Restoring and Strengthening Our Forests

Hilary Franz
Hilary Franz, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands

As we saw this the year, and as the deadly wildfires in California remind us, aggressive wildfires are our new norm. Fortunately, we were able to keep 96 percent of our fires to less than 10 acres — a credit to our brave friends and neighbors who confront these firestorms. But despite our best efforts, it wasn’t enough. The simple truth is that we cannot fight our way out of these fires — we must prevent them. And we prevent forest fires by improving forest health.

That’s why this year we launched the 20-year Forest Health Strategic Plan for Eastern Washington. This first-of-its-kind plan provides a framework for systematic forest restoration and management that will accelerate the pace and scale of forest treatments so we can restore forest health and make our lands more resistant to wildfire.

The Forest Health Strategic Plan is bold and can only be accomplished through innovative partnerships, which will include private forestland owners, small and large.

My concerns are not limited to our eastside forests; climate change threatens the productivity of lands on both sides of the Cascades. That’s why in early January, I outlined Four Resilience Principles of a smart carbon reduction policy:

  1. Tackle the root cause – carbon pollution – and invest in reduction efforts
  2. Strengthen the health and resilience of our lands, waters, and communities
  3. Accelerate carbon sequestration
  4. Invest in and incentivize solutions with multiple benefits

For our forests, for example, this means investing in programs that keep working forests working and maximize the carbon stored in trees and soils. It means incentivizing property owners to preserve forestland and not convert it to other uses. It means investments to grow forest management jobs, improve soil moisture storage, increase timber value, sustain timber production, and increase resistance to wildfire and insects. And it means minimizing the unintended effects of carbon policies on residents and trade-intensive industries such as timber and agriculture.

By restoring and strengthening our working forests, by making investments to ensure they are resilient to climate change, we create economic security for the individuals and communities that depend on these lands. I look forward to working with you on this important effort.

SFLO Manager’s Update: Changes Taking Place in Small Forest Landowner Office

Tami Miketa
Tami Miketa, manager, Small Forest Landowner Office

Greetings to you and I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season with your friends and loved ones!

First of all, as most of you may know, long-time DNR Forest Stewardship Program Manager Steve Gibbs retired in December after more than 28 years with DNR, and over 35 years serving small forest landowners. Steve has been a key player in DNR’s Forest Stewardship Program. A graduate of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Steve worked in Maryland and Idaho before returning to school to earn a master’s degree in Forest and Range Management at WSU. Steve came to DNR in 1989 to lead a restructuring of the department’s Service Forestry Program in southwest Washington. In 1991, he was selected to lead DNR’s newly created Forest Stewardship Program and he continued in that capacity until retirement. Steve’s dedication, great humor, infectious laugh and infinite knowledge of the program is unmatched and will be sorely missed. We wish the very best for Steve as he moves on to the next chapter of his life.

Changes at SFLO

Steve Gibbs,
Long-time Forest Stewardship Program Manager Steve Gibbs, who retired Jan. 1, 2018.

I would like to share with you some exciting changes that are taking place in the Small Forest Landowner Office. Since Steve’s retirement, we decided to consolidate the Forest Stewardship Program into the Small Forest Landowner Office. The time was ripe to make these changes designed to continue to provide both service programs while making best use of existing and anticipated funding.

Here are the main changes that are underway:

  • First, we’ll change the supervisory position that Steve has served into a field-based position that will provide both traditional Forest Stewardship Program and SFLO Technical Assistance services. This will provide more “boots on the ground” to help address the needs expressed by small forest landowners for assistance. We hope to get this position in place sometime in early 2018.
  • Second, we’ll move the duty station for this revised position to eastern Washington in order to better serve the concentration of small landowners in that area.
  • Third, we’ll modify the duties of the two existing Forest Stewardship Program positions and the single SFLO technical assistance forester position so that they all deliver both Forest Stewardship Program and SFLO Technical Assistance services.
  • No change is anticipated for the services that our stewardship fish and wildlife biologist provides.

Regarding our state capital budget-funded programs (the Forestry Riparian Easement Program, Family Forest Fish Passage Program, and the Rivers and Habitat Open Space Program), much of the change is due to the fact that the legislature has yet to pass a capital budget for the current biennium. The resulting lack of funding (with no change in sight) has necessitated changes that wouldn’t have been made otherwise.  With that said, I am pleased to report that we’ve found good solutions that keep all of the affected “capital” funded staff working in DNR, while maintaining in the three capital programs the “core” people who are so important to our ongoing success.

Although saddened to lose Steve’s extensive expertise and experience (but thrilled for him as he gets ready to begin his next chapter in life), we are excited about the opportunity that these changes represent; we’ll be able to effectively and efficiently provide both Forest Stewardship and SFLO Technical Assistance services to landowners. I am very hopeful that these changes to the Small Forest Landowner Office will provide more opportunities to provide important support and services to the small forest landowner community across the state. If you have any questions about the changes to the Small Forest Landowner Office, please feel free to contact me at (360) 902-1415 or email me at tamara.miketa@dnr.wa.gov

Ponderosa Pines Killed by Western Pine Beetle on the Rise

ponderosa pine killed by western pine beetle
PHOTO 1: Stand of ponderosa pine killed by western pine beetle. Photo: James Everitt, Bugwood.org

The western pine beetle (WPB) is a native bark beetle found in eastern Washington that can kill ponderosa pine, its only host in the state. In typical years, they hang around in low populations attacking weakened, diseased or older ponderosa pines. They are frequently found in trees weakened by root diseases, such as armillaria. When trees experience severe drought stress, as they did in 2015, WPB can more easily overcome the resin flow defenses of water-stressed trees.

High numbers of stressed trees produce more beetle offspring and can lead to large outbreak populations. Aerial surveys in Washington recorded 12,900 acres with WPB-caused mortality in 2016, more than double the amount in 2015, and the highest level since 2008. Typically, there is a year-long delay between beetle attack and visible crown symptoms. Drought damage can also have lasting effects on tree vigor and WPB populations may continue to build, so mortality is likely to increase. The most recent large outbreak in Washington was 2003-2004, with over 120,000 acres affected each year.

The pattern left on the landscape is patchy groups of orange or red ponderosa pines (Photo 1). This “group kill” is a result of pheromones used by the beetles to coordinate mass-attacks and concentrate beetles from the surrounding area.

bluestain fungi
Western pine beetles can introduce bluestain fungi that grow into the sapwood, eventually causing tree death. Photo: US Forest Service.

Female WPB that make it past bark and resin, lay eggs in the sugary phloem layer of the inner bark in the main bole of the tree. Hundreds of their larval offspring mine in the phloem, disrupting the vital flow of sugars and girdle the tree. WPB also introduces bluestain fungi that grow into the sapwood and interrupt flow of water in the xylem layer, hastening tree death. In addition to copious resin flow that might fend off bark beetle attacks, healthy trees are induced by attacks to actively produce high levels of terpenes which can be toxic to bark beetle larvae. This response is reduced in weakened or stressed trees, resulting in higher beetle reproductive success and a larger “brood.” To make matters worse for the trees, WPB can produce up to two overlapping generations per year in Washington.

There are three other species of bark beetles that may aggressively attack and damage ponderosa pine. Mountain pine beetle occupy the same niche as WPB in the main bole, but mountain pine beetle outbreaks in ponderosa pine are more likely to occur in higher elevation areas near lodgepole pine, its preferred host. The red turpentine beetle prefers to attack the lower eight feet of the main bole and ips pine engravers can attack smaller diameter tops and branches. It is possible to find all three species in the same tree. These double- or triple-whammies will certainly decrease chances of tree survival.

Western pine beetle egg galleries
PHOTO 2: Western pine beetle egg galleries. Photo: William M. Ciesla, Bugwood.org

Successful WPB attacks are easy to identify and differentiate from the other bark beetle species. Since WPB is the only one that pupates in the outer bark, their larvae, pupae, and newly developed adults are easily accessible for predators, such as woodpeckers. Look for patches of bright orange bark where woodpeckers have flaked off the darker outer bark, a tell-tale sign of WPB activity. Popcorn-sized pitch tubes may be visible on the bark surface, but these are less common than with mountain pine beetle. The surest way to confirm WPB is to remove a patch of bark and look for the winding, serpentine egg galleries in the layer between bark and sapwood that do not change in width (Photo 2). When new brood adults emerge from the tree, they leave behind perfectly round exit holes a few millimeters across.

Orange crowns will certainly get the attention of landowners who will want to take action to manage the problem. Keep in mind that the crown often dries out the season after beetles killed it, so they may have already moved on. If exit holes are present and numerous, nothing will be gained (in terms of managing beetle numbers) by tree removal. Trees with green crowns that have woodpecker activity or pitch tubes with no exit holes may still contain beetles. Removal of these “green attacked” trees may help reduce beetle populations. During an outbreak, this approach is likely a losing battle since beetles can fly in from nearby areas. The best management practice for bark beetles is to control competing vegetation and increase vigor and resilience of the healthiest trees in a stand.

Direct control methods such as pesticides can be effective in preventing attacks to high value trees but will do nothing to save a tree that’s already infested. There is a commercially available pheromone called verbenone that is marketed as a pine bark beetle repellant. Verbenone can be effective with mountain pine beetle in some situations, but for WPB and ips pine engravers, the current formulation hasn’t worked well in field testing.

Ponderosa pine mortality from WPB may be high in some areas, but keep in mind that due to the patchy attack pattern, landscape level effects will be lower than with mountain pine beetle. Eventually outbreaks will collapse as drought conditions improve and beetles have fewer weak trees to support high populations. In addition, more beetles start dying as they try to survive in healthier hosts.

If you would like assistance with bark beetle identification or ideas for their management, please contact the Washington Department of Natural Resources Forest Health Program at 360-902-1300 or forest_health@dnr.wa.gov.

 

Printing an Activity Map for Your Project

Dear tree farmers, loggers, foresters, general readers, and those folks that are apparently reading this article all the way in northern Europe and New Zealand (our stats don’t lie):

In our last newsletter, my predecessor promised salvation from the frustrations involved in creating, and occasionally losing, an editable Forest Practices Application (FPA) in portable document format (PDF). Well, how did he do? Did it work? Send me an email and let me know.

For this article, we’re moving on to mapping.  A crucial (and legally required) element of any FPA, your map shows where and how you’ll be doing whatever it is you’ll be doing — logging, building roads, etc. We get many calls here about the activity map and I intend to show you how to successfully create and print one of your very own. To start:

1  Navigate to DNR’s Forest Practices Forms and Instructions webpage.

2. Before opening the map itself, be sure you have your computer’s popup blockers disabled, otherwise when you go to print nothing will happen. I assure you, it’s frustrating. To disable popup blockers follow these instructions.

3. Once the pop-up blocker situation has been handled, click “Print an Activity Map,” which is found in the list of links under the first heading on the page (see Figure 1).

Figure 1
Figure 1

4. When the map image first appears, you’ll see our standard disclaimer statement. After clicking “Accept.” look in the upper left hand corner of the map, for the button “Map Themes” (Figure 2).

Figure 2
Figure 2

5. Click the down-arrow in the box next to Map Themes to display the various themes. Then choose “Activity Map” from the list (Figure 2-a, Map themes menu).

Figure 2-a
Figure 2-a: Map themes menu.

 

6. Next (and this is crucial!), you need to input the legal description of your property (Township-Range-Section). Enter this information in the appropriate boxes on the top right of the screen (circled in Figure 3). You must input them one number at a time; sometimes it takes a few seconds for the next box to catch up. If you don’t have this information readily available, you can find it through your local county tax assessor database. If you don’t input your legal description, and just zoom to your property, the print option will not work.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Township, Range and Section boxes.

7. After you enter your legal description and press “Enter”and the map should zoom to the section in which your property is located. Now, it’s time to PRINT! Click the printer icon in the top menu bar, and the “Print Map” box will pop-up. Press “Print” in the lower right of that box. (Figure 4).

Figure 4
Figure 4: Print options

 

8. The map will pop-up in a separate tab or window; it sometimes takes a few minutes to appear. Printing through this system automatically scales your map at 1”-1000’, which is the legally required scale. From here, it’s incumbent on you, the proponent, to find your property and map your harvest unit according to the standards laid out in the FPA Instruction Manual (Figure 5).

Figure 5
Figure 5: Map selection to print

Hopefully this worked and alleviated some of the headaches you may have experienced with printing these activity maps out. If not, send me an email and I’ll try and help you navigate the process.

by Matt Provencher, Technical Assistance Forester, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office, matt.provencher@dnr.wa.gov

Market Movements: Lumber and Log Prices

Lumber, log and stumpage price
Lumber, log and stumpage prices in Washington. Source: Figure 11; DNR Economic & Revenue Forecast, Fiscal Year 2018, Second Quarter, November 2017.

After peaking at an average or $376/mbf in 2014, West Coast lumber prices fell to $317/mbf for 2015. They recovered slightly in 2016, averaging $341/mbf, mostly due to higher first quarter housing starts than in 2015.  The increase in starts spiked lumber demand, catching lumber dealers off-guard, and pushed prices up from the end of the first quarter. Prices retreated toward the end of the year but did not fall to earlier lows. Lumber prices for 2017 have been significantly higher, averaging $406/mbf through September.

A continuing downside risk for the forecast is timber and lumber demand from China, which has already experienced a steep decline, could drop even further if the country’s economic growth continues to slow down.

In previous forecasts, we noted that the expiration of the Softwood Lumber Agreement posed a major downside risk to the forecast: the expiration of tariffs might allow a flood of cheaper Canadian lumber into the United States, suppressing domestic prices. This doesn’t seem to have happened. Current expectations are that the countervailing duties imposed on Canadian lumber by the U.S. Department of Commerce will continue through 2017, though a deal is expected early in 2018. These duties will support higher prices.

Robust growth in U.S. residential improvements and housing construction would provide much needed, if unlikely, high-side potential.  This has not yet occurred, despite strong employment growth for the last two years. Although housing demand has picked up there are still a number of impediments — persistently stringent lending standards, a continued tough labor market for younger workers, student loan debt, and general economic and social malaise — most of which are easing, but none of which show signs of completely abating just yet. Additionally, there are a number of supply side impediments constraining construction growth, primarily a lack of skilled labor and a lack of readily buildable land.

Excerpt from DNR’s November 2017 Quarterly Economic and Revenue Forecast

Landscape-Based Forest Stewardship Planning for Chehalis Basin Forest Landowners

Chehalis River watershed forest

Do you have questions about managing your forestland property? Do you need assistance or are you interested in developing a forest stewardship/management plan for your property? Are you interested in attending landowner educational programs and events?

The Chehalis Basin Landscape Scale Restoration Project, a US Forest Service-funded project developed and implemented by Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Washington State University Extension, and the Grays Harbor Conservation District, aims to increase assistance to “family forests” in the Chehalis River Watershed. The Chehalis Basin-Landscape Scale Restoration Project will provide technical forestry assistance, local educational programs, and help with the development of forest stewardship plans for small forest landowners. The goals of the project are to increase the number of sustainably managed family forests using written forest management plans, educate landowners about watershed-wide resource conditions, and tie individual landowner objectives to landscape-scale resource management objectives.

Forest Stewardship
Forest Stewardship is a nationwide program providing advice and assistance to family forest owners.

A master forest stewardship plan will be used as the framework for the development of individual plans for participating landowners located within the Chehalis River Watershed. The master plan will provide information and assistance pertaining to landscape-level issues and guidance to achieve both individual and watershed-wide resource objectives. It also will help guide landowner education and encourage watershed-wide coordination and implementation of sustainable forestry practices.

What is Landscape Stewardship?

Solving issues affecting our forests often requires a joint effort across property boundaries and ownership types. Landscape stewardship involves collaboration among stakeholders in an identified area to help address landscape-level resource issues of mutual concern. A landscape stewardship approach proposes to collaboratively address landscape-scale challenges that threaten the health, productivity and sustainability of the natural resources within a given area. The Chehalis Watershed landscape stewardship effort encourages coordination of technical assistance and incentives for landowners to meet watershed-wide resource objectives.

Landscape Objectives

The Washington Statewide Forest Resource Assessment and Strategy (Forest Action Plan) has identified the Chehalis River Watershed as a high priority area because it contains the largest stock of salmonid species  and greatest total number of fish miles of stream for any given watershed in Washington state. The Forest Action Plan also identifies the upper and lower Chehalis watersheds as a high priority landscape because they contain a large portion of forestland identified as long-term working forests. These areas provide a high level of ecosystem services in regards to conserving biodiversity. They also help mitigate the negative environmental effects of increasing conversion of forestland in the area due to population growth.

Chehalis Basin landscape-level resource objectives include:

  • Conserve working forests
  • Protect forests from threats to health, productivity and sustainability
  • Enhance and restore fish and wildlife habitat
  • Improve water quality/quantity
  • Maximize wood fiber production
  • Enhance public benefits from trees and forests
  • Biodiversity and habitat conservation

Project Location

The Chehalis River Watershed is a landscape dominated by working forestland. Highly productive soils coupled with considerable annual rainfall support excellent tree growth throughout the watershed. Forest ownership consists of a mixture of state, private, tribal and federal lands.

Aberdeen
Timber, fishing and tourism are important industries in Aberdeen and rest of Grays Harbor County.

Private forestlands consist of both industrial timberland and non-industrial private forestland (small forest landowners). Industrial timberlands tend to be devoted primarily to commercial timber production while non-industrial forestland properties tend to be managed for a variety of objectives including timber production, recreation, wildlife habitat and aesthetics. The majority of forests in this region, including those of the Chehalis River Watershed, have undergone some form of management. A series of timber harvests followed by both natural and artificial reforestation have been recorded on most, if not all, timberlands within the watershed. Current timber types consist largely of even-aged Douglas-fir plantations, scattered hardwood production, and areas of mixed hardwood and conifer species.

The Chehalis River Watershed, with the exception of the Columbia River, is the largest river watershed in Washington, covering an area of approximately 2,613 square miles or 1,672,915 acres. The Chehalis River originates in the Willapa Hills and generally flows northwest, eventually depositing into Grays Harbor Bay at Aberdeen, approximately 125 miles downstream from its headwaters. The terrain ranges from relatively flat lowlands to rolling foothills to steep mountainous bluffs within the southern Olympic Mountains. Elevation ranges from sea level to around 5,000 feet above sea level, at its highest point within the Olympic National Forest. The watershed is home to an estimated 140,000 residents in seven counties (Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Thurston, Lewis, Cowlitz and Pacific). Several major river systems occur within its boundaries including the Chehalis, Humptulips, Hoquiam, Wishkah, Wynoochee, Satsop, Black, Skookumchuck, Newaukum and Elk rivers.

Benefits for Participating Landowners

Landowners who choose to take part in the project can receive:

  • Information and assistance for landscape-level issues and guidance to achieve both individual and watershed-wide resource objectives.
  • Assistance developing individual forest stewardship plans that meet Washington State Integrated Forest Management Plan Guidelines & Template, 2017.
  • Opportunities to attend educational programs including field days, winter schools and coached planning classes.
Julie Sackett, stewardship forester, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office
Julie Sackett (left), stewardship forester, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office.

For additional information regarding the Chehalis Basin Landscape Scale Restoration Project effort and/or to schedule a site visit please contact David Houk, service forester, Grays Harbor Conservation District (360) 249-8532 or ghcdforester@gmail.com or Julie Sackett, stewardship forester, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office (360) 902-2903 or julie.sackett@dnr.wa.gov. *

 

* If you own forestland outside the Chehalis River Watershed and are interested in developing a forest stewardship plan, attending an educational event, or are in need of forestry technical assistance, feel free to contact us.

Fishers on Small Forest Ownerships in Western Washington

fisher in western Washington state
A multi-agency program seeks to re-introduce fishers to western Washington state. Photo: US Fish&Wildlife.

Have you ever been called a “weasel”? It might be a high compliment if you consider their status in the animal kingdom!

Weasels are ferocious and swift predators in the family Mustelidae. These amazing and remarkably diverse critters are all basically the same; short legs, sharp eyes and teeth, very sensitive noses and explosive speed and agility. They are adept at capturing different prey species from shrews, mice and birds, to fish, and, in the case of wolverines, deer. Nearly every basic habitat in Washington has a specially adapted weasel: arboreal (marten); skittering through forest undergrowth (long-tailed weasel), cruising high mountain snow fields (wolverine), burrowing underground (badger), living on the ocean (sea otter) or surfing the rapids and swimming after prey in rivers (otter). There are 10 weasel species in Washington, all marvelous in their own way, and all on our landscape today, in part thanks to efforts by determined professionals.

Fishers are the native weasel of low to mid elevation forests. They are a medium-sized weasel, about the size of a house cat, a rich chocolate-dark brown in color and live in complex forest habitats full of down wood, snags and large trees. (Body length, about 36” with tail, and weight, 8-10 pounds). They are slightly larger than marten, who tend to live at higher elevations.

Fisher were extirpated in Washington many years ago due to overharvest, animal control efforts, loss of habitat and the species’ vulnerability to trapping (weasels are suckers for a good scent lure). Wildlife surveys in the 1990s and early 2000s detected no fishers anywhere in Washington. A state recovery plan identified the need to reintroduce these animals if they were to occur in Washington. Efforts to achieve this goal are ongoing, with two releases completed and monitoring ongoing. This work has been successful to the point that WDFW is reaching out to landowners for help with this remarkable effort to reestablish a native species.

In 2008, WDFW, the US Geologic Survey, Conservation Northwest, the British Columbia Ministry of Environment and the National Park Service worked together to conduct the first fisher reintroduction in Olympic National Park. This was followed by another set of releases in the South Cascade Mountains in fall of 2015. All animals were relocated from British Columbia in cooperation with the BC Trappers Association. In 2017, reproduction was documented near Mount Rainier National Park. Fisher reintroduction is shaping up to be a significant success story.

Fishers need forested habitats with abundant small mammal populations (such as mice, voles and squirrels) provided by full canopies, a rich understory, snags and down logs. These habitats are easily provided in well-managed woodlands that include habitat diversity elements such as snags, Habitat or slash piles, and down logs.

The fisher is a candidate for federal species listing due to its rarity across the U.S. landscape. It is still abundant enough in parts of Canada to allow trapping. The reintroduction efforts in Washington state are hoped to result in sustainable populations of this animal in western Washington.

Role of Forestland Owners

The natural range of the species in Washington is now well-occupied by humans, including cities, highways, subdivisions and small forest land ownerships. Our small forest woodlands occupy a key portion of the range of this potentially recovered species. They can quietly exist alongside people as they are small, and feed largely on forestland rodents.

How can the small forest landowner help? The US Fish and Wildlife Service, in cooperation with WDFW is offering a program whereby landowners can sign up and agree to protect fishers if they occur on their lands. In return, the landowner receives protection from any future land use restrictions that could come from fishers being present. This pact is called a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurance (CCAA) and is very straightforward. Some of the terms of the CCA as listed by WDFW are:

  • Work with WDFW wildlife managers to monitor fishers and their dens in the event that a den site is found on one’s property.
  • Avoid harming or disturbing fishers and their young associated with active denning sites (March to September).
  • Report den sites and sick, injured, or dead fishers on one’s property.

A WDFW factsheet explains more about this program.

Western Washington forest
Western Washington forests are excellent habitat for the fisher. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

This is of interest to small forest landowners on the west slope of the Cascades because as the fisher reestablishes itself on the landscape, awareness of the habitat needs of this species, and landowner cooperation, will become essential to the future of this amazing animal.

Fishers are no threat to normal workings of family forest lands, (unless you happen to be a squirrel or a mouse!) and can provide a natural control over damaging rodents in tree farms. Returning this animal to our ecosystem will restore ecological function and a little piece of the amazing richness of Washington’s forests.

For more information on the fisher and the CCAA, please visit the WDFW website, or contact WDFW’s Gary Bell at (360) 902-2412.

And as always, feel free to contact me with questions or stories about wildlife on your forested woodland. Especially if you think you saw a fisher, or have a photo of one in the wild.

by Ken Bevis, DNR Stewardship Wildlife Biologist, Ken.Bevis@dnr.wa.gov