Understanding history is a puzzle. There are a handful of trees on the Mendocino ranch that are clearly much older than all the others. This Oregon White Oak tree has a huge 6′ diameter trunk and is 80′ tall on a ridge on the mountain. The next largest trees are less than 3′ in diameter. There is another spot with a couple of huge old white oaks like this one and one Douglas Fir that towers over all the other trees. Based on typical Oregon White Oak growth rates the a 6′ diameter tree like this is probably 300-500 years old. The vast majority of the trees on the ranch are probably less than 150 years old. Reports from people who have lived in the area for many years say that there are many more trees than their used to be. That all suggests that only a handful of trees on the ranch were here when the Native Americans were managing this land. Having more tress and brush growth on the land reduces the summer stream flows. Summer stream flows are from springs where ground water flows from the aquifer. Trees find this water with their roots and transpire it before it has a chance to flow into the creeks. Reports are that there used to be fish in the creeks on the ranch but now none of the creeks have enough summer water to support fish. This loss of the salmon has huge impacts on the ecosystem. It’s a bit counter intuitive to think that more vegetation leads to reduced stream flows. There are various reports of locals about how streams that have not flowed for years in the summer suddenly regain their summer stream flows after a large fire in the area. The entire ecosystem has benefited from the salmon bringing nutrients back from the ocean in their bodies to increase the fertility of the land. This no longer happens.
We have typically felt that more trees is better for the ranch but studying some of these patterns and fire patterns suggests that a healthier pattern that reflects the historic patterns is fewer larger and healthier trees and more grass.
A Huge Tree
There is a limb on the right side of the tree that grows straight down for about thirty feet. Young trees typically angle their limbs upward. This tree looks strong but a bit weary.
Past Its Peak
The canopy of this oak is huge but it has actually lost two of it’s three main branches in the last 10-15 years. The remains of the decaying limbs are still on the ground. The two limbs are starting to heal over but the wound that broke against the trunk will probably lead to rot in the core of the tree. It was larger at it’s peak.