By Marcy Stamper
A proposed forest-improvement timber sale in the Wolf Creek area won’t allow healthy regeneration of the forest and could exacerbate erosion into the Methow River and endanger fish, according to Conservation Northwest.
The conservation group submitted comments this week to the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) on the proposed Virginia Ridge FIT (Forest-Improvement Timber) sale. DNR plans to log 750 acres in the Virginia Ridge and Wolf Creek areas, plus a small section near Mazama, next year.
FIT sales are intended to restore forest health through thinning and selective management, but these sales are also subject to more stringent environmental protections, said George Wooten, a conservation associate with Conservation Northwest who wrote the comments.
Conservation Northwest has been working on wildlife conservation in the Methow Valley since the 1980s. The organization’s staff evaluated the timber-sale area and forest conditions there earlier this year.
DNR has grouped together different types of habitat and vegetation within the overall boundaries of the sale that should have different prescriptions, said Wooten. For example, the upper slopes of the project area are mainly shrub-steppe, with few or no trees, while areas closer to the river have up to 200 trees per acre, he said.
Moreover, the normal guideline for the state’s timber sales is to leave an average of 75 trees per acre to ensure regeneration and future income for the state’s school trust, part of DNR’s stewardship responsibility, he said.
In addition to raising money for the school trust, the thinning and logging are intended to reduce wildfire hazards and the risk of insect infestation in an overly dense forest, said Jake Townsend, a silviculture forester with DNR. Trees in the area are primarily Douglas fir and ponderosa pine, although the majority of trees designated for harvest are fir.
According to DNR’s plans for the sale, many of the merchantable trees are 60 to 120 years old. The agency doesn’t intend to plant after the harvest because it expects the multi-aged stands to regenerate on their own.
But Conservation Northwest said much of the Virginia Ridge/Wolf Creek area was heavily logged in the 1980s and almost all big trees were cut.
“There are not enough large old trees to call this uneven-aged,” said Conservation Northwest in its comments on the proposal. “Removal of all but 21 trees [per acre] … will not produce an uneven-aged stand for many years, since the residual stand will still be a monoclone, just more open.”
Conservation Northwest also pointed to a 100-foot slope — the site of an abandoned DNR road — that has been eroding into the Methow River, depositing sediment that can be harmful to protected salmon and bull trout. While the slope is outside the sale boundary, it is within the project area, said Wooten.
DNR revised the design of the sale on Tuesday (Dec. 12) to increase protections along the river after studying historical photos that show channel-migration zones, said Robert Hechinger, proprietary forester for DNR’s Northeast Region. DNR hasn’t received any comments on the proposal yet, he said.
Conservation Northwest is urging DNR to revamp the sale to leave more trees in clumps to preserve a more natural-looking forest. In addition to being more ecologically sound, the aesthetics and natural appearance are important to the Methow Valley’s tourist-based economy, they said.
A Methow Trails ski trail traverses part of the area and will be relocated so that it follows the river, according to DNR. DNR has consulted with Methow Trails about the trail location.
Conservation Northwest isn’t opposed to the sale, but the design needs to be consistent with forest-improvement guidelines and leave enough trees to provide long-term income for the school trust, said Wooten.
DNR has scheduled the timber auction for April 24, 2018. Logging would start shortly thereafter and be completed by Nov. 15, 2018.
More information about the proposed logging and timber sale is available on the DNR website at www.dnr.wa.gov/northeast. DNR is accepting comments on the sale through Thursday (Dec. 14) at email@example.com.