OLYMPIA - Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland announced last Thursday the publication of a report titled Definition and Inventory of Old Growth Forests on DNR-managed State Lands.
This two-part report includes a definition of old growth forests by a panel of scientists, and - using that definition - an inventory of old growth on state lands managed by Washington's Department of Natural Resources (DNR). This inventory estimates that there are up to 88,000 acres of old-growth forests on DNR-managed lands.
In Pacific County, the inventory found 290 acres of old-growth forest on DNR property, plus another 553 acres of potential old growth. In neighboring Wahkiakum County, there is no remaining old growth on DNR-managed lands, but 263 acres of potential old growth. These figures do not include State Park forests and others such as the ancient cedar grove on Pacific County's Long Island, which is federally managed.
The Board of Natural Resources will be briefed on the report at its July 29 board meeting prior to continuing the discussion of the board's preferred old-growth policy within the Policy for Sustainable Forests.
Sutherland said, "We will use the information in this report to address the conservation of old growth and to guide the sustainable management of all DNR-managed forest lands. This will be accomplished in part through DNR's Policy for Sustainable Forests, currently being developed.
"Old growth is revered by many as invaluable remnants of the forests that used to exist across Washington. It is a scarce but very important component of the Washington DNR-managed forested landscape, providing unique and crucial habitat that performs specialized ecological functions," Sutherland concluded.
As required by the 2004 Legislature, in February 2005, DNR convened a scientific panel including three of the foremost forest ecologists with expertise in the characterization of Pacific Northwest old growth - Dr. Jerry Franklin and Dr. Bob Van Pelt of the University of Washington, and Dr. Tom Spies of the USDA Forest Service. In addition, this technical committee included a representative from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and a representative from DNR.
Experts place emphasis on key forest characteristics: large trees, large snags, down wood, and trees of many sizes
The scientific panel defined old growth as an ecological condition, not the specific age of forest stands. The panel identified four key characteristics of old growth forests - large trees, large snags, volume of down woody debris, and tree size diversity.
The panel's definition relies on comparing characteristics of 'reference old growth stands' in Western Washington to characteristics of DNR-managed forests. The committee used the "weighted old growth habitat index" and data from DNR's Forest Resource Inventory System to make that comparison. The index gives greatest weight to large live trees and tree size diversity.
Included in the old growth inventory is acreage within the Natural Area Preserves and Natural Resources Conservation Areas, which contribute to the conservation objectives of the Habitat Conservation Plan. The panel of experts recommended that DNR complete on-the-ground field verifications to refine its estimates. In some cases this may change the initial estimates of old growth acres.
Natural Resources Conservation Areas in this vicinity include Wahkiakum County's 159-acre Hendrickson Canyon, as well as Pacific County's 8.5-acre Teal Slough, 2,440-acre South Nemah and 557-acre Ellsworth Creek NRCAs. Nearby Natural Area Preserves include the 2,565-acre Bone River, 152-acre Gunpowder Island, 838-acre Niawiakum River and the 587-acre Willapa Divide NAPs.