Stewardship: A to Z

A to Z Thinning

This week gave me two good reasons to visit the A to Z stewardship project on the Colville National Forest.  The first was to collect video for the blog and scope for an upcoming news story.  The second was to spend a couple hours with Mike Petersen (The Lands Council based in Spokane, WA) along with Whitney Ward and Brett Allbery from KREM2 (Spokane CBS Affiliate).  Mike and I have spent years working together as part of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition.  We always look for ways to tell our story of forest collaboration and this was an excellent opportunity.

Context for a Story

Following the 2015 wildfire season, I was asked to join Senator Maria Cantwell and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers in Spokane to discuss concerns and solutions along with a number of key leaders from our region.  Whitney Ward covered the story for KREM2 and interviewed me as part of her piece.  We exchanged cards.

Last month she contacted me asking if I wanted to be part of a story she wanted to do about the wildfires and forest management.  I reached out to Mike and we made it happen.  The story is going to air in the coming weeks and I will share it here when it does.  This story also gave Mike and I the opportunity to walk and talk about what was going on in the woods.  It was impressive.

Stewardship: A to Z

SNW on A to Z
SNW Board visits the A to Z project in June 2017

The Stewardship project is going very well.  The area that the contractor is working is on the Northern end of the project area, just off a main Forest Service arterial road.  We looked at two units while we were there and it was interesting to see the difference between the unit that was completed in July and the current unit.  When I last visited the area in late June as part of the summer Sustainable Northwest board meeting, they were almost done with the lower unit.  It looked amazing.  Since then the debris that was required to leave behind had gone from green to red and brown.

As part of the contract, the machines are taking limbs and debris back up the hill and spreading it over the skid trails.  When it’s fresh, the trails simply disappear.  This is designed for erosion protection, to improve the way it looks, and to provide continuous fuels to burn when they return with the use of prescribed fire in the spring.

Need for Active Management

The other thing that was visually obvious was the stark contrast between the managed area and the unmanaged forest (Check out theforestblog Facebook for videos about this).  Mike and I wondered why they stopped where they did.  The recently managed forest looked alive with a mix of fire-resistant western larch, quaking aspen, and other mixed conifers spaced naturally on the hillside.  When the unit ends it’s like looking at a dark wall of trees.  There are thousands of trees per acre when there are naturally supposed to be something like 50 to 200.  There is little to nothing growing on the forest floor.  Trees are falling over and its nearly impossible to walk through.

Timbco Hot-Saw used for stewardship projects
Timbco hot-saw used for thinning small diameters forests.

I’m excited to see the progression of this project over the landscape.  We will learn a great deal and see where we can make improvements.  Most importantly, I’m looking forward to helping tell this story.  Once the mainstream public understands what we are doing and how this can be replicated on millions of acres of our public lands, they will support these efforts.  When cross laminated timber (CLT) and mass timber construction, in general, becomes commonplace, we can start to deliver this message along with panels to some of our fasted growing cities.  Showing people that by living in a structure made of wood, they are helping improve the health of our forests.  In many cases, saving our forest from catastrophic wildfire.


Mike Petersen is an environmentalist, but he’s an open-minded conservationist.  He has taken the time to get out in the forest and see what is best for the land.  It just so happens that when we match the interests of our industry and the environment we developed a tremendous common ground. I am grateful that I can call Mike and so many of his colleagues.  I have a profound respect for the efforts that the conservation leaders have put into collaboration.  In many cases going against the grain of their peers.  They have remained steadfast in their commitment to doing the right thing and learning about what’s best for the forest.

The same is true for many of the members of the Forest Industry that have taken part in collaboration.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard comments from leaders of major companies wishing us luck, yet refusing to put human or financial resources into this effort.  Some even go so far as to fight against collaborative efforts.

Nevertheless, we push forward to brighter days with healthier forests.

2 thoughts on “Stewardship: A to Z”

  1. Hi Russ:
    I applaud your efforts to education the public on healthy forest management with these blogs. In that effort please be aware that each treatment (such as a thinning) should be a component of a life-long “regime” for each stand. In other words, now that this stand is thinned, what is the next anticipated silvicultural activity? Based on your pictures the trees in the residual stand are mature and demonstrate a small diameter to height ratio (due to past crowding). Since they are mature, decline and mortality will exceed growth. This means that it is time to harvest these trees and regenerate (plant) a new stand, if the objective is a healthy forest.
    The growth capacity (site index) of the forests in your area are more than sufficient to be economically self-sustaining when applying silvicultural regimes with a healthy forest objective. Western Larch and Quaking Aspen are both shade-intolerant species which are not fire-resistant (thin barked species). Citizens in eastern States should not be expected to help pay for forest management treatments in the west, as is currently being applied by USFS. These forests can be managed for both healthy resources (trees, water, wildlife, recreation) and economically healthy communities. However, this requires active forest-wide management, forest inventories and forest-wide sustained management planning… We have a lot of educating yet to accomplish… Again, I applaud your efforts.

    1. Jim,
      Thanks for the comments. I agree that we need to be looking at the long-term and overall health of the forest. We have almost 100 years of experience managing our NE Washington forests. We’re not perfect, but we’ve had some success. With the USFS lands, sometimes it’s more of a social science where we are balancing perceptions, aesthetics, and other concerns. This may lead to activities and subsequently results that aren’t exactly the best if we were only considering silviculture. Our collaborative agreements are constantly and consistently evolving. I’ve always said 65% of what you want is better than 0% if you don’t demonstrate flexibility.

      I am 100% in agreement on the cost. These forests can and should sustain their own management activities.

      Thanks again!


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