We all play a part in making forests healthy


This time of year, the sun-yellow blossoms of the Scotch broom burst forth like accidental fireworks. You are suddenly reminded of that nagging weed problem down in the lower 40 that has been all too easy to ignore during the snuggle-by-the-fire months. So you rush to the land trust office to borrow a weed wrench and march away with resolve.

While I applaud your grit, I am sorry to say I have bad news: Your ivy problem is more dangerous than your Scotch broom problem. As ivy climbs the stem of that fir tree, it spreads into the canopy to steal sunlight from the tree’s needles. Your tree is now weakened by this freeloading parasite, which presents a broad evergreen sail to the November winds. It’s not a matter of if your tree will topple;  it’s a matter of when.

And then there’s your alder problem. As you well know, the island was cleared bald as a billiard ball during the first half of the last century. After World War II, berry farms and clear-cuts were let go by the hundreds. Back then, an abandoned field would quickly grow back in alder — our native pioneer species. Seventy years later those alder stands are reaching old age, having done their job fixing nitrogen in the soil, and are dying a natural death to give way to the conifers that naturally succeed them. And what is happening? Those forests are being overtaken by blackberry and Scotch broom.

Humans introduced weeds, so humans must now take control of that succession and thin alders (to open up patches of light) and re-plant conifers.

And then, after the conifers take hold, it’s back to patrolling for ivy and holly. I know, it seems endless. But, I have seen — right here on Vashon — forests that are so healthy that even the ivy and the holly are held at bay by salal and evergreen huckleberry.

Yes, pulling ivy is awful, backbreaking work. And to be fully rid of it, you have to pull every bit out of the ground. But think of how much money you spent on that new patio furniture or week in Mexico. For a little bit more, you could have cleared the ivy too. I’m sure there are landscaping crews on this island who would take the work. Or how about the college kids home on break, looking for a buck? Think about paying it forward; call your neighbor and ask if you can have their ivy cleared. Imagine the wave you could start around the island.

The Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, King County and the Vashon Park District have collectively been working to rid all of Vashon’s parks and preserves of ivy. Yes, we know that you know that we have not achieved that lofty goal. And what’s more, we are adding to our parks and preserves, so our job grows as we go. But we have made very significant progress. Most of our largest parks and preserves are in pretty good shape, and we have begun to tackle some of the worst shoreline areas.

But we can’t save the island from ivy by focusing exclusively on parks and preserves. We can’t keep all the meadows cleared of Scotch broom and all the forests free of holly, either. We have protected less than 10 percent of Vashon and Maury. That’s but a small fraction of the weeds out there. The other 90 percent — that’s up to you.

Taking care of your land is no different than taking care of your house or your car or your dog. Except for this: A really healthy, mature forest can in large part take care of itself.

Perhaps in your house at this particular moment the baby is crying and the dog is pacing underfoot hoping you’ll drop your piece of toast. The rest of the family can see after their own needs for now, and if a few more dandelions go to seed in the lawn, it’s not the end of the world. The house trim could use a touch of paint, but that can wait. Way down in the forest you can’t hear them, so you’ve been ignoring them for years, but down in the forest, the trees are screaming.

— Tom Dean is the executive director of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust.

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