by Darcy Batura, Forest Partnerships Manager
As TNC’s Forest Partnerships Manager, I am often in the field surrounded by trees. This is probably the biggest perk of my job: being immersed in the forests we are working to protect.
Of all the trees in the forest, the one that stops me in my tracks, time after time, is the Ponderosa Pine. The tree is stunning with its broad, orange-brown trunk standing out in a bold splash of color among its peers. It rewards those that love it with an intoxicating aroma. If you’ve spent time hiking through Central Washington’s dry forests, you know the smell. It carries on the wind and tells you that it is summertime. If you get up close and personal, you’ll notice that its thick, puzzle shaped bark smells of vanilla. Or some claim butterscotch.
The great Ponderosa Pine thrives here in the Central Cascades because of its ability to adapt to drought and fire. Due to these abilities, Ponderosa commonly became giants that lived for 500 years or more. These sentinels are less common today due to our overstocked forests being prone to epidemics of insect, disease and wildfire events that are too severe for the trees to survive. TNC’s forest health work is thinning out the small trees and deadfall that act like matchsticks in the forest.
Last winter I had the opportunity to join a member of our forestry staff while he was “cruising timber” for a thinning project on the Cle Elum Ridge. My face was mostly looking down as I was watching my step and doing my best to stay on top of my snowshoes while we crossed the forested slopes. Then I looked up, and once again, was stopped in my tracks.
We came face to face with a massive Ponderosa, standing so tall that I struggled to see the top from my vantage point. This great-grandmother tree is an anomaly, surrounded by others that were dwarfed by her presence. This land was historically logged for maximum timber revenue, so why this particular tree still stands is a mystery. Like much of the forest, this unit is overstocked. If a wildfire was to come through today, this tree that has stood for centuries would certainly not survive. We lingered there admiring her until the winter chill encouraged us to move on. I left pondering the mystery of her luck and resilience, and grateful that our forest restoration work will restore the conditions that will allow her to outlive us all by a century or two.
Banner photo by John Marshall.