Keeping Working Forests on the Landscape
by: Washington Forest Protection Association: Cindy Mitchell Posted on: November 30, 2011
By Cindy Mitchell, Senior Director for Public Affairs at the Washington Forest Protection Association and forest lands owner.
Editor’s Note: This new article on forestry is written by Cindy Mitchell, Senior Director for Public Affairs at the Washington Forest Protection Association, a logging advocate that represents private forest landowners in Washington State. Mitchell speaks to the role of privately owned, “working forests” in the Northwest and the importance of protecting these places from unnecessary development. Mitchell explains why the Northwest’s optimal growing conditions and comparatively strong environmental regulations make our trees an ideal source of lumber. Mitchell prefers harvesting our trees, to support our economies, over the importation of lumber from countries with questionable harvesting practices.
Private working forests are a vital part of America’s natural resource infrastructure, contributing significantly to the quality of life enjoyed by us all. Working forests provide open space and a green landscape, forest cover for clean water and air, energy, wildlife habitat, and recreation opportunities. Forestry is the backbone of many rural economies and provides important renewable, consumer products. Keeping working forests on the landscape is one of the most important actions we can take on behalf of the environment and the economy.
Healthy U.S. “working forests” are responsibly managed to provide both environmental and economic benefits on a continuous basis. They are an economic engine, providing Americans stable jobs that will remain in the U.S., ranging from timber and recreation to renewable energy and green building materials.
The Pacific Northwest is one of the unique places in the world where trees grow extremely well. With rainfall as high as 120 inches per year on the coast, the Pacific temperate rain forest is the largest in the world. The forest is dominated by conifers and sometimes supports an understory of broadleaf trees and shrubs. (In some places the ecosystem supports four times the biomass as a comparable area in the tropics. In sheer mass of living and decaying material, – trees, mosses, shrubs, and soil – the Pacific temperate forests are more massive than any other ecosystem on the planet). With the designation of parks, wilderness area, or monuments, millions of acres of Washington’s forests are protected by Congress and the State.
About half of Washington, 22 million acres, is forested. Federal, state and local government forests dominate the landscape, accounting for nearly two thirds of the forestland area. Tribal lands play a significant role too. Large and small private landowners manage about one third of the forests, and collectively produce more than 70% of the timber harvest to support jobs and our economy.
On a national scale, Washington is the second to Oregon as the largest lumber producer in the U.S.A. We live in the nation’s wood basket, and that is a good thing. Producing from local, sustainable forests to supply consumers with renewable products, from a place that has the highest level of environmental protection in the world, makes common sense for us and our planet. Since only about 2% of the actively managed forest is in the harvest phase of the cycle, the other 98% is growing a new forest and providing numerous benefits for people, fish, wildlife, the environment, and the economy.
Nationally, we import about 29% of our softwood lumber from other countries, primarily from Canada, but also from Chile, Brazil, Germany, Sweden and even Russia. It makes sense to encourage production of lumber in the United States, especially in Washington and Oregon where some of the world’s highest environmental standards exist.
In these difficult economic times, land currently supporting private forests may be forced to convert to other economic uses over time, such as housing developments or strip malls. Some conversion from forests to residential and commercial development is acceptable to accommodate a growing population or to optimize land use. It is critical to develop policies and programs that encourage the retention of working forests to sustain the many benefits private forests provide as part of our nation’s natural resource infrastructure. Using wood from responsibly managed forests is one of the best ways we can contribute to both the environment and economy, as the land provides multiple benefits to fish, wildlife, recreation, local jobs and produces renewable, environmentally friendly building products.
A lot has changed since settlers first came to Washington in the late 1700s, and yet the same landowners that established tree farming are still operating today, some in their third generation. Over the years our awareness has expanded to include more than simply a utilitarian view of the forest. This awareness occurred globally across many disciplines during the past 40 years as we started to see the forest and our lives as part of a greater system, interdependent upon each other. Today the focus is on incorporating environmental protection into the forestry business. Forest landowners and regulations provide extensive protection for fish, water, and wildlife by buffering streams, leaving wildlife reserve trees, and green recruitment trees as future homes for wildlife. Water quality is monitored to ensure forestry operations do not deliver sediment to streams or raise the temperature for fish. The latest change to our forest practice regulations was the result of a collaborative effort between forest landowners, local state and federal government, Native American tribes and environmental groups called the Forests & Fish Law (www.forestsandfish.com). Using science and adaptive management, landowners have improved their forest practices by using science to learn how to grow, plant and harvest trees in a way that protects fish, water and wildlife. Landowners have permanently set aside more than 750,000 acres of trees to buffer streams, keeping the water clean and cool for fish. All state and private forest roads are being brought up to new forest roads standards. Nearly 3,400 barriers to fish habitat have been removed, restoring 2,100 miles of historic fish habitat. This way we can have the best of both worlds – a healthy rural economy and a sustainable, renewable environment.
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