As part of the Northwest Forest Plan, large areas have been designated on many federal forests in western Oregon to provide critical habitat for plants and animals that are associated with old-growth habitat. Some of the structural characteristics often considered typical of old forests include large-diameter overstory trees, large standing and fallen dead trees, and one or more understory layers (Figure 1). However, not all of these areas are currently in old-growth conditions. Many of them contain young (<40 years), uniformly dense Douglas-fir stands that regenerated after timber harvest. The original management goal for these stands was to produce high yields of timber and associated wood products. With implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994, the management objective shifted to accelerating development of old-growth characteristics by enhancing structural and biological diversity of these areas.
A major challenge today is how to promote these structural characteristics in younger stands. Researchers have been asking if lessons can be learned from the development of our current old growth and applied to management of younger stands. Dr. John Tappeiner and his university and agency research partners are helping to answer this question by examining the differences in development between old-growth and young stands in western Oregon. Understanding how the structure of these old forests developed may provide a model for management of young stands, especially when the management goal is to provide habitat for species associated with older forests.