I recently shared a training video that showed you three patterns that tell you about a forest structure.
Here it is again in case you missed it…
What we talked about is this:
Species Distribution (How many different species?)
Age Distribution (How many different aged trees?)
Edge Habitat VS Forest Interior (Where’s the nearest edge?)
These patterns have BIG implications for naturalists, trackers & survival practitioners because they develop your ability to recognize landscape patterns at a much higher level.
(This is why skilled trackers can sometimes predict exactly which animals will live in a forest… even in unfamiliar territory)
And now it’s time to build on this skill…
This article will teach you how to avoid the biggest mistake people make when interpreting forest signs, and give you the best ways to practice.
Let’s start with…
An Honest Mistake People Might Make When Looking At Forest Patterns:
Okay so first things first…
There’s one potential sticky point we didn’t cover in the video, and it could mess up your analysis. It has to do with the size of the forest.
Here’s what I mean…
What we’re seeing here is a comparison between two forests of the same type… the only difference is size.
In both cases we might be looking at a forest made of 100% coniferous trees.
But DON’T be fooled into thinking that these forests are the same.
Just because the trees in one area might be 100% coniferous, it doesn’t mean the same will be true if you walk 5 minutes east.
I hope that’s obvious.
Main Point: You can’t base your entire analysis on a small area of forest. You need to look at forests from a big picture perspective.
So let’s take a lesson from grandma and start thinking of forests as being like a patchwork quilt. Kinda like this…
This is a much better example of how most forest work…
Notice that if you were standing in one of the green circles… you would see a massive forest of spruce. And if you were standing in one of the yellow parts… you would see mostly Oak.
But this forest is definitely not just Oak or Spruce. This is really a mixed forest.
And the vast majority of forests you encounter will be mixed too.
Except in rare cases (such as large scale monocultural planting)...
...Almost every single forest you encounter will grow with a variety of changes in age distribution, species distribution, etc.
But here’s the tricky part…
Sometimes it’s only obvious when you map these changes over large tracks of land (50-200 acres).
I’ll give you some tips for how to do this towards the end of the page.
But it also helps to have some patterns in mind so you know what to expect.
So let’s break down some more examples:
Check it out…
Here we have a forest that switches halfway through from young trees to old trees.
We also notice that the change happens over a range of about 100 acres.
So why is this important?
Well… If you were in the eastern part of the forest you might think the whole area was only 5-15 years old, right?
But that would be a pretty big mistake.
Even though this isn’t a hugely diverse forest, it still has a point of increased diversity where the two forests meet… the edge.
And it’s small enough that many animals could be using BOTH sides of this forest for very different reasons. (And you can too) Let’s look at another example…
Here we have an example that shows three different forest types… each dominated by a unique species of tree.
There’s also a residential area (which incidentally has probably the most diversity of all)
Here’s the tricky part again…
If you were standing at the interior of these forest sections… you might not think there was much diversity.
But from a birds eye view it becomes obvious that this forest is actually very diverse.
Each forest section might be fairly uniform… but the combination means that the forest as a whole is in fact a mixed forest.
So this would be a great place to practice tracking, wildcrafting, or any kind of outdoor skill.
Okay so now that you understand the need for tracking patterns over large tracks of land let’s talk how-to. Here are some tips for practice and skill-building…
5 Practical Steps To Hone Your Forest Analysis Skills:
Here’s some things to work with…
Memorize The 3 Forest Analysis Questions - Write them down on a card and keep them with you at all times. You want to get to the point where it becomes automatic to look for species, age and edge habitat every time you see trees.
Always Consider The Size of Your Forest - How big is your study area? Are you exploring half an acre? Or is it a big stretch of 1000 acres? Where is the nearest big forest?
Practice Mapping - Try to map out a bird’s eye view of how the forest patterns change in different parts of the landscape. See if you can find any correlations with elevation, shelter from wind, or proximity to water.
Think Like An Animal - What food sources are present for animals in different forest types? What kind of forest are the deer sleeping in? Why? When you spot animals… make sure you notice the ecology - overtime these observations will help you predict their behaviour.
Look For Plant Growth Patterns - Some plants will grow everywhere. Some plants require very specific ecology. Try to learn what plants grow in each different forest type of your area and you’ll be able to find them anytime.
And there you have it…
Remember - being deeply tuned to patterns in nature comes from having real life sensory experiences outside.
The more you get outside and practice being aware, the more you’ll start to notice cool patterns. It’s really that simple.
So what’s next?
As you might have already guessed…
Being tuned to patterns of the forest is just one piece of the complete naturalist toolkit.
To really get the most from your time outside…
…You need to build knowledge of how nature works as an interconnected system of wildlife and plantlife within the context of ecological observation skills.