Forests protect from erosion; are critical to reducing carbon dioxide in the fight against global warming; and provide habitat for insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. Trees also provide lumber, paper and byproducts that make their way into such things as turpentine, chewing gum, nail polish, cleaning solutions and rayon.
In a recent interview with KP News, associate professor Kevin Zobrist of the extension forestry program at Washington State University described how a forest starts and develops in Western Washington.
The birth of a forest is marked by a major event, such as a fire. Grasses and small plants take root and then sun-tolerant trees (Douglas fir and alder) begin to grow. The seedlings and young trees face drought, floods and predators, from insects to birds to mammals. Of those that survive, some become dominant, reaching higher into the canopy and benefiting from more sun. Smaller trees fail to thrive and some ultimately die, falling over and providing habitat and nutrition on the forest floor. Some taller trees eventually fall, opening up the canopy and allowing shade-tolerant trees (cedar and hemlock) and shrubs to grow. Over centuries, those trees come to dominate and the forest becomes diverse in age and species: an old-growth forest.
“When people drive by a second-growth forest and see trunks of many sizes, they think the trees are all different ages when in fact they were all planted at the same time,” Zobrist said. “The larger trees are the dominant trees; the small ones will never be as large.”
The second- and third-growth trees on the Key Peninsula may not have the diversity of old growth forests, but they do contribute to erosion and climate protection while also playing a part in the timber industry. Zobrist said that the United States is a net importer of lumber. Forestry practices in developing countries are often not sustainable and can lead to massive deforestation and erosion. He said it may be more environmentally sensible to use local lumber since it is grown and harvested responsibly and also avoids the environmental cost of shipping.
Current forest practices have evolved over the past 70 years. From the original agricultural approach—thinking of trees as a crop like corn where fields would be completely cleared and replanted—logging and replanting now aims to reflect the conditions that are more like the natural origins of a forest. If a tract is clear-cut, it should not be perfectly sculpted. Some trees are left standing to provide habitat and slash piles are also important, though the ideal size may not be as big as some seen along the KP Highway. Microclimate variation can be provided with irregularities in the land surface.
“The time to invest is at the beginning and the end of a forest’s life,” Zobrist said.
Most of the logging done on the KP is with a state permit on 5- to 10-acre parcels requiring a six-year moratorium on further development imposed by Pierce County, together with a requirement to replant typically imposed by the state. The perspective of the state is that the forest will grow back and continue to provide environmental benefit. County permits are needed if land is to be converted to a use other than forestland and tend to require more tree preservation with buffers along the KP Highway and adjacent to wetlands.
Adonais Clark, planner with Pierce County Planning and Land Services (PALS), and Aileen Nichols, Washington State Department of Natural Resources field forester for South Puget Sound, both said that in Pierce County, it is easier than in some other counties to log with a state permit and then request that the moratorium be lifted. This means that a company can purchase land, log it and, after a relatively simple process, sell the parcel as a site for a single -family home.
The state created the moratorium process in 1997, requiring that each county offer at least one avenue for landowners to request a lift through a public hearing process. The state also provided a second, optional administrative process to request a lift. Pierce County adopted regulations in 1998 providing both avenues, making it much easier to log and develop compared to some other counties.
Clark said that to have the moratorium lifted, companies sometimes have to mitigate—add plantings in and around wetlands, for instance—but if the county had been managing the permit, it would not have allowed those wetland trees to be cut in the first place.
Clark also said that Pierce County Councilman Derek Young is aware of this and has requested that PALS staff review the county’s forest practices regulations to see if they need to be strengthened.
Educating landowners is critical, Zobrist said. WSU’s Extension Forestry Program, with funding from the counties in North Puget Sound, provides educational services to residents of those counties. If South Puget Sound counties could offer funding, the program could provide those same opportunities in this region. Zobrist estimated that if Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston and Mason counties each contributed $25,000 to $30,000, it would cover the annual salary and benefits of the staff needed to expand the program to our area.
Washington State University has a forestry extension program that offers a rich selection of educational videos, classes and other resources, including a list of consulting Washington state foresters. www.forestry.wsu.edu
DNR has a small-forest landowner program offering financial and technical assistance “to enhance fish and wildlife habitat, reduce fuels, increase recreation opportunities, improve forest health, produce revenue or all of the above.” www.dnr.wa.gov/sflo
The Washington Farm Forestry Association provides educational programs. www.wafarmforestry.com
Pierce County Forestry Management also provides services. www.co.pierce.wa.us
The Northwest Natural Resource Group is a membership organization dedicated to promoting a sustainable, environmentally sound economy in the forestland of the Pacific Northwest. Its focus is on the smaller woodlands owned and managed by private landowners, smaller forest product companies, government agencies and nonprofit organizations. www.nnrg.org