The timber industry has been an enduring driver of the Lewis County economy for more than 14 decades and now supports nearly 6,000 workers and pays approximately $303 million in annual wages in the county. Additionally, local foresters are also careful stewards of our natural resources, protecting fish and wildlife, cool, clean water and growing and harvesting trees for renewable wood products we all use every day.
Forestry is a long-term business, and planning is an essential part of maintaining a sustainable forestry operation. While each landowner tailors planning to their own objectives and set of circumstances, there are also many things that are common in the sustainable forest management cycle practiced by today’s foresters.
The planning process takes place years before any timber harvesting operations begin. For family forest landowners, there may only be one harvest in their lifetime, as working forests are often part of their retirement planning future. For large landowners, planning a decade in advance is common, by considering the current inventory of timber, identifying stands for harvest, through road construction and improvements, easements, and bounding out timber set- asides for potentially steep slopes, buffers for streams and sensitive wildlife areas.
Before a harvest is ever conducted, a Forest Practices Permit is obtained from the Department of Natural Resources, and approval is required before any operations begin in the forest. Washington’s foresters operate under the most comprehensive set of regulations in the nation, with the adoption of the science-based and collaborative Forests & Fish Law. At every step of the way, landowners protect public resources, fish and wildlife habitat, forested streams, threatened and endangered wildlife, wetlands, potentially unstable slopes and sensitive sites.
After three to five decades of growth, a reforested area is ready for timber harvest. Most harvesting in working forests today is practiced in second or third-generation forests planted decades ago by landowners that looked to reinvest in the future of sustainable forestry. Today’s foresters carry on that tradition. Foresters take care to maximize the growth potential and productivity of their land by treating the replanted area once with small amounts of herbicides to remove invasive plants, such as scotch broom, or other noxious weeds to give new seedlings a chance to grow. Additionally, landowners pile the slash or broken tree tops and limbs from harvesting and either burn the material on site or deliver it to a facility as biomass for energy production. Most landowners go above and beyond state law requiring a forest plantation within three years after harvest – they typically replant as soon as possible to begin growing the next rotation forests, a renewable resource. Across the state, three trees are planted for every one harvested. That adds up to 52 million trees planted each year in Washington.
Through science-based research and adaptive management, forest practices evolve by using the best science available to monitor and improve forest practices. Progress towards protecting salmon habitat, and protecting clean water is measured through identifying resource objectives, such as:
1) maintaining shade in streams from buffers to keep water cool;
2) delivering large woody debris for in-stream salmon habitat;
3) disconnecting road drainage systems from streams to reduce siltation;
4) identifying potentially unstable slopes, and avoid or mitigating those areas;
5) Improving the road system and culverts so fish can pass; and
6) Classifying streams properly to protect all life stages of fish.
With new scientific understanding, refinements are made through the adaptive management process to ensure that forest practices are always up to date.
For example, soil compaction has been found to reduce the regeneration capacity of a replanted forest. Foresters now use harvesting methods and machinery that minimize soil disturbance. Scientific research has shown the importance of leaving behind trees and downed logs for wildlife habitat. “Wildlife reserve” trees, green recruitment trees, snags, and downed logs are now left in harvested areas for birds and small animals.
Across the state, and in Lewis county alone, everyday thousands of foresters wake up and go out into the woods to manage our working forests to provide the wood products we buy at local building stores. We are proud that Washington is the 2nd largest lumber producer in the nation, providing the renewable wood to build homes and shelters for people, all the while protecting our most precious resources in the forest.