Island forests and local lumber

Come out, walk in the woods and breathe some forest air. The Japanese call it forest bathing.

Before there was an Island Center Forest (ICF), there were state lands — actually, trust lands, intended to produce revenue to help fund K through 12 schools, which often resulted in clear cutting.

After a 50-acre clear cut in 1997, several island residents set out to see how we might change our forest management. One possibility was through a trust land transfer to another public entity, such as the Vashon Park District, but the park district turned the idea down.

King County also turned the idea down; the economy was not doing well at the time and King County was divesting itself of its unincorporated parks and pools.

Because I represented Vashon Forest Stewards, I suggested a new type of community forestry that would assist nature in moving forests toward older growth character while also bringing in some revenue to offset management costs.

Two King County staff, Kathy Crehan and Katy Vanderpool, proposed a solution: if the Vashon stakeholder organizations would agree on an enlightened thinning program, they would lobby King County to consider ownership.

The Vashon stakeholder organizations were the Forest Stewards, the Vashon Park District, the Land Trust, the Vashon Bird Alliance and equestrian and mountain bike associations. An agreement was signed in December of 2002. Following the agreement, King County accepted ownership of the 200 acres of state lands. Island Center Forests has now grown to 450 acres.

A few years later, as a member of the King County Rural Forestry Commission, I led the lobbying effort to have Island Center Forest become Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified. Forest Stewardship Council certification is the highest green environmental standard for thinned forests, and ICF would be the first King County forest so certified.

For at least 30 years, the green building communities in King County (and really, everywhere) have argued whether FSC certified lumber is better than locally produced lumber. Built Green, LEEDS, and the Living Building Challenge all specify the use of FSC certified lumber.

But is it really better to import FSC lumber from Louisiana than to use locally grown, locally milled lumber from Vashon Island?

The Vashon Forest Stewards’ old community mill on 103rd Avenue SW was an FSC certified sawmill capable of producing local FSC lumber from FSC certified forests such as Island Center Forest, marrying the local and the FSC together for the island. Losing that mill yard was a real stab in the heart. We felt close to realizing a dream of stewarding damaged second and third growth forests back to healthier, more diverse old growth character forests while gleaning at least a portion of the wood we use.

Since we all use wood, why not take responsibility for it? We’ve learned to think about local food, and now we also need to think about local wood. Why depend on wood from industrially managed forests where they often clear-cut trees and use chemical sprays or import woods from the Amazon or Indonesia — burning fossil fuels to bring them here from halfway around the world?

Hopefully, local harvests will be done responsibly, because they’re our woods, and Vashon cares.

Part of the goal to move ICF toward community forestry was to provide work for island contractors and wood for local projects such as affordable housing. Well, we’re not there yet. Things are not perfect in paradise.

Unfortunately, none of the wood previously harvested has gone toward local use, and we’ve relied on larger off-island commercial logging contractors to do the work. That’s too bad. They ferry million-dollar machines onto the island, which do sensitive work but don’t move us toward island sustainability.

Island contractors don’t have the same machinery, but they do fine work all the same. It would be great to give them a chance.

Forests and forestry are complex subjects. But the dream of improving our existing forests while supplying locally produced FSC lumber for Vashon and the Puget Sound community is a good one and worth working for.

As part of their ongoing stewardship, King County plans to thin 45-acres of Douglas-fir and red alder later this year. This will be the fifth thinning operation since the County took ownership.

King County forester Paul Fischer will be leading a walk into Island Center Forest on Saturday, June 29th. This will be the third outing in the Walk in the Woods series. Join us at 10 a.m. at the Cemetery gate. All Walk in the Woods programs are free.

Come out, walk in the woods and breathe some forest air. The Japanese call it forest bathing.

For more information, contact David Warren at 206-295-6670 or

David Warren is the managing director of Vashon Forest Stewards, an island nonprofit dedicated to restoring and maintaining healthy forest ecosystems and managing an ecological business that provides forestry services and island-grown wood products.