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Sustainable Forestry

Forestry is a long-term business, taking as much as 40 to 60 years to complete a harvest and replanting, or forest management cycle. Planning is an essential part of maintaining a sustainable forestry operation, and sustaining the business. It is important to consider and plan for all aspects of forest management activities and environmental considerations during this long-term cycle. Private forest landowners started managing forests before Washington became a state in 1889. Stewardship, planning and investment are keys to this longevity. While each landowner tailors their planning process to their own set of needs and circumstances, listed below are some of the more common steps landowners take during the forest management cycle.

The average rate of harvest for all the state’s commercial forestland is 1.1% which means for every acre harvested, there are nearly 99 acres of new forest growing.

Forest Management Cycle

A continuous series of activities to ensure that working forests balances the economics we need with the social and environmental values we desire.

Developing a Forest Management Plan   Long-term Planning (10+ years)

Example of a ten-year harvest
planning map (2000-2009).
[click to enlarge]

Long-term strategic planning begins with the development of a forest management plan. This takes into consideration the landowners’ objectives, current inventory of timber and growing stock. Constraints are identified for areas that are unavailable for timber harvest. This is all within the context of sustainable harvest levels designed to produce a continuous level of timber harvest in perpetuity. The planning process can take years before timber harvest operations begin. Forest practices rules and regulations govern nearly every aspect of the forest management cycle. Once a forest practices application is submitted, reviewed and approved, forestry operations begin. At the end of the cycle, all areas are to be reforested, and post operations planning begins to establish the new forest for the next cycle.

Identifying Stands for Potential Harvest   Mid-term Planning (5+ years)

Planning for potential harvest of a stand starts five years or more in advance of a scheduled harvest.

Identification of stands for potential harvest can occur five or more years in advance. Landowners must ensure they have access to these units, sometimes by gaining easements through other landowner’s property. Infrastructure must be in place and the road systems designed and maintained to meet all current standards. Hydraulics and forest practices permits must be obtained before operations begin. At the same time, landowners plan for the next cycle of forest by developing a reforestation plan, and ordering seedlings to be planted two years in advance of the planned harvest.

Planning Individual Harvest Units   Annual Planning

Private forest landowners must take into account several considerations when identifying individual forest units to harvest.

There are many forest practices rules that guide the planning process including harvest size, harvest of adjacent units, stream and wetland buffers, avoidance of unstable areas and stocking of new forest stands. There are also practical considerations to take into account. These include the cost of harvest or other forest management activities, as well as seasonal conditions such as deep soils or higher elevation tree stands. Lastly, there are market factors to consider: What will the timber market demand? And, can private forest landowners deliver it at the price the customers have agreed to pay?

Selecting Individual Harvest Units   On Site Activities

Harvest areas are identified through sophisticated mapping. Click the image to interactively compare a GIS map identifying off-limit areas with an aerial photo taken post-harvest reflecting these leave areas in reality.

Managing large forest land bases is a complex business. Private forest landowners use sophisticated technology, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to aid in their survey and evaluation of their lands. At every level, planning is key. After all, it takes many decades to grow a stand of trees, and the decisions foresters make today will have implications for generations to come. Activities include cruising the timber for accurate measurement of quantity and quality of logs. Decisions are made on the appropriate harvest method and equipment to leave the least impact on the environment. Areas off-limits to harvest are flagged, identifying the harvest unit boundary and leave areas and log haul routes are identified. After plans are adjusted for these considerations, a Forest Practices Application is submitted to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) before operations proceed.

Environmental Review for Individual Harvest Units   Every Step of the Way

Forester measuring riparian buffer to ensure appropriate width.

Example of a GIS map of a harvest unit identifying sensitive wetlands private forest landowners take into consideration before harvest.
[click to enlarge]

At every step of the way, landowners have a number of considerations from legal, regulatory, environmental and market conditions. One of the biggest changes in the way private landowners practice forestry today is the increased awareness of the potential impact of forest practices on the environment. Today forest landowners employ engineers, fish and wildlife biologists, geomorphologists, and many other scientific and professional experts to evaluate the impact of forest practices activities on the environment before operations begin. Typically, an environmental review contains identification of riparian areas, wetlands, stream typing, potentially unstable slopes and sensitive sites.

Submit Forest Practices Application   Before Operations Begin
Wildlife reserve tree

Wildlife reserve trees are identified and marked to make sure they are left after harvest.

Buffer zone

Private forest landowners ensure appropriate buffer widths are maintained between forest streams and harvest areas.

Depending upon the particulars of the harvest unit, landowners apply for a variety of operational permits. The primary permit is the thirty-plus page Forest Practices Application from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The application is a process of assembling and reporting the information that has been collected in the field about the harvest unit and specifics about how the forest practices regulations are being met. This may necessitate a meeting with agency representatives and even local stakeholders such as environmental groups or Native American Tribes if the proposed harvest area contains particularly sensitive areas. DNR has 30 days to review the information contained in the permit and notify the landowner of any irregularities or seek more information as needed. Once the time period has passed and all issues have been addressed, forestry operations may begin.

Markets and Seasonality   Everyday Considerations
Western WA timber harvest operation

A timber harvest operation in Western WA—one of the prime growing regions for softwood lumber in the world.

Landowners must consider natural threats to forests, such as forest health, wildfire, wind, insects, rain, snow and ice.

Private forest landowners grow and harvest trees on a sustainable basis to produce wood and forest products that serve the needs of people. Washington State has the finest growing conditions for its native species of Douglas-fir, Western Hemlock and Ponderosa Pine (on the eastside of the Cascades). Washington State is the number two producer of softwood lumber in the nation and is one of the prime growing regions for structural timber in the world. Landowners have to understand the volume, species, sizes and grades to sell their wood long before it is harvested. Additionally, since forests are a natural resource, harvesting operations must consider natural seasonal conditions, such as wind, rain, snow, ice, insects, fire and animal damage.

Replanting and Planning for the Next Forest   Post Operations

Private forest landowners’ goal is to replant as quickly as possible after harvest, typically planting three trees for every one tree harvested.

After timber harvesting is complete, and the logs and forest products are sent to market, planning begins for the next cycle of forest. The slash or broken tree tops and limbs are disposed of through burning in piles or delivering to a facility as biomass for production of energy. This helps to prepare the site for the next tree planting cycle to begin. The reforestation plan is put in place, which considers which species to replant in the particular unit, what the appropriate spacing between tree plantings should be and addressing any other issues, such as insects, disease or invasive plants. Landowners generally replant as quickly as possible after harvest to start the new forest growing again.