Trees start to fall on county parkland

Logger says forest management today means healthier growth tomorrow

Posted 10/17/20

A selective timber harvest near Chimacum Park is well underway as crews work to thin the densely clustered stands of trees in order to promote a healthier understory.

Justin Melton, who runs the …

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Trees start to fall on county parkland

Logger says forest management today means healthier growth tomorrow


A selective timber harvest near Chimacum Park is well underway as crews work to thin the densely clustered stands of trees in order to promote a healthier understory.

Justin Melton, who runs the Sedro-Wooley-based North Hills Logging, said work was coming right along early last week as he charged up a low battery on one of his John Deere timber harvesters.

Melton said the spacious area surrounding the log landing, off of Old Anderson Lake Road, has allowed him to stage his two John Deer timber harvesters, a log loader, forwarder, log truck, trailer, camper and various other work trucks all onsite.

He said the change was a welcome one, since he usually is forced to tuck his equipment away along the skid trails where he’s working. 

Gesturing over to a stack of logs beside the loader, Melton drew attention to the unusually tight grain of some of the smaller trees. Counting the annual rings, some of the logs show signs of scarcely a half-inch of growth over a span of 15 or 20 years.

Melton said the rings told the story of established trees that had nearly ceased significant growth entirely and some smaller trees that had fought to get what little light still penetrated through the thick crown of the forest.   

The issue at hand is not unusual and seems symptomatic of some working forests all across Washington: too many trees packed too closely, in hopes of increasing profits come harvest time.

What grows instead are the costs of over-planting.

“We’ve got to ask ourselves, ‘Why are we in here?’” Melton said. “Because it’s not healthy.”

Stands of timber all across the U.S. have been plagued by a lack of adequate management, Melton said. While hesitant to cast blame in any one direction, he noted that the timber market’s prices often dictate further inaction for foresters who would prefer to put off harvesting until prices for their respective trees become more favorable.

As the western U.S. continues to battle wildfires without historic equivalent, Melton also pointed to the loss of timber infrastructure in recent years.

With mills becoming fewer and farther between, increased transportation costs for timber only serve to fuel foresters’ aversion to intensely managing their forests. But Jefferson County will not be following suit.

Melton explained his strategy for opening up the dimly lit understory.        

“They call it thinning from the bottom. You’re looking up to the crown [of the tree]; you don’t want any crowns touching. If they’re touching, no sun can get through,” he explained.

Melton estimated that in two years’ time, visitors to the area will find a much healthier understory. “We’re giving the forest the best chance that it can have to grow healthy and mature.”

Asked about the public perception of his work, Melton acknowledged some residents wonder about logging operations in the places they frequent.

“You’re interrupting their process; some people have been hiking that trail for a long time and you’ve just bumped them out,” Melton said.

“Most people, even the naysayers, will come back and say ‘I like it, this looks good,’” he added.   


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Ask a rancher about beef and get a different answer than that of a vegan. Ask a logger about forests and get a different answer than you would from a pileated woodpecker or flying squirrel. These and many other species need non mono culture, non manicured forests to survive. This story does not explain the nature of this forest, naturally re seeded or planted with monoculture genetically altered "crops".

What we might see as chaos is the process of balance being restored, over many decades. What did wildlife and forests ever do before "Tree Growing" corporations, and turning a very complex and self healing ecosystem into farm land?

The self healing that forests do simply does not happen in a time line we humans can make money from. The tight grained fir shown in the picture is similar to old growth forests and prized tight grained old growth wood that is almost impossible to find anymore. Trees grew slower competing for light. Some died and became standing woodpecker food and nesting places for flying squirrels. All was good. Long ago after the glaciers receded alders grew fast and died quickly to prepare the glacial moraine for other tree species that could not fix nitrogen from the air, a balance was restored. It took many human life times. No money was at stake.

Of course now forest fires are a concern. They have always been naturally occurring, but are more wide spread due to human tinkering. Climate and unnatural fuel on the ground in combination produced this seasons devastation.

The understory on my land is dying off. Dry season after dry season is the reason. Small cedars, rhodys, elderberry and more are becoming part of the soil again, after becoming fire fuel for a while. A new balance with some species of trees edging out others is occurring. Foresters I speak with say some species like Western Red Cedar are losing ground in Western Washington. I see it.

So, was this cutting really necessary? Depends on who you ask, as with most things. Woodpeckers, flying squirrels and other species that depend on what we see as chaos evolving into natural order might have a different view than the logger and his perspective. This story did lack the economics of this project. Gross value, cost to log and transport. Clean up can eat any profit, and remove vital nutrients from the system. What was the benefit to the tax payer? To the existing wildlife? Worth it? Depends on who you ask. Is it forest or farm land? An evolving and recovering ecosystem or park? Or, could it be both by letting nature take its time tested course? Different people walking the trails will have different impression depending on how deep they look.. Next time perhaps more questions before cutting. Or not.

Sunday, October 18