markets and their use of natural resources. And it's really cool to see, you know, the similarities, but also the differences. You know, they have very different spiritual connections to wood and to their buildings. Yeah, over there, they have, you know, very interesting spiritual connections to the structures that they're a part of, you know, whether it's their temples or, you know, their houses or whatnot.

>> Yeah.

>> Great story. I'm trying to think. We've done --

>> You had Dave Peterson.

>> Oh, that's right. That was a great podcast. If you guys haven't had a chance to check out Dave Peterson -- so Dave was, he was an ecologist with the University of Washington, actually had a really cool background in just working with the Forest Service and doing some other stuff prior to it, and then got into teaching. Did some really cool research and then started looking at climate resiliency. So like, how do we -- you know, we know the climate is changing. And if we look at the last 20 to 30 years, we know it's getting warmer. So like, what do we do to make our forests more resilient? And he's written some excellent publications on that. He was actually a part of the IPCC. So he was a part of the board that actually helped write the report, and then has gone on to write, you know, the strategies and methods for the forest management section. So we sat down with him, and we just really talked about what does it mean to manage for a resilient forest? What does a healthy forest look like? You know, what are the impacts going on in the future? That was an excellent conversation. Dave's an excellent person to talk to. We had -- let's see, after that, I think we did our forest entomology. So we had both of the Washington State entomologist on. So if you love bugs and you love, you know, forest health stuff, and you want to learn about that, that was a great discussion. And then our last one was Ray Ance and Mike Lithgow with the tribe. So we kind of take a tribal perspective on natural resource management.

>> Yeah, I'm looking forward to listening to some of those. Those are some people some of whom I've run into before and some of whom I have not, and would like to know more about them.

>> Yeah, yeah. You know, I think that it's going to be challenging, you know, to have this conversation at such a broad level. Just because, you know, the question we always ask landowners when we first sit down with them is, you know, what are your goals? Why do you own this land? And I think some people, they know those very clearly. You know, they had a clear reason that they went and bought that land, and that's their goal. And I think others, you know, maybe they inherited it or maybe they were just like, "Hey, I want to get outdoors, but I don't really know the extent beyond that." You know, my guess is for your audience, a lot of those people, their goal is managing their livestock and owning that chunk of timber off on the back 40 probably isn't their primary focus. But, you know, think about what that forest land is offering. Right? You know, you could let it be stagnant. And that's great. You know, it provides its own ecosystem service by being a late zero old growth forest. But, you know, I would really encourage the people listening to this to try to think about that question and think about what they want their forests to serve. If it's serving the timber economy, you know, then what's a way we can look at doing a sustainable harvest? If it's reducing fire and aesthetics and like making it look beautiful, you know, what's that going to look like? And maybe it's wildlife value. If there's a particular -- maybe you're a big fan of the great gray owls and you want to make this kind of intricate, messy looking dense forest that the great gray owl will just absolutely love and nest in, you know. So it really depends on, you know, what your goals are. And I always encourage people to think about that. And definitely for anybody that doesn't know about our program, you can find out more information about us at And we teach all sorts of classes. We're going to be doing one here real soon on kind of an update, a year in review of all the forest health trends that we're seeing. So we'll talk about, you know, the bark beetles, what this last drought year did for our forest. It might be a little bit early to really fully discuss the drought. But yeah, kind of what the last year has looked like. We do a bunch of classes, like I said, my coach planning class, so you can sit down with us and actually write out a forest management plan, which will, you know, help you get into some certain programs like the Washington Tree Farm program. And yeah, there's, you know, we do all sorts of workshops and classes and seminars and webinars. And just, yeah, we're here to help you guys, you know, make the best decision for your land.

>> Yeah, I would add my commendation of some of those efforts. For years, I've helped Andy Praliberg teach some of these big, you know, in-person workshops that he does in the summertime. And I've learned a ton of things from those. One example that I frequently mention to people is that I'm a firewood cutter, and I attended one of the sessions on chainsaw safety. You know, of course, this is after I've been using a chainsaw as an adult for 10 to 15 years, but the guy who was teaching the class was a former feller, he was a sawyer. And when he quit logging, he was working for LNI as the accident investigator.

>> That's a switch of a career.

>> Yeah, I mean, he knows all the shortcuts people take, because he's done it.

>> Yeah.

>> He's done it all. Anyway, he was pretty compelling in saying you should never start a chainsaw without wearing chainsaw chaps and a helmet.

>> Yeah.

>> The majority of accidents with a chainsaw, you don't get a second chance to recover from them, because it does so much damage the first time.

>> Yeah.

>> And particularly people are often cutting alone. And so when something happens, you're in a remote location, and there's not enough time to get first aid before something really bad happens. So I've been a faithful wearer of chainsaw chaps for the last 15 years. And I feel very good about it.

>> Yeah.

>> Anyway, those workshops have been really useful. And I'm usually there to teach something about grazing on forests, or how to manage around, you know, say, toxic plants that sometimes occur in forests. Those have been really useful workshops, and have very much been a crossover between forest owners and livestock owners, many of whom are the same people.

>> Yeah.

>> I would also add, going back to your comments about trees, you know, even though small forest or even forest patches may not be economically important to a lot of ranchers, the habitat value of those things has tremendous value. And I think that's something that most ranchers care about.

>> Yeah.

>> And in the farming community, there was a section in Wendell Berry's book Jayber Crow, where he talks about this transition between what farming looked like before World War II, and how it changed structurally after World War II with the advent of tractors, fertilizer, and operating loans. And, you know, he describes crop farming before that period of time as, you know, people grew crops in the, you know, the flatter soils, the places that had deeper soil that was considered arable. And much of the rest of the farm remained in whatever the natural vegetation was.

>> Yeah.

>> And there was this impulse after the war, you know, with machinery, with loans, with a push, you know, the pressure on the landowner to make more money, pretty soon we were plowing everything from fenceline to fenceline, you know, from ownership edge to the next ownership edge. And that removed a lot of this transitory habitat. You know, these removed -- it homogenized that mosaic, which previously existed even in places that were intensively farmed. And I think we're coming back around to recognize the value of some of those, just even if it's a half acre chunk of habitat, it makes a very big difference to wildlife and really has no economic downsides for the farmer. So I think there's a lot of benefit in people thinking about forest in terms of habitat, even when there's no economic incentive.

>> Yeah, you know, I think farmers know this better than anybody else, especially if you're a Timothy farmer, a hay farmer. Who hangs out on your farm at dawn and dusk? And that would be the multitude of whitetail and mule deer that are out grazing. But you'll notice that oftentimes, they're walking the ridge line or they're moving along, you know, some edge. That's because deer need that security, right? They know that the good food grows in the, you know, in the pasture land in the field area, but they don't want to go all the way out there. They need that treed area to be, you know, safe and to feel safe, to feel secure. And so that's going to offer them, you know, more available habitat and ultimately offer them their ability to grow their population. So if you're a hunter, manage that stand for those deer. Keep it actually semi dense, because they'll like that semi dense area, in contrast to that more open area that's adjacent to it. And you'll see your hunting will just, you know, take off from there. You know, and something you said, and I think it's interesting, is as we decrease the profit margin of farms, what we're doing is we're actually just forcing the farmers to extend the area that they convert out of habitat. And like you said, you know, nobody out here is wanting to go clear cut our forests or wanting to -- you know, we've just got to provide for our families. And so it's kind of the system that's forcing people to. So it's really encouraging to hear that, you know, that's slowly changing. And hopefully, there's some bigger changes on the back end. You know, one of the things -- I know that, you know, Tip, you're a little bit of a naysayer for it. But, the kind of silvopastoral discussion, you know, how do we intensively graze and, you know, do a managed grazing system under trees that we're growing as a crop? And, you know, how do you make both of them happen? There's a lot of research that needs to be done there. You know, what sites can we even do it on? You know, what grass species can we grow that are both nutritious and can survive in the shady conditions? What trees can we manage, and what's our density of our canopy? Like all those questions we don't really have a good answer for over here. But I think there's space for a conversation, there's space for research to happen, especially as we started this conversation saying people are already grazing out on their forest land. All that we're trying to do is turn it into a managed system.

>> Yeah, no, I'd push back on that just slightly. I don't think I'm a naysayer for silvopastoral systems. It's just not my area of expertise.

>> Yeah, yeah, yeah.

>> I'm more familiar with, you know, native landscapes and how to manage livestock within that. But I think there's a -- I am personally very interested in the more intensive versions of, you know, tree plus pasture systems and how that can be optimized.

>> Yeah.

>> It makes me think of some interesting stuff I read from Jim Garish who was -- he's now in Idaho, but he was formerly a University of Missouri grazing expert. And the question came up one time about shade and to what extent is shade beneficial for livestock. And they had done some research on this in Missouri, because the temperatures get pretty hot. And it's also right on the edge of where the tall grass prairie fades into the eastern deciduous forest. And so in Missouri is where you historically had this constant push and pull where the forest advances, you have a fuel build up, wildfire pushes it back, removes some of the trees, you know, it looks more like prairie for a while. And anyway, he was saying that if you have a pasture system that has very few trees, you know, everyone knows what that looked like, you can see the rolling grass and there's this lone giant oak out in the middle of the field. Or around us, it's, you know, a big ponderosa pine.

>> Yeah.

>> You know, it's 100 feet tall, it's got a pretty good sized canopy. But if you have 400 mother cows piled up underneath that one, it's not going to provide shade around. You know, he said the ambient temperature around these animals is significantly higher than it would be if they were just spread out in the sun.

>> Yeah, that's interesting.

>> He said you either need no shade, or you need to provide plenty of shade so that the animals have room to spread out. And I would say that just looking from the outside in, there's a growing interest in these silvopastoral systems where we're deliberately planting trees in some kind of specific pattern or at a specific density so that it's, you know, complementary to rather than competing with grass production even in a built, you know, agro ecosystem and agricultural environment.

>> Yeah. So, you know, that makes me think of something -- you know that lone tree, it's cool that you brought the parallel to the ambient temperature for the animals. Immediately what my thought went to was the soil compaction.

>> Yeah.

>> You know, that one tree, if you have 300 head of cattle laying underneath that, eventually, there is no water that is going to be able to get down to those roots. It's going to just move right away to the side of that, and eventually that tree will succumb to death from that soil compaction. But, you know, to kind of layer onto that, so there's a, you know, the big conversation right now in the dry land forests, these kind xeric -- you know, xeric is just another word for dry. Or you might hear mesic, moist, that are very fire prone, is, you know, what is the pattern? What is the structure that our forests look like when we restore them? And the thought process is, well, we need to create a system that both takes into account habitat, but also fire resiliency and pattern and stuff like that. And there's an excellent researcher who now used to -- he's probably still a professor with them, with the University of Washington. But he works for the department natural resources now, named Derek Churchill. And Derek put together this manuscript paper which has now been put more into a management practice called ICO. It's an acronym that stands for individual's, clumps and openings. And there's been kind of this internal discussion of what's the application of ICO to manage silvopastoral grounds? Because, so I'm going to tie this back into what you're saying with the shade discussion is, so you have these three systems. And like right now, if you go do a thinning on your forest, everybody loves the look of a park, right?

>> Right.

>> Like we all love the look of these big beautiful pines. Oftentimes, you'll hear them called yellow bellies. These yellow belly pines spaced out, you can run your cattle right underneath it, beautiful lush grass in the understory, it's gorgeous. To be honest, it serves almost zero habitat function. So what do we do that is actually going to create that habitat function? Well, what we need are dense patches that in the habitat argument the deer would use. Now in the livestock argument the livestock would use. And so how many of those, what's the size, and how do we arrange them across the landscape in a way that the cattle would utilize them without having a negative impact on the soil there, and also increasing that ambient temperature around them? And then the flip side of that is, is then we can go around, and we do these kind of tenth of an acre, fifth of an acre, quarter acre clear cuts. I mean, it sounds bad, but they're clear cuts. And then what ends up happening is you see the light there increase, and they become these almost natural ecosystem pasture lands. And all the shrubs and the forbs and grasses come up there.

>> Right.

>> And if we're keeping that as a managed system, I mean, this is a prone nutritional forage ground right there. Habitat wise, that is excellent ground for all of your open canopy birds, all of your ungulates, all of your -- you know, turkeys are going to love that. Really anything that needs that high forage type nutrition in their diet. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. Because you don't see a lot of that in those closed ecosystems. Go walk under a completely shaded forest. You won't see many plants growing in the understory.

>> No, there's not a lot of grass underneath a big pine tree.

>> Exactly. Exactly. A lot of needles, but not a lot of grass.

>> That's right.

>> Yeah.

>> Well, since the two of us work for the same employer but haven't spoken much, we could probably spend all day just riffing on ideas that we're trading. But I should probably find a way to wrap this up. A quick search leads me to believe that you can find The Forest Overstory podcast on most podcasting platforms. Is that accurate?

>> That is correct. Yeah. So you can find us on Spotify, on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher. And then if you're just a person that likes to hop on the computer, just like Tip's, you can find us on SoundCloud. And then we don't have a cool website like you do, Tip. But you can find a chapter or a page in our website on the page for some information there.

>> Great. Yeah, just in case folks have forgotten by now. The guest today on The Art of Range was Sean Alexander. Sean's a forester, Extension forester for Washington State University. And I'm excited to go listen to The Forest Overstory podcast, and I expect that some of this content would be useful for listeners of The Art of Range. Sean, thanks for your time.

>> Hey, thank you very much. Thanks for having me out.

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>> Thank you for listening to The Art of Range Podcast. You can subscribe to and review the show through iTunes or your favorite podcasting app so you never miss an episode. Just search for Art of Range. If you have questions or comments for us to address in a future episode, send an email to For articles and links to resources mentioned in the podcast, please see the show notes at Listener feedback is important to the success of our mission: empowering rangeland managers. Please take a moment to fill out a brief survey at This podcast is produced by Connors Communications in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. The project is supported by the University of Arizona and funded by the Western Center for Risk Management Education through the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

>> The views, thoughts and opinions expressed by guests of this podcast are their own and does not imply Washington State University's endorsement.

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