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out of the house and into the woods

October 11, 2014

Walnut St. Co-op members are involved in many different issues and movements. Housemate Snow has been active with NEST, a group focused on protecting forests threatened by logging. He contributed this article for the co-op newsletter.
After attending the annual Earth First! Round River Rendezvous in the Klamath watershed in July, and afterwards joining an effort to set up a road blockade to defend an old-growth forest in Humboldt County, California, I came back up to Oregon to join a yearly summer effort by NEST (Northwest Ecosystem Survey Team) to document the presence of the red tree vole, a rodent protected by 1994’s Northwest Forest Plan, in mature forests threatened by logging plans. NEST, which grew out of efforts in 2000 to protect old-growth Douglas-fir forests near Fall Creek, about an hour outside of Eugene, has been a yearly tradition ever since, and has documented the presence of red tree voles in high-profile timber sales such as the Clark, North Winberry, Straw Devil, and White Castle timber sales, mostly on federal Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land.


The red tree vole (RTV) is a protected rodent under the Northwest Forest Plan.It is an indicator species for the Northern Spotted Owl, which preys upon them, and they nest in the canopies of mature Douglas-fir forests in western Oregon and California’s north coast. Anyone who finds an active vole nest in a proposed timber sale has just not only protected the habitat of that individual vole, but by law, a 10-acre buffer must surround the nest tree, in which logging and any other ground-changing operations are prohibited. So if you can find enough vole nests, you can potentially buffer-out entire units of proposed sales. You might ask, however, how do you find the nests?


It turnsout that the rigging and climbing knowledge forest defenders have accumulated from tree-sits and road blockades has uses outside of direct action–in order to find and document nests, you have to climb trees! Dozens, and dozens, and dozens of them. Sometimes you’ll find a nest 50 feet up, and sometimes you have to climb to the very top, perhaps as high as 200 feet. Once a nest is located, that’s when documentation starts. We photograph the nest, measure its height, size, angle, among other measurements, and take a sample of droppings and what are called resin ducts, which are thread-like objects the length of a Douglas-fir needle that are left over once the vole is finished with the edible part of the needle–yes, red tree voles eat Douglas-fir needles! Don’t you wish you could?

One thing I love about NEST is being able to climb everyday. The process of locating trees, hauling gear through walls of rhododendrons on steep slopes, and rigging lines in trees you want to climb is a lengthy process, but once I get up in the canopy and [hopefully] find a nest, I realize that it’s all been worth it. Climbing is both terrifying and exhilarating, as you look down from 100-200 feet and see that the only thing keeping you from falling to your death is a ⅜ inch piece of rope that you’re clipped into.


Cavities and accumulations are the name of the game. Cavities in trees provide cover from predators and make goodnesting spots, and accumulations (of foliage and lichen) always have a chance of being a vole nest unless confirmed otherwise. It’s the old, fire-scarred legacy trees that tend to provide good vole habitat, which is why mature forests are vital for the well-being of red tree vole and hence northern spotted owl populations.

This summer we’ve been in the Green Mountain Timber Sale in the McKenzie District of the Willamette National Forest and in the Quartz Integrated Project in the Cottage Grove District of the Umpqua National Forest. One of my most memorable moments was being over 200 feet high in a tree in Unit 890 of Green Mountain, overlooking the upper reaches of the Cougar Reservoir and the South Fork of the McKenzie River. On a couple other occasions, I’ve found active nests in the cavities on top of old trees whose top halves have broken off!

You can find out more about NEST at, or email us at

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