Commissioners consider new forest stewardship plan

Kitsap County’s Commissioners have started considering new stewardship practices for local forrest lands.

“The final harvest will be old growth trees to never be cut, 400 to 500 years from now,” Arno Bergstrom a forester, who’s the current director of a local branch of Washington State University’s extension program.

The county should try to get at least 80 percent of its 6,500 acres of forrest land on the path to old-growth conditions, to make up for shoddy management for the past 200 years, he said.

Back then, local land belonged to the old growth forests that spread throughout the puget sound basin.

Pioneers chopped down many of the old trees in the late 1800s, and other trees were cut for road construction, facilities projects and harvesting.

Harvesters relied on natural seeding to replenish the woods. That method favored Douglas Firs over other types of trees, because they “produce an abundance of seed which can germinate in a variety of surface conditions,” and there happened to be a lot of them near the recently harvested areas, according to a report by Bergstrom.

Many of those trees should be cut, he says.

“Horse logging” is Bergstrom’s preferred harvesting system, although it’s about 25 percent more expensive than other logging methods.

The cost are “offset in the long term due to ecological benefits,” including less soil disturbance, faster recovery for nearby plants and less damage to the remaining trees, according to Bergstrom’s report.

To offset the costs, he suggests that the county sell the trees cut during the thinning process as saw logs and pulpwood.

Revenue for the project is expected to start around $100,000, and grow to $325,000 within about five years.

Meanwhile, the project’s overall costs are expected to remain steady at $150,000 per year for the next 10 years.

The project is expected to loose $50,000 in its first year, make up for that loss in the second year, and quickly increase its profit until it’s steadily generating $175,000 per year.

It’s worth the initial investment, Bergstrom said, to get the forest back to a healthy place.

“A lot of people don’t realize how managing for utilitarian purposes has impacted the forrest’s condition,” he said. “People just assume that these forrests will renew themselves, but “that’s not necessarily the case.”

Charlotte Garrido, the county commissioner representing South Kitsap, says she generally supports the idea of good stewardship of public forest land.

“It’s a really big deal, and I think we need to be thoughtful moving forward,” she said. “The idea of having healthy forrest, and recover the costs is a good one. You just have to make sure that your plan is put together pretty solidly.”

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