When Bill and Karen Lane bought 20 acres of forested land in the McKenna Forest Reserve near Yelm, it was for their retirement home.
But it has also proved to be a source of income, as they harvested one-third of their trees in an ecologically based commercial thinning operation this winter with help from Northwest Certified Forestry (NCF). Many landowners have performed similar harvests with NCF and have worked with the program to restore and diversify their forests.
Prior to their purchasing it, the Lanes’ land had been cleared and replanted by Weyerhaeuser several decades ago. It was a densely stocked plantation growing only Douglas fir. Single-species plantations are a way to simplify industrial logging, but may not meet the needs of smaller, family forest owners interested in more diverse, complex and natural forests, according to NCF. Homogenous plantations can also come with risks, including increased vulnerability to insects and diseases, and limited market opportunities.
“Before we did any thinning, it was very difficult to walk back here. It was a very dense, dark forest. It was beautiful, but it was unusable as far as we were concerned,” Bill Lane said. “The forest has opened up a lot more, so it will get a lot more sunlight; the trees will thrive much more.”
The 20 truckloads of logs that were harvested netted the Lanes about $8,000 after consulting fees, permits and taxes. They said they are planning to replant open gaps and the understory with a mixture of lodgepole pine, western red cedar and alder.
“Increasingly, folks are buying former industrial timber plantations for either residences or to manage themselves,” said Kirk Hanson, Director of Northwest Certified Forestry. “These plantations require continued management in order to stay healthy and productive, whether the objective is purely conservation or to produce sustained income. The ecological thinning we prescribe meets both objectives. In the case of the Lanes, we thinned an overstocked forest in order to improve the growth of the most dominant and healthy trees, opened the canopy slightly to stimulate more diverse understory vegetation, and retained enough timber that the owner can come back in eight to 10 years and thin again to generate additional income.“
Forester Rick Helman, who also works for Northwest Certified Forestry, said current log prices are strong, which helps support an ecological approach to timber harvest.
“A thinning project like the one we conducted for the Lanes produces material for three different log sorts – a high-value export sort, a domestic chip and saw sort, and a pulp sort,” he said. “With current markets where they are and working with a team of knowledgeable local logging contractors, we’re creating opportunities for landowners to conduct ecological thinning operations that build forest health and value over the long term.”
Northwest Certified Forestry was launched seven years ago as a not-for-profit organization to help the environment and provide financial incentives to landowners. More information is available at www.nwcertified.org.