In Your Words: How Small Forest Landowners are Responding to COVID-19 Outbreak

Earlier this month, DNR Small Forest Landowner Office Manager Tami Miketa penned a note to readers with tips on how to take care of their mental health and get through the COVID-19 outbreak and its subsequent fallout. In her column, she asked landowners how they are staying safe and staying sane during the pandemic. The following is a selection of their responses.

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Thanks for many good suggestions during this trying time.

My means of coping is to apply for the Forestry program in order to assure I am doing my utmost to improve the land I live on. I am applying for the deferred forestry program, as well as building a garden, which will operate as a community-supported agriculture project to include neighbors in the efforts and harvest. Community-building seems to be the appropriate response and brings much needed solace to know we are doing our best. We are strictly quarantined as I have an extremely vulnerable partner to this disease. We count our (many) blessings every day and try to do our part to build community and take care of each other.

Blessings to all … this too shall pass.

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Thank you for your suggestion for maintaining the health and wellness of ourselves, our families, and our communities. They are wise and much appreciated, but I would suggest that you missed one very obvious suggestion – get out and enjoy your forest! You can maintain social distancing, get some fresh air and exercise, enjoy the various signs of spring out in the woods – birds, plants, and wildlife – and maybe even lay out your plans for managing your tree farm!

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I appreciated your newsletter sentiments at this difficult time. You included many helpful suggestions to live each day focused on what’s truly important.

I always turn to gardening to ground myself in times of stress & when my mind is whirling with “what ifs” or “I should haves.”

Some of the wonders I witnessed this week while gardening: a hummingbird collecting dried seed fluff from my clematis for a nest, and a cascade frog, fat with eggs, I think, sunning itself on a slate flagstone.

Witnessing but a moment in the life of just two of the many creatures with which I share my garden made me feel more connected to the planet.  I also experienced a surge of joyful gratitude.

I really enjoy the DNR monthly e-newsletter — I always learn something about the natural world. It was a treat to see a slight departure in content. You hit the nail on the head and your sentiments resonated with me, and I’m sure with many other readers. Stay well in mind and body.

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WOW! Thank you for such level-headed, calm advice. I posted immediately to my Facebook friends, many of whom are in recovery programs and several of whom have expressed how stressed they are by the current situation during zoom meetings we have set up during this period. How wonderful it was of you to “step away” and focus on the important things at this time.

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In the grand scheme of things, this is the most important message you have ever written in the newsletter. Forestry will be front and center again someday, and the SFL community will go back to politicking for priorities, but people’s well-being and the kindness and serving others is more important that a few trees and some fish (forests and oceans too). I am impressed with your departure from the norm to offer some hope in this crazy time. Good for you.

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First, I would like to thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and compassion with everyone. I think there are many things for people to learn and adjust to throughout this process and the current events. 

I think and have shared with my wife that one of the greatest things to be gained from the stay-at-home opportunity is the reconnection with relationships. 

Most of us are a part of two family careers and generally pass through the home and are focused on the things going on at our jobs. Many people have a relationship but are not in a relationship. It can only be good to get reacquainted with those closest to us. I believe it will make all of us stronger. 

Additionally, we will all realize what we really need to survive comfortably and what we can live without.  I believe that will also make us all stronger. 

Finally, developing a sense of community will most likely be a part of the final picture of this time. People helping people and, also, people feeling comfortable asking others for help when they need it. Asking for help is sometimes viewed as a weakness instead of a strength. 

Even with all the negative side of this virus, I generally search and acknowledge the positive parts and look forward to those things as we all process our fears, stresses and concerns over the weeks and months ahead.

Thanks again, and stay safe and healthy.

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Message from Tami Miketa, Manager of the Small Forest Landowner Office

Tami Miketa
Tami Miketa, manager, Small Forest Landowner Office

In this message, I am stepping away from my traditional forestry-related topics to speak about the critical issue we are all facing at this difficult time.

We are in the midst of some very uncertain and unprecedented times, and our level of anxiety is extremely high. The outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and can cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger. Below are some tips and thoughts I have come across that have inspired me and I want to share with you.

First of all, we all need to focus on the good you’re doing for others. Always remember, by staying at home, you are doing your part in protecting the vulnerable people in your neighborhood and community who are at risk for the severe form of COVID-19. Indeed, knowing others will benefit from your decisions and health authorities are genuinely grateful for your efforts can make stressful situations easier to bear.

Don’t get stressed about being stressed. The more you resist stress, the worse it gets. Instead, interpret the extra adrenaline as having a high energy level or an energy burst. Perhaps you can use the energy and take a run, take a walk through your woods, or just feel it flow through your veins.

Keep things in perspective. Sure, there are big things going on now. However, our brains can make relatively small things look really big, too. Remember that your financial portfolio is not your life portfolio. Your ability to think, talk, walk, see, hear, and love are way more important than the current value of a financial investment. Our brains are unable to process many things at one time, so our full attention becomes focused on one problem. Gratitude is not a corny practice; it is bringing ourselves back to reality when we’ve lost perspective. Multiple times a day, list your blessings ― shelter, food, health (focusing on what is working, not just what isn’t working) and, most of all, the people in your life.

Reconnect with family and friends. In these times of social distancing, use and appreciate the time to read, write, get home tasks done, watch movies, play board games with the family, and connect. Remember the people far away who could use some interaction. FaceTime your family, call your aunt, or Skype your old college buddy. Make sure they are doing well, and if they’re not, lend an ear and your warmth.

Take care of yourself. Eat nutritiously, with plenty of veggies and some fruit, and get enough sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, don’t try too hard. Obsessing about how vital it is to get to sleep won’t get you back to sleep. Think of it as a perfect time to meditate. Going over thoughts again and again? Try writing them down.

Practice good mental health. It is important during any stressful event to check in with yourself and your own mental health. You cannot help take care of others until you have taken care of yourself.

Remember that the situation is evolving. Some decisions are easy: If you’re sick, stay away from others. If you have plans that are two months from now, and there’s no penalty for postponing a decision, remember that the right answer may become very clear by that time, so why stress now? On the other hand, if you’re responsible for organizing an event, canceling sooner rather than later will let others make better plans. Overall, remember that the importance of our community’s well-being should be more important than saving a few dollars.

Know how to deal with emotions and when to ask for help. Accept your emotions for now. Otherwise, you’ll get sad about being sad or anxious about being anxious. You don’t need to justify your emotions. Simplify them and let go of the metaphors you hear in songs and movies. Know it will pass. If it’s prolonged, please ask for help. Talk to a counselor and/or your primary care provider. Getting help when needed is a sign of maturity and wisdom. Don’t wait until you’re at wit’s end – get help early and often.

Include helping others as part of your COVID-19 game plan. As I mentioned earlier, it’s normal to think of protecting yourself and your family first. However, if things get difficult in your community, I encourage you to keep an eye out for how you can help others. Reflect on how you might contribute to the strength and well-being of others beyond your immediate family, particularly if things get worse. Of course, this would not mean ignoring guidelines around public safety, or foolishly exposing yourself. But do think of how you might help others.

Roll with the punches. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is rapidly evolving, every day brings something entirely new and unexpected. These disruptions to our cherished routines can be another big source of anxiety. Try to create new routines and new structure, and find new positivity to create comfort in the home. Sometimes, there are projects that we always wanted to do but never had the chance because we’ve been too distracted or busy. It might be the perfect opportunity to finally check boxes on that to-do list that we’ve been putting off.

Most of all, be kind and compassionate. We’ve evolved to take joy in helping others, connecting with others, and working in teams. The happiest people are not the richest ones but the ones who have learned to be compassionate. Think of the people closest to you and how you want them to be happy and healthy, and then bring those same thoughts and feelings to others. Be generous with your kind words and your kind deeds. We all will benefit, and so will you. COVID-19 is a wake-up call, and our salvation is in our compassion.

Asking someone if they are OK, leaving a note at the neighbors to see if they need something while you run to the store, sharing a supportive smile as you pass strangers on the street, these are all ways folks across America are showering acts of kindness on each other during these unprecedented times.

Here are some other ideas to help others:

  • Message and/or call to check in on friends and family. This is especially important for our senior and immunosuppressed communities. Remind them that they are not alone.
  • If you know of someone who needs resources (food, goods) but is unable to leave their home, you can send them a virtual gift card or order necessary items to be delivered directly to them (via online stores, grocery delivery, etc.).
  • Show gratitude for first responders, folks in medical fields, and those organizing food banks. You can do this by message, phone call, e-card, or the like.
  • Donate online to local non-profit organizations that are helping people through the crisis (food banks, shelters).
  • Writing gratitude letters is a great way to spread some kindness. Order postage online, and send a note to someone who could use a smile.
  • Do you miss connecting with people? Try coordinating virtual meet-ups and activities to give people some structure and fun. Virtual book clubs or game night, live-tweet movie/show watching, or any other activity that can be shared via social media and/or streaming.
  • Small businesses are taking a hit from lack of customers. To help with this, purchase gift cards that you can use at a later time, or gift to family or friends. The extra funds will help them keep their operations open. Check to see if they have opened an online shop with delivery.
  • Spend some time with your pet or walking neighborhood dogs. Maybe foster a pet if you would like some animal companionship.

Remember, self-isolation measures are temporary. Like all other disease outbreaks, COVID-19 will pass, and life will return to normal. Because we don’t know when that day will come, we just have to wait it out. By following the guidelines issued by public health and practicing good hygiene and social distancing, we can help ensure the health care system doesn’t get overwhelmed all at once. The best way to manage anxiety is by focusing on the positive that we have around us right now.

I would love to hear some of the things that you’re doing to help yourself, your family, and your community. If you would like to share, please send me an email at tami.miketa@dnr.wa.gov and I will post them on our website at dnr.wa.gov/sflo.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel, and remember, we can do this!

Creating the Right Certified Prescribed Burn Manager Program for Washington

A prescribed fire is set in the Methow Valley. (Photo by Ken Bevis, DNR)

By Rob Lionberger, Eastern Washington Stewardship Forester, Forest Health Division, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, rob.lionberger@dnr.wa.gov

Washington state has a unique opportunity to build a legislatively backed program for enabling those who wish to use fire as a tool to do so safely and responsibly. Washington House Bill (HB) 2733, passed in 2018, directed the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to develop and implement a certified prescribed burn manager program with the intent of safely increasing the pace and scale of prescribed burning in Washington. With deliberate thought, input from our partners and stakeholders, and the example of 20 other states in various stages of implementing similar programs, we are designing a program custom-fit to our state.

HB 2733 intends to cover all non-federal burners in the state, including private landowners, non-profit organization staff, private contractors, college students, and state employees, as well as anyone interested in certification as a burn manager in Washington. The DNR will provide training and education for those who wish to be certified, but certification is not required to lead a burn in the state.  However, certification will have several benefits, including a reduced liability standard and potentially streamlined approval for burn permits and smoke management requests. There will also be some continuing education and burning experience required to remain certified. The program addresses decertification of burn managers who violate burning and smoke laws or regulations as well.

The DNR has made some good progress this year already, including a focus group in central Washington for stakeholders, partners, and interested parties to be able provide input during the planning process. We intended to have two more such meetings in eastern and western Washington as well, but the current restrictions on meetings have made those unlikely to happen before the program is out for a trial run, in June or July. The basics of the program came from that initial productive meeting, but you can help shape the final product with your feedback. The team at DNR is drafting the pre-work, classroom curriculum, and field requirements now, in addition to the recertification and decertification processes.

If you are interested in learning more about burn manager certification in all 21 states that have the program, please check out the Forest Stewards Guild report here. I rely heavily on this great resource to understand the various states’ approaches. If you are interested in becoming a certified burn manager or just want to find out more about the program in Washington, please contact me at rob.lionberger@dnr.wa.gov or 509-703-9988.

Rob Lionberger is acting as the Prescribed Fire Program’s Prescribed Fire Training Specialist in DNR’s Forest Health and Resiliency Division. He is currently actively working on the creation and implementation of the certified prescribed burn manager program for Washington state.

Mysterious! Antediluvian! Otherworldly! Salamanders!

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Former DNR staffer Noelle Nordstrom holds a Northwestern salamander she found with biologist Ken Bevis (not the salamander pictured) during a field assignment near Elma. (Photo by Ken Bevis, clearly not the salamander, DNR)

By Ken Bevis, Stewardship Wildlife Biologist, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov, with Noelle Nordstrom, Coordinator, Streamkeepers of Clallam County

“Wow! I saw a salamander walking across the top of the leaf litter in my forest! What are they doing cruising about like that?”

Thank you, observant small forest landowner, for that question, and allow me to say a few things about this element of our native biodiversity.

Mysterious!

Antediluvian!

Otherworldly!

Salamanders!

They are an elusive, yet magical presence in our woodlands. Their bulging eyes, dinosaur-like snouts (in miniature), stubby little legs, long tails, and slow-motion lifestyles are fascinating. Their habitats are hidden and always moist; under logs, deep in the soil and duff, in moss-covered rocky talus, and in forest waters. These ancient creatures are descendants of some of the earliest vertebrate species, and we are fortunate to have many in Washington.

The Pacific Northwest is a hot spot for salamanders. Their Goldilocks habitat needs are particularly well-met in Western Washington, where it is never too hot, too cold or too dry. Forests of our state with abundant down wood, deep duff, and water sources scattered about in the forest can contain an abundance of salamander species.

Washington has 14 species of native salamanders (University of Washington, Burke Museum), with a particularly high diversity on the Olympic peninsula and in the southwestern portion of the state.

Our salamanders come in three basic forms:

  1. Small wiggly skinny ones 3-6” long, mostly dark with varying marks on their back. Often found under something (old boards, rocks, logs, in sumps). These include the long-toed, ensatina, and Western red-backed salamanders; the Dunn’s, VanDyke’s and Larch Mountain salamanders who love moist and rocky areas; and also the torrent salamanders, which depend on headwater streams and seeps.
  2. Big, dark, mottled, dinosaur-looking ones that are 6-12” long, sometimes seen cruising over leaf litter, under logs, or living in a stream. These are the Cope’s and Coastal Giants (Dicamptodon spp), and the Northwestern (Ambystoma spp) giant salamanders. These especially occur in the Olympics and southwest Washington.
  3. Rough of skin with a spectacular orange belly, about 6” long – Our one-of-a-kind rough-skinned newt. These critters breed en masse in some ponds and then disperse across the uplands for surprisingly long distances.
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The Western red-backed salamander is common throughout much of Western Washington. (Photo by Ken Bevis, DNR)

Several of the most common salamanders in the small wiggly category are mostly or completely terrestrial, living their entire lives in moist rotting wood, talus, and underground passages made by small mammals such as moles.

Wide-spread species are the Western red-backed and the ensatina. They have similar life histories, with eggs laid in tiny chambers in rotting wood where the females will guard the eggs from predators. (Imagine the underground drama of a marauding shrew attempting to eat the closely guarded eggs of an enraged mama ensatina!)

Small forest landowners commonly encounter these species, often when moving wood or old lumber. Note the markings (or lack of) on the backs when you find one.

The Cope’s and coastal giants live in association with live streams, mostly. In fact, these salamanders usually live full time resting at the bottom of deep pools in coastal and lowland streams in far Western Washington. They eat aquatic insects and small fish, yes, including baby salmon. (No, we don’t need to control them!) They can be up to 12” long and are an amazing and monstrous presence to behold.

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Northwestern salamander, one of Washington’s largest. Big, huh? (Photo by Ken Bevis, DNR)

The Northwestern salamander is one of the giants but is in a different family (Ambystoma) and has a more terrestrial set of habits. It is mostly nocturnal and often goes out cruising in the forest, like this one we encountered near Chehalis. It prefers still waters, like ponds and ephemeral puddles.

And then there are the rough-skinned newts. These charismatic little orange and brown gems will travel a surprisingly long way to standing water for breeding before returning to their subterranean upland haunts.

They have a remarkable set of mating behaviors. Breeding balls are formed, which can have dozens of adults clinging onto each other in a frenzy of sexual activity. Wow! The eggs are laid in the pond, one at a time and attached to vegetation. After a period of development, the juveniles make their way overland to find somewhere to live, usually under something rotten.

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The rough-skinned newt, ready for his close-up — as long as you don’t get too close to this poisonous little guy. (Photo by Ken Bevis, DNR)

They have a bright orange belly that says, “Watch OUT!” Their skin carries a neurotoxin that will make some predators sick (or kill them!), including humans. They can be safely touched or held, but be sure to wash your hands after handling, and don’t lick (or eat) the newts!

There is a silent salamander “arms race” going on between rough-skinned newts and garter snakes. The garter snakes are the newts’ only real predator, and the snakes are immune to the toxin. The newts keep evolving to have stronger toxins, and the snakes then respond with stronger immunity to it. Different local populations of these two species will vary in their toxicity/immunity relationship from place to place. (Thanks for that cool tidbit, Noelle!)

What can the small forest landowner do to help our salamanders?

The bright orange belly of the rough-skinned newt is one of nature’s ways of saying “Do not touch!” (Photo by Ken Bevis, DNR)

Retain rotten wood wherever you can, especially the really rotten stuff. Keep those small ponds and wetlands intact and protected. Avoid grazing right into ponds and puddles. Don’t introduce fish where they already don’t occur. Fish are predators of amphibians, especially larvae. Kill bullfrogs. Keep deciduous plants that shade the water – deciduous is better, as it allows the water to heat up a bit before the leaves come out, when the salamanders need some warming!

Sometimes there are places in our forests where water collects in closed puddles or pools. We call these features vernal ponds, where the water goes away in the dry parts of the year but stays long enough to provide significant environmental and habitat functions early in the season.

Many amphibians will use these features for breeding, especially if they last long enough for egg-laying and larvae development. These are great places to find egg masses from the Northwestern giant salamander! Look for a grapefruit-sized egg mass, often surrounding a stick or grass stem. A symbiotic algae often grows within the egg masses.

These vernal ponds provide a place for substantial microbial life, algae and diatoms, providing for small insects that can feed the amphibians in their reproductive mode. Sometimes these wet spots seem inconvenient but are particularly valuable as they allow water to slowly recede into the soil and subterranean recesses as groundwater.

Salamanders: Understated. Elegant. Cool. Amazing creatures deserving our help.

Intrigued? Good. Here are some links to websites with more salamander information: Burke Museum at the University of Washington; Stewardship Adventures; Woodland Fish and Wildlife.

Send your best wildlife photos and stories from the field to ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov and you could be famous for a few moments in this publication!

And thank you for providing habitat.

Pest Alert: Top Kill in Western Larch

By Melissa Fischer, Forest Entomologist for Eastern Washington, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, melissa.fischer@dnr.wa.gov

Between June 2018 and November 2019, forest health specialists in North Idaho received 12 reports of top kill and mortality in western larch that appears to have been caused by a species of moth. Larvae collected from infested western larch were identified using DNA analysis. The closest match was a moth in the family Tortricidae, Cydia rana; a species native to the eastern U.S. The presumption is that the species found in Idaho is Cydia laricana. Cydia laricana is a closely related western species that was described infesting western larch near Missoula, Montana, more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, no specimens are available for DNA comparison.

Although native, very little is known about the biology of C. laricana. This species has not previously been documented as a mortality agent and is therefore not well-studied. It appears that C. laricana tunnels into the wood to feed, develop, and possibly pupate. Following pupation, adult moths emerge, mate, and lay eggs. Similar moth species usually have a one- or two-year life cycle per generation. In Montana, adult specimens have been collected in May, suggesting that emergence and subsequent attacks on new trees may occur in spring.

While C. laricana has only been found infesting western larch in Idaho, it has been documented in both western larch and Douglas-fir in Montana. Infested western larch in Idaho have been found in both pure and mixed-species stands, sometimes scattered throughout the stand and sometimes found in small patches. Infested trees are between 3-14 inches in diameter and no more than 30 years of age.

The first symptom of attack is yellowing from the top down. The top kill progresses down the stem, sometimes killing the tree. Signs of attack include small canker-like areas (flattened, sunken, loose, cracking bark and viscous sap) on the main trunk and branches, and the presence of frass (excrement from the moth larva).

Management

Insecticides cannot be recommended due to lack of information on the C. laricana lifecycle, which is necessary in order to identify an appropriate application timing. Sanitation by removing and destroying (chipping or burning) infested trees may help reduce populations. Thinning may not be effective at increasing stand resistance, as a number of reports originated from young stands that had recently been thinned.

If you suspect Cydia laricana may be infesting your western larch in Washington State please contact Melissa Fischer, DNR’s Northeast Region Forest Entomologist, at melissa.fischer@dnr.wa.gov

For additional information and pictures, please see the Idaho Department of Lands’ complete factsheet: https://www.idl.idaho.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/116/2020/02/Cydia-Fact-Sheet_12.6.19_2.pdf

Get to Know a Forester: Sean Alexander

This month, we are featuring one of our partners, Sean Alexander, the new WSU Extension forestry coordinator for Northeast Washington. Wherever you meet the third-generation Washingtonian, be it the forests or the lanes of the local bowling alley, he’s never too far away from pine. 

Greetings!

My name is Sean Alexander, and I am delighted to introduce myself as the new Northeastern Washington forestry extension coordinator for Washington State University. I will join the team led by Andy Perleberg and work closely with the DNR on education, outreach, and technical assistance.

I am currently completing my master’s degree at Washington State University in forest ecology and will begin working out of Colville in my new position within the next few months. As a third-generation Cougar (Go Cougs!), born and raised in the Tri-Cities, I am excited to serve the Eastern Washington forestry community.

At a young age, my father instilled in me a passion for the outdoors, whether it was fishing, boating on the Columbia River, or learning to shoot the BB gun (careful kid, you’re going to shoot your eye out).

In college, I figured out that I could connect my passion for nature to my future career. I completed two bachelor’s degrees, in wildlife conservation science and forestry. I was afforded many great opportunities, from conducting research in the Sierra Nevada to the slopes of Mount St. Helens. My master’s work is focused on silvicultural prescriptions on the Fremont-Winema National Forest of south-central Oregon. This area is dominated by dry pine and mixed-conifer forest types, very similar to Northeastern Washington.

While living in Pullman, I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with the outdoors. Hunting has become a passion of mine, as it allows me to observe nature and helps me understand the requirements of providing food for the table. There is nothing better than sitting in a blind on a brisk fall morning, waiting for any movement down the draw, and watching the early activity of everyone else in the morning.

Sean Alexander, the new WSU Extension forester for Northeast Washington, is seen in his other natural habitat: a bowling alley.

I hope to begin exploring Northeastern Washington and continue to develop my hunting skills in this region, and the many other possibilities that this corner of the state has to offer. I’m an avid bowler, competing in the local Palouse Bowling Leagues, and I come from a big family, with 11 siblings and 12 nephews and nieces, so Thanksgiving is always a rowdy one.

I believe forestry is best conducted with an ecosystem approach, with a holistic view of many components to support sustainability and resilience. For example, protecting your home with fuels reduction, promoting habitat value, and maintaining economic sensibility can all be accomplished together. I look forward to working with landowners to accomplish these goals.

Since I was a little kid, I’ve always had a passion for helping others and a skill for educating and communicating. Being able to tie together my passion for forestry with my passion for education, while being able to serve the people of Washington, is truly the most rewarding job someone could ask for.

As I take the next step in my life, I am excited to set my roots and begin building a relationship with those who I get to serve. I am hopeful that I will be a strong resource for local landowners who desire to further develop their own skills in forest management, and together we can help build-up Washington’s forests.

If you’re going to be in Chewelah on June 26 for the forest field day, come by! I’d love to meet you and discuss projects you have going on and ideas you may have for extending education to the region. If not, feel free to reach out and say hello at sean.alexander@wsu.edu!

Announcement, Event, and Other News

Due to the current situation with COVID-19, most upcoming events have been canceled or postponed. However, the following events are still on the calendar. Please frequently check the WSU Extension website at forestry.wsu.edu to ensure these events are still occurring.

Log-Grown Specialty Mushroom Webinar

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

 

Forest and Rangeland Owners Field Day (details to come)

Chewelah

Friday, June 26, 2020

 

Family Forest Field Day (details to come)

Winlock

Saturday, August 22, 2020