fir trees make hay

Suspended 20 stories in the air, Ken Bible looks down on the crown of a 500-year-old Douglas fir and ponders a mystery.

The vantage point allows the University of Washington forest ecologist to study the upper reaches of this old-growth forest, where a reproductive orgy is under way.

“We’ve never seen anything like this here,” he says, reaching over the edge of the open-air gondola to grasp a limb laden with cones. He counts at least 30.

“Normally, a branch like this would have about three,” he says. “Why so many this year? We really don’t know.”

The work is part of a bigger effort to figure out what climate change, both natural and man-made, will mean for the Northwest’s iconic forests.

Seattle Times, 27 Nov 2007