Centralia Couple Named Washington Tree Farmers of the Year

Award: Chuck and Nan Reber Higgins Honored at Tuesday Ceremony for Farm’s Success

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The next time you walk into a home improvement store to buy a 2-by-4 of Douglas fir, Centralia native Chuck Higgins and 20-year Centralia resident Nan Reber Higgins hope you’ll wonder, “Did Chuck and Nan grow this one?”

Their work toward educating wood users, practicing sustainable forestry and being active members of their tree farming community — and the community at large — earned the Higgins couple the distinction of 2021 Washington Tree Farmers of the year by the Washington Farm Forestry Association.

A crowd of about 80 tree farmers, family and friends from across the state gathered Tuesday night at the Higgins’ “Salzer Ridge” parcel in Centralia to celebrate and tour the property.

Chuck and Nan own Michigan Hill Tree Farm LLC, which was named after their first parcel on Michigan Hill in Rochester. With the addition of Salzer Valley parcels, the company’s forest land now totals 110 acres. Chuck has been an active member of the Lewis County Farm Forestry Association since the 1970s, including a stint as the chapter president in 1984. He also serves on the Centralia College Foundation Board of Directors.

“You’ve shown, like most past Tree Farmers of the Year, to be true ambassadors to sustainable forestry through the management of your tree farm and through an involvement in the tree farm community, and I mean that sincerely. You have done some really amazing things,” said Bob Obideski, chair of the Washington Tree Farm Program, while presenting the award to Chuck and Nan.

Chuck is retired from a 44-year career with TransAlta. Nan retired from teaching in special education in local school districts. Now, they join a large percentage of Washington Tree Farmer of the Year winners from Lewis County.

In their video application to the Tree Farmer of the Year contest, the duo discussed the Salzer Ridge parcel and what goes into being stewards of that land. That forest, they said, contains a tremendous amount of biodiversity, featuring mostly Douglas fir, cedar and red alder, with dashes of hemlock and grand fir. One of the forest’s streams, the middle fork of Salzer Creek, is a salmon spawning waterway. Timber there ranges in age from two to 48 years old with patches of 80-year-old timber retained for esthetics.

Bears, blackberry vines and seedling-hungry deer present problems for Chuck and Nan, but they see these challenges as opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the forest’s flora and fauna. Now, with the brand new walking stick and book on ecological silviculture given to them with their award, the couple can continue to care for the tree farm for years to come.

“We feel very honored to be the recipient of this award.  We have known several of the past recipients over the past 40 years or so and to be thought of in the same league as such folks is truly an honor. Dr. Nels Hanson, former Centralia College President, was one such recipient and a wonderful steward of his forestland,” Chuck and Nan told The Chronicle in an email.

“The logo for the Washington Farm Forestry Association reads ‘Stewards of the Land for Generation to Come.’ We just try to be good stewards and leave the land a little better than we found it,” they said.