Some Logging is Important

Logging looks destructive. Trees uprooted, gashes on trunks from felling, soil upended, understory destroyed. It’s not a pretty sight for those of us who love forests. But it can be a way to restore some forests to long-term health. This blog is an invitation to think critically about the complex subject of logging through the lens of one logging operation.

Even this first stages of a logging operation in a quiet forest are a shock..

Working with our local Whidbey Camano Land Trust (WCLT) as a leader of hikes and teacher of school-aged children, I recently had the opportunity to walk through one of our preserves with a local logger as tour guide. In Island County, WCLT manages over 11,000 acres of forests, farms, and coast line. This is the story of one 721-acre tract known as “The Trillium Forest.”

The Story of Trillium Woods

In 2010 WCLT raised $4.1 million dollars in five months to purchase land that was about to be logged, sold, and turned into a large-tract, expensive housing subdivision. Hikers, bikers, horseback riders, and hunters all rallied to raise funds so that these acres, owned by the Trillium logging corporation, could be rehabilitated, and turned into a multi-use trail system that also functioned to broaden and extend wildlife habitat on the south end of the island. At the time, it was the largest ever purchase for WCLT.

There had been significant logging of this tract over the years by Trillium Corporation. In 1980 there was a 450- acre clearcut that had been overplanted and never thinned. When WCLT acquired the tract in 2010,  the forest was a mix of Douglas fir of varying densities, red alder, and some wetlands. If the forest was left to regenerate as acquired, it would have posed a fire hazard for surrounding properties and much of the area was not a healthy environment for wildlife because of the tree density.

A group of WCLT members being shown a stand of Douglas fir planted too close together which affords too little light for understory. The trees grow straight up to the sun with few lower, leafed branches. This weakens the trees, making them vulnerable to wind and pest damage. Lower dead branches create a “ladder effect” for fires. Food availability for wildlife in the understory is poor.

After an extensive search of area logging firms to find a company that respects the need for leaving trees standing for carbon dioxide sequestration or leaving parts of forests that can regenerate themselves, WCLT hired Janicki Logging Company in Sedro Wooley. Over the past half dozen years several blocks of trees in the Trilllium Forest have been thinned to reduce density  from some areas that had 600 trees/acre to 220 trees/acre. By contrast, a healthy old growth forest has about 25 trees/acre. In these thinned  blocks trees have more access to light and nutrients and can grow in a healthy manner. Additionally, understory plants are filling in to provide better food for wildlife.

Fourth generation logger, David Janicki, leads the WCLT tour.

As a longtime lover of trees and advocate for very little logging, I jumped at the chance to attend a Land Trust tour led by Dave Janicki, 4th generation logger. In my book Keepers of the Trees, a Guide to the Greening of North America (https://annlinnea.com/books/) I featured an old-time logger, Merve Wilkinson, who focused on minimal disturbance to the forest. This book was offered as a gift to donors who gave over $100 in the fund-raising campaign to acquire these lands.

My book, published in 2010, features 14 people of different professional backgrounds that care for and about trees.

 

The need for some logging

The focus on the current thinning project is to get the forest density down to 125 trees/acre. Logger Janicki walked us through undisturbed trails pointing out previously logged areas that have regrown. “In a climate like ours, forests restore themselves relatively quickly. The damage you’ll see when we get to the area with equipment will begin to heal as soon as we leave.”

When we arrived at Patrick’s Way, the main artery trail of Trillium Woods, the usually quiet, undisturbed gravel road was muddy with large tire tracks and the sound of machinery and falling trees in the distance. Our first stop was a pile of logs by the side of the trail and a machine called a Gatherer.

 The Gatherer follows the Harvester machine through the woods, picks up downed trees and moves them into piles along the road for the Loader, which will pick logs up and place them on trucks to be carried away.

The Gatherer follows the Harvester into the woods picking up felled trees and bringing them to loading areas near the road.

The Harvester is a high-tech machine  operated by a skilled logger that determines which trees should be felled and then carefully cuts them and lays them along the “slash road” for the Gatherer to retrieve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janicki guided us to the Harvester machine that he had hopped off to give us this guided tour. This machine has treads over 8 wheels. It creates its own path through the forest by laying down small trees and branches in front of it. The machine then travels this “road”, crushes the trees and branches underneath releasing their nutrients back into the soil. This eliminates the need for slash piles and burning.

The slash road is created by the Harvester as a path through the forest. Driving over it, the Harvester grinds minerals and nutrients from the live trees back into the soil. This eliminates slash piles and slash pile burning.

In the driver’s seat of the Harvester, Janicki both assesses which trees need harvesting and then harvests them. These felled trees are picked up and laid next to the trail. The Gatherer machine then comes along the newly established trail and picks up the felled trees to bring them back to the loading area.

One of the bonuses of this harvesting system is that the first round of thinning actually paid for itself and generated a small profit. The small diameter wood was sold as pulp and firewood. The forest responded well to that first thinning. In the current and final thinning work some dimensional lumber will also be harvested, thus providing further support of the WCLT’s work.

A look at other forests in Washington state

I am lucky enough to live in a hugely forested state. The Trillium Forest is a fine example of a forest benefitting from forest management. Other forests in our state do not present such clear mandates for the intervention of logging for overall forest management and health.

For perspective: Washington state has 22.5 million forested acres which cover about half the state’s land area. The majority of these forests occur on the moist west side of our state. Some of those forests are managed by the National Park Service where logging is forbidden. Some are managed by the U.S. Forest Service where current logging rules and regulations demand an almost ten-year lead time before cutting. Approximately 5.6 million acres are managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources. The remainder are a combination of privately held or land trust held.

How do we balance the need for lumber products with the need for overall forest health? This question can only be answered on a case-by-case basis. Proposed logging operations face scrutiny from state and federal laws, environmental concerns, and concerns by neighboring property owners. This scrutiny is important. It has put a huge halt to the free-wheeling clear cuts of the 1970s.

And yet, there must be balance.  We need lumber products AND we need forests to protect watersheds, carbon sequestration, and wildlife habitat. My invitation to you is to think holistically when reading about any proposed logging operation.

Christina and Ann  dwarfed by an old growth red cedar at South Whidbey State Park. Forests which have never been harvested in our region eventually produce healthy, ever-changing old growth forests.

18 replies
  1. Marcia Wiley
    Marcia Wiley says:

    Excellent story, Ann! I always learn something and get inspired by your Blog posts. Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Tree Woman. 🌲

    Reply
  2. Diana Lindsay
    Diana Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Ann! I, too, learned something about the density of forests. Thanks for keeping an eye on our forecasts!

    Reply
  3. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    Great storytelling, Ann, as always. So many stories I could share on the topic, having had a forester father. I could tell of his reaction to an “opinion” paper I wrote in college, taking the anti-clearcutting stand. I could tell of the “forest” he planted in part of our meadow, then died before he could care for it, as I know he intended, and my weak attempts to thin it. I could tell of a visiting friend’s horror of the logging of private timber lands on the way to Mt. St. Helens. I could say what I said to her, after explaining the care Weyerhaeuser (and other companies) take for the land (in large part thanks to my father’s position as a researcher): “I live in a stick house, use toilet paper (though bamboo now), and read books. I can’t also be anti-tree cutting.”

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you, Gretchen, for your experienced and wise response. Yes, as the daughter of a Weyerhaeuser researcher, you have a lot of credibility on the subject of logging. Would love to have been a mouse in the corner listening to your father’s response to your anti-clearcutting opinion piece!

      Reply
      • Gretchen Staebler
        Gretchen Staebler says:

        Haha. He was angry, that I remember. I probably told him I learned more by taking the stand I was less familiar with. I probably also told him I didn’t necessarily hold the opinion I took; I hated for him to be mad at me! (P.S. I got an A on the paper. I think the class was Dendrology.)

        Reply
        • Ann Linnea
          Ann Linnea says:

          Appreciate the followup you wrote to your earlier story. In college I also wrote a paper that my father disagreed with—a positive review of Paul Ehrlich’s book Population Bomb. Forty years later when I was visiting Mom and Dad and picked up the mail, I discovered they were supporting an organization that advocated for the idea that fewer people would mean less stress on the planet! “Oh, yeah my father said, it is so clear that things are getting too crowded.” Sometimes things come full circle.

          Reply
  4. Oshi
    Oshi says:

    Thank you Ann for this important information and beautiful story. I’m so happy to hear of the protection, care and honoring given to Trillium Woods. I hold in my envisioning many more forests being cared for likewise.

    Reply
  5. Glenda Goodrich
    Glenda Goodrich says:

    Thank you Ann. This was really interesting to read. I especially appreciated learning about smashing the slash: “The machine then travels this “road”, crushes the trees and branches underneath releasing their nutrients back into the soil. This eliminates the need for slash piles and burning.” I am forwarding this to my daughter’s boyfriend who owns 85+ acres in Southern Oregon and another 80+ in the Humboldt redwoods, both of which he is managing himself with sustainable forestry practices he has (is) researching. He has a Youtube channel (Wilson Forest Lands) with thousands of subscribers who watch and learn from his DIY methods. Thank you for being a strong, kind, and forthright leader and teacher. I love and appreciate you!

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Thank you for this, Glenda. I went on line to look at the Wilson forestry practices. He his a thoughtful, determined, hard-working young man.

      Reply
  6. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    Thank you for this piece, Ann. So much I don’t understand about forest management but I know that a responsible approach can be beneficial. I’m open to learning and I suspect that willingness is the best place to start. I walked a new urban wetland area today with red cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir. We really are so lucky to live here.

    Reply
    • Ann Linnea
      Ann Linnea says:

      Yes, we are so very lucky to live here! And your blogs and photos open all our hearts to the beauty of here.

      Reply
  7. Judy L Todd
    Judy L Todd says:

    Dear Ann,
    You never fail to amaze me with your wide range of interests, experiences, and supporting role everywhere you go and with everyone you touch!
    I love this post – trees being one of my most favorite peoples- and am thrilled to know you are and have been involved over the years. Why would I be surprised? You are the best. Bless the work of your heart and hands.
    JT

    Reply

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