When the landowner is looking to do forest restoration in the dry conifer forests of Eastern Washington, a forester has to get creative. Not only does density, mean diameter, or species composition need consideration, but the spatial structure or arrangement of the trees themselves is an important ecological characteristic of these fire-prone forests. The ICO Method (Individuals Clumps & Openings) is the result of spatial analyses of stem maps from historic reconstruction plots in the Pacific Northwest where prior to the modern era of fire suppression forests were open and parklike with a "clumpy-gappy" nature. The method's trick for quantifying something that is more of the art than the science side of silviculture is to measure the connectivty of canopies. A tree without a canopy touching other trees is an Individual, a Clump is any number of trees with connected canopies, and Openings are the treeless spaces that open up the canopy significantly as a result of clumping trees together elsewhere. The app, which can be installed on a cheap Android tablet, takes how many trees per acre are prescribed to be left, and the proportions of clumps (1, 2-4, 5-8 trees, etc.) calculated from the analysis to generate a tally. Coupled with a GPS capability, a forester or a marking crew can check quickly while they mark if they're getting the spatial characteristics they want and document their work.
In Eastern Washington, this method has become popular particularly with the public land agencies who focus on forest conservation and fire resilience, and who often receive pushback on the ecological validity of active forest managment. Currently it is commonly used by the Forest Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Nature Conservancy, and forest health collaboratives. Logging contractors aren't complaining either. Since the creation of openings and "clumping up" the leave trees, operational corridors are larger with easier manuevering for equipment. Plus, complete leave tree marking makes cutting faster and easier. As demand for the system increases, contracting companies that provide layout services have begun to train staff and bid for contracts that can now require its use.
It may not work for every landowner's needs, but for some foresters it's exactly the right tool for the job.
Interested in trying it for yourself? The ICO Manager's Guide is available online: CLICK HERE