Why pollinators thrive in working forests

Published 13 hours ago

presented by Rayonier

Pollinators such as bees and butterflies are attracted to working forests where lots of pollen is browsed in cleared or newly planted areas. Our beekeeper video and all the photos in this story were shot in the Rayonier forests.

Did you know that pollinators like bees and butterflies thrive in industrial forests? In fact, beekeepers use Rayonier soils to feed and grow their hives in this excellent habitat for pollinators.

How do we protect the native plants and pollinators that call our forests home? Here we share how Rayonier supports and coexists with even its smallest inhabitants, pollinators.

Believe it or not, it starts with the harvest.

Salvia grows wild at Rayonier’s Hood Canal Tree Farm near Poulsbo, Washington. / Photo by Rayonier Safety Officer Karie Kermath

How Rayonier provides excellent habitat for pollinators

Rayonier believes that healthy forests are vital for all living things. The way we manage our lands allows different forest ages to grow and flourish the way Mother Nature intended.

The lands owned by Rayonier are divided into layers according to tree species. The result is an inventory system that provides Rayonier with a way to continuously collect plots of land. This means that we harvest in rotation, cutting only small areas of trees that belong to a certain age category.

“We’re very strategic about how we harvest our trees,” explains Sustainability Manager Ben Cazell. “We don’t want to cut the forest from one end to the other until we start again. Our goal is sustainability. We limit how much we harvest in one location based on the age of the trees. Since Rayonier has been doing this for almost 100 years, what we have developed is the mosaic or patchwork collection table. It is a big conglomeration of different ages, a mixed puzzle.”

Thanks to the patch harvesting schedule, when part of the trees are harvested, sunlight can reach the understory of the forest. Here, the seeds of native flowering plants lie dormant in the soil, ready to germinate. The result is an abundance of flowering plants, shrubs and vines, all of which produce pollen that attracts pollinators.

“I saw many flowering herbs, ferns, shrubs and vines like climbing jasmine. It all starts to take care of itself after the tree is harvested,” says Ben.

A butterfly captures nectar in Rayonier’s Crandall Forest in Yulee, Florida. / Photo Rayonier Communications Manager Tiffany Wilson

Rayonier replants mowed areas within one to two years, and most flower understory is available for about five to six years. About halfway through a tree’s life, as the forest becomes denser, thinning some trees helps keep the forest healthy. Thinning allows sunlight to reach the forest floor again, which results in the re-emergence of flowering plants and shrubs. The leaves are naturally distributed, allowing pollinators acres of floral resources. In these efforts, we maintain a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem that serves all residents, including pollinators.

“I’m convinced that an ecological balance scenario requires all this flora and fauna,” Ben explains. “As soon as you move something, that balance is compromised. Are pollinators important to rayonier? Definitely yes!”

About one-third of Rayonier’s total holdings in the U.S., there are also tracts of land that the company does not actively manage its timber operations, but instead protects because of wetlands or waterways. Rayonier also strictly follows each state’s Best Management Practices, or BMPs, which are guidelines for ensuring that forestry and harvesting operations do not impact nearby waters.

A bee browses pollen on a foxglove plant growing wild in the Rayonier Forest near Coos Bay, Oregon. / Photo Rayonier Real Estate and Marketing Systems Manager Robert Hall

The Beekeeper’s View

Our land is so conducive to pollinators that we have had a beekeeping business allowing beekeepers to keep their hives on our property for over 60 years.

We work with hobbyists, small honey business owners and industrial honey producers, explains Barlow Smith, Hunting and Recreation Sales and Marketing Manager for Rayonier, who runs the business.

“Some of the bigger beekeepers we work with will follow the flow of honey from one region to another in the spring and summer,” he said. “If they stayed in the north during the winter, they would have to keep and feed their bees indoors. Thus, it helps financially to resettle them in our lands in the south.

The Non-Timber Revenue Resources Unit at Rayonier is responsible for overseeing land licensing to beekeepers. They work to better understand the individual beekeeper’s business model and any goals they may have. Rayonier then helps them place their hives in a location that will allow the bees to thrive.

According to Business Development Manager Ken Rester, Rayonier has a team-oriented mindset when it comes to beekeepers.

Danielle Brooks, owner of The Honey Truck Company, checks on her bees in one of Rayonier’s Saint Augustine woods.

Ken explains, “When a new beekeeper comes to our area, ‘How can we help you be successful?’ we start with the question “As a beekeeper myself, I understand their problems. Therefore, I can take this knowledge and help them.”

Once the hive is laid, it only takes a few minutes for the bees to find the pollen. A popular plant among the bee community is the flowering shrub known as gall. Gallberry produces small white flowers that provide a precious flow of nectar. Our beekeepers know and appreciate the floral resources available to their bees in our healthy, productive forests.

Danielle Brooks, owner of The Honey Truck Company and soil licensing beekeeper, shares her experience raising bees on Rayonier soil.

“It’s a good thing they have so much to pollinate,” says Danielle. “You want them to be able to have a bunch of resources around. So now we have a bunch of Gallberries blooming where our bees are, a bunch of Palmetto. I saw a Spanish needle. Just different things that grow and give them a different diet.

If you are interested, you can read more about the licensing of Rayonier Beekeeping Lands.

Danielle Brooks, owner of the Honey Truck Company, handpicks the Rayonier forest that she thinks will provide the best forage for her bees.

Other pollinators living in Rayonier forests

In addition to the honey bees brought to Rayonier by beekeepers, our forests are home to many other native pollinators. Bees, bats, moths, and butterflies are just a few examples of creatures that spin and buzz. Depending on what forest you are in, the local pollinators will be different.

In Florida, the Zebra Longwing butterfly can be found feeding and fluttering on Confederate Jasmine and Cyprus Grapes. While in Washington, beetles and moths play an important role in pollinating the area’s native plants.

Rayonier’s understanding of the importance of the entire forest ecosystem allows for different activities during the timber harvesting cycle. By allowing native flowering plants to grow undisturbed, soil nutrition is increased and organic matter is added. This organic matter supports plant growth by feeding pollinators in our forests.

“To maintain a healthy, productive ecosystem, you need the whole big picture,” says Ben. “Pollinators ensure the development of the vegetative community, which helps to restore our forests. Even birds, squirrels and mice are important. It’s a big web of life.”

Sunflowers grow naturally after harvest in one of Rayonier’s Florida forests. / Photo Resource Land Manager Jordan Huntley

What about chemical applications like herbicides?

Although herbicide treatments may be applied to trees once or twice during their 20- to 40-year life cycle, this is done under strict guidelines, with only licensed applicators and local, on-site inspectors applying the spray. This is done in accordance with federal regulations. In these circumstances, the herbicides used by Rayonier and the forestry industry have very low toxicity levels, lower than most household cleaning solutions.

When using herbicides, our focus is to reduce competition and allow the newly planted forest to establish. Once thinned in the same way, they are used to reduce competition from competing woody brush. This in turn encourages flowering vegetation to occupy the forest floor: a win for pollinators.

Beekeeper Danielle Brooks’ honey bees in a Rayonier forest near St. Augustine, Florida.

Rayonier exists in Harmony with Pollinators

One of Ken’s favorite things about beekeeping is looking at the hive and seeing the harmony that exists with the bees. “If you can take that mindset and put it into people, it’s life-changing,” he says. “We would be more efficient.”

Rayonier strives to provide a similar harmonious environment in our forests. Through our integrated forest management practices, we have seen both pollinators and the plants they pollinate thrive on our soil. We believe that protecting clean water sources, limiting herbicide applications, and managing our forests well support these efforts.

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Rayonier is a leading timberland real estate investment trust with assets located in the most productive softwood growing regions of the United States and New Zealand. As of June 30, 2022, Rayonier owned approximately 2.7 million acres of forestland located in the southern United States (1.79 million acres), the United States Pacific Northwest (486,000 acres) and New Zealand (418,000 acres). or leased under long-term contracts. More information is available at www.rayonier.com.

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