ECOSYSTEMS > INLAND OREGON > FORESTS
Within a forest, there may be stands of unique tree types known as “patches.” Patches often pop up as the result of some catastrophic change to the environment, such as a wildfire or a destructive wind storm. Following the damage to the landscape, fast-growing species such as red alder or bigleaf maple help stabilize the soil, preventing erosion and quickly restoring habitat for a variety of animals. Not only does this allow the ecosystem to recover more effectively, it provides greater biological diversity and, in the end, makes the forest healthier. On the Oregon coast, alder patches are particularly important because of this tree’s ability to “fix” high levels of nitrogen.
Nitrogen fixation is a biochemical process in which plants use microorganisms in their bodies to extract nitrogen from the atmosphere and transform it into other usable compounds. In a way, it’s like the red alder creates a natural and very potent fertilizer. The importance of the tree to the health of Oregon forests is still being studied but active conservation and restoration of alder patches is an ongoing part of forest management in the state. Although patches have been greatly reduced and fragmented as the result of a century and a half of logging, there are still areas along the Oregon coast where you can see these unique ecosystems.