10 March 2006

Managing our Forests

We don't know the first thing about forests. So how are we supposed to come up with a "Forest Stewardship Plan" for our new property?

River Ford Farm was, at one time, intended to be a Christmas Tree Farm. In fact, you can still see our address listed online under "Trout Lake Tree Farm". So a good portion of our 57 acres is planted in various types of Christmas trees - Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, and Noble Fir. Unfortunately for the previous owners, by the time their trees were big enough to sell as such, they discovered that apparently other people had thought of the same idea. The market for Christmas trees in our area had flooded, and there just wasn't enough business to justify the expense. So they kept the trees, but switched their business model: now the goal was commercial harvest. To that end, they planted some additional trees on other sections of the property: Ponderosa Pine and Black Cherry (to experiment with growing a commercial hardwood in this area.)

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) administers a program called the Forest Stewardship Plan. The goal of the program is to help qualified landowners "improve [their] forests for timber production, forest health, wildlife and fish habitat, special forest products, water quality, aesthetics, and fire safety." The state makes certain resources available, such as:

  • free consultation with (overworked) state foresters;
  • cost share payments (from an ever-dwindling pool of funds) to help defray costs of maintaining and improving your forest;
  • general resources, i.e. literature, classes, etc.; but most importantly
  • PROPERTY TAX BREAK. Lands which are qualified under this plan qualify for reduced property tax assessment.
But all of this assumes that you have an approved plan...

Since a plan must be submitted every 10 years or as property changes hands, we were required to file a new management plan by early April. The ramifications of NOT filing a plan and just letting the forest return to normal classification are non-trivial; we could potentially have to pay back- property taxes for as much as 7 years. But that was never our intention. We had planned from the start to continue the forest stewardship.

Thankfully, the Clausens (previous owners) had left us several large boxes of accumulated files containing information on anything you could imagine about the property, including all of the notes and the final stewardship plan that they submitted 10 years prior. So after some calls to the state forester and a few long evenings, we now have our management plan filed with the county.1

It's all there - soil quality, wildlife, fire management, topographic map and satellite imagery, plus our "guess" as to our 10 year management plans. The key goals that we identified:
  • "Naturalize" the forests. Currently most stands are a monoculture of only one species. Adding some diversity will encourage wildlife to move in, will help protect the forest from disease, and will generally give it a more natural feel.
  • Thinning. Right now, all of the stands are too crowded for optimal growth. So slowly over the next few years we plan to remove something on the order of every other tree to allow the ones that remain to be exposed to better air flow and more direct sunlight. We're considering buying a chipper so that the trees that are thinned can be converted into wood chip, which can then be used as mulch in the garden or around other plants, or simply scattered over the ground in the forests.

The likelihood that we'll follow the plan closely is pretty small, but at least now we have something down on paper that we (and the county) can refer to. Feel like taking a look? Well, here it is: Our Forest Management Plan (PDF)

1 In actuality, there is still a fairly significant point in our plan that the county wants us to clarify or change by the end of May. So we're not complete quite yet...

- Mike (& Corinne)

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