Photo Essay: There's more to a forest than the trees

Written and photographed by Jamie Bass, Olympics Field Forester

Increment bore from a 34-year old Sitka spruce.

Increment bore from a 34-year old Sitka spruce.

I've been planning for restoration-thinning we'll conduct this summer on The Nature Conservancy's lands along the Hoh and Clearwater rivers—part of a region we call our Olympic Rainforest Reserves. It’s a tricky task: We're re-connecting 350 15-acre parcels, each different from its neighbor in any number of facets, including species composition and age.

Seeing and documenting the rainforest's flora is easy at least. Salal and conifer don’t move... as far as I know. A Sitka Spruce is easy to spot, but thanks to an increment borer I know how it’s doing and how long it’s been there. In this case - 34 years.

My title of “Forester” might make you think I only pay attention to things that grow green and tall, but one of my first mentors always made a point of saying you weren’t really seeing the woods without making an effort to look for all of its user groups. He listened to his senses in a way we often forget, and could smell if a bobcat den was nearby without looking for it.

The lesson is that fauna is abundant, but a little harder to catch in the act of using the forest. Barring general shyness, dense foliage keep a lot of critters tucked away and hidden behind a wet, dark green veil. Many times I’ve had the fun thought that a bear could be happily napping two feet away from me behind a hemlock thicket. Any woods-going person soon learns to keep any eye out for the other inhabitants, regardless of any romantic notions.

So here are some of the signs I’ve seen just over the past month of who else is using The Nature Conservancy's property in The Clearwater Forest Reserve and The Hoh River Recreation and Conservation Area.


Something from the canid family walked a few miles of road this rare snowy morning. Whomever this was walked so precisely in their own footprints it looked nearly two legged! See how the claws are extended and pointed a bit inward? Coyote off on a morning stroll, looking for breakfast.

I had just heard a rustling behind an impenetrable green wall, when I turned back and saw this. The scratch marks are the bear equivalent of a sign reading “Hello this is Greg’s House”! The marks are made at this height so both sexes can rub their backs against the tree and mark it with their scent. However, most of it is done by males in the spring during mating season. If you thought Tinder was a hassle, imagine having to go around rubbing your face on trees to get a date.


In the Clearwater Forest Reserve, I was hiking into a stand in the bend of the Clearwater river and found multiple users had left their sign all over this old road. Not surprising! This overgrown road leads down to an old bridge that is inaccessible to trucks but probably a nice, dry way to cross the river for these critters.

Some other strange critters were heading down to the Hoh River this week too. With odd plumage and carrying long sticks, must be something interesting down on the river at Schmidt Bar....


You might pull the culvert but someone might just put that blockage back. Beavers used the raised road bed to make their own pond in the highlands here above the Hoh. These sorts of water features keep trees from growing and provide a unique opening in otherwise closed canopy forests. Can’t say I’m anything but impressed at the beavers for their ingenuity at recreating their habitat in this industrial forest stand.


Some of our largest residents on the Hoh obviously love Schmidt Bar as much as I do. A few grassy patches where I soaked up some sun myself is where some Roosevelt Elk were as well.

A clutch of eggs nestled in the moss underwater in one of our cedar swamps. If there’s something to make you sentimental about the work you do, a vulnerable, shiny treasure like this will do it.


Finally one last odd track made with big feet. Did Sasquatch get some custom-made shoes?