County thins trees for health of popular forest


Last week King County Forester Bill Loeber and Dave Warren of the Vashon Forest Stewards stood at the edge of what at first glance appeared to be a large logging operation in the heart of the island.

Along the side of a hiking trail in Island Center Forest, heavy machinery dragged Douglas fir trees out of the woods, stripped them of their branches and heaved the massive logs into piles. Three truckloads of wood a day have left the forest, headed for mills in Tacoma and Edmonds.

The logging project, Loeber said, is actually a forest thinning that will leave Island Center Forest a healthier place.

“If there’s not any intervention, something is going to happen at some point,” Loeber said, referring to the currently over-crowded conditions at the forest, which is popular among walkers, bikers and equestrians.

The forest’s close quarters date back to when 200 acres of the 400-acre forest was an active Douglas fir plantation. Since King County purchased the property from the state Department of Natural Resources over a decade ago, the closely planted trees have become even more cramped and unhealthy. Disease can more easily spread through them, Loeber said, and the forest floor gets little light, meaning there are few other plants there and little habitat for animals.

Now, the county is selectively harvesting 30 to 40 percent of the trees on 40 acres of the forest, leaving the remaining trees with more light and more room to grow. The county will also selectively harvest 20 acres of mature and dying alder, and native trees and bushes will be planted throughout the area. The result, Loeber said, will be a forest that’s healthier, has better habitat and is more attractive.

“We’re trying to move this toward more diversity,” he said.

The thinning project began this month and is expected to continue through early August, during which time about half of the trails in Island Center Forest will be closed.

A similar Douglas fir thinning is planned for Dockton Forest — another former fir plantation — for next month, and trails will close there as well.

While the wood from the two forests is not extremely valuable, Loeber said, the county will make $100,000 from selling it, funds which will go into the Department of Natural Resources and Parks’ operating fund and will be used for forestland management throughout the county.

Warren, who is helping manage the project as a seasonal King County parks employee, noted that the logging company is able to complete the thinning without damaging hiking trails. Islanders who go there may notice the area has been logged, he said, but he believes the results will be worth it.

“There will be a lot more life in here,” he said.

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