The 'cutting edge' of forestry practices

Writing and photos by Ryan Haugo, forest ecologist

On a misty December morning, an esteemed group of forest ecologists from across the Pacific Northwest met with our staff along the shores of Willapa Bay to talk science and restoration. This group had driven through dark morning hours in order to spend the day tromping around the forest and building and strengthening science partnerships, while gaining a first-hand experience with The Conservancy’s “Ellsworth experiment.” 

The Ellsworth Preserve is best known for protecting some of the largest remaining stands of coastal old-growth rainforest in southwest Washington. Towering forests of Western red cedar, Sitka spruce, western hemlock and Douglas fir support a number of endangered and threatened species as well as coastal cutthroat trout, chum and coho salmon. However, the preserve doesn’t just protect old-growth forest. In fact, the preserve is predominately young, dense forests that for many decades were heavily harvested for timber. In 2006, we launched the audacious goal of conserving and restoring the ecological integrity of these former industrial forest lands. 

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  Ellsworth science tour participants descend into a thinned forest stand to examine forest vegetation and structure a monitoring plot.

Ellsworth science tour participants descend into a thinned forest stand to examine forest vegetation and structure a monitoring plot.

At the time, moving from the protection of small preserves to entire watersheds and diving headlong into active forest management was a huge step for The Conservancy. The best available science suggested that forest thinning (logging!) and repair or decommissioning of forest roads would be important tools to aid recovery of coastal watersheds and restore old-growth habitats. However, across the Pacific Northwest coast, there were few examples of full-bore ecological restoration at such a scale. Our Ellsworth experiment applied a rigorous design and an extensive monitoring network to test and evaluate the best approach. Before the first forest treatments began, we conducted detailed measurements of forest structure and vegetation, birds and amphibians and stream habitats to establish a baseline.

Often we describe science as “cutting edge.” This might make it seem that data, the fundamental building block of science, have a limited lifespan and easily spoil if left too long on the counter. Sometimes this is true. But when science is done well, using experiments designed for the long haul, data are more like fine wines that get better with age. Do our original 10-year-old measurements from Ellsworth still have value? Absolutely. Ecosystems change slowly, and our pre-treatment data are just now ready to pair with updated findings on the state of the preserve today.

This will allow us to start answering the fundamental questions of the Ellsworth experiment. But we need to identify creative collaborations and funding opportunities to ensure a return on our investments in healthy forests (consider donating to help continue this work). Through outreach and an open invitation to the science and conservation communities, we hope to foster an extended shelf life for our data. The insights yet to be revealed have the potential to inform future forest restoration within and beyond Ellsworth.

As we concluded the Ellsworth science tour in the early December twilight, our boots were heavy with mud but our spirits were buoyant and enthusiasm was high. The pre-treatment data provide a tremendous foundation. New technologies are emerging to aid in our efforts and exciting new partnerships are on the horizon. The second decade of science at Ellsworth is looking very promising.

Read more about the Ellsworth experiment

Real or Fake Christmas Tree?

Written by Robin Stanton, Media Relations Manager.

We love trees. They clean our air and water, store our carbon, and lend a hand in creating many of the things we depend on, from our homes and furniture to our beloved Louisville Sluggers. So we should never, ever cut one down for the sole purpose of decorating our living rooms for the month of December, right? Actually, wrong.

“If you choose a real Christmas tree over an artificial one, count yourself among the ‘greener’ holiday makers,” according to James Schroeder, Eastern Washington program director for The Nature Conservancy.

Here’s why:

30 million trees are harvested annually for Christmas, out of the 350-500 million growing on tree farms across the country. As each year's trees are harvested for sale, there are more than ten times as many left standing. A tradition of buying real trees keeps tree farms in business – and their lands covered in forest.

Conversely, about 10 million artificial trees are purchased each year. 90% are shipped to the U.S. from China. Artificial trees are not recyclable. In fact, most are made from a kind of plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is derived from petroleum.


This year, the Cle Elum Kiwanis will be selling trees they collected from Conservancy land in the Central Cascades Forests. Money raised by the Kiwanis goes to support youth activities in the Cle Elum region. Christmas tree collection on Conservancy land is for non-profit groups by permit only, not for individuals. However, the neighboring Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest sells permits for individuals and families to collect trees.

Want to make your already green choice even greener?

·        Visit a cut-your-own tree farm instead of purchasing a pre-cut tree. That way, you’ll know for certain that it wasn’t shipped in from outside your home state.

·        Use LED lights—they’ll use as little as 10 percent of the electricity and last for years.

·        Pass up the non-recyclable tinsel and make garland out of popcorn and/or cranberries.

·        Keep using heirloom ornaments year after year, but if you’re still looking to fill some space on the tree, you don’t have to go the store-bought route. Try turning holiday cards or your child’s artwork into ornaments. Or go for a walk to collect pine cones or seashells and decorate with glue and glitter.

·        If you are planning to purchase ornaments, choose wooden ones over plastic. When you travel during the year, pick up a painted wood ornament from the destination you visit. Soon you’ll have a collection of ornaments that brings back memories of trips with friends and family.

·        Recycle your Christmas tree whenever possible. Many areas now offer a post-Christmas curbside pickup, and the trees are typically chipped or ground to use in mulch. Look for information specific to your area in your local newspaper.

From Trees to Seas: Marine Team Visit Ellsworth Creek

Written and photographed by Claire Dawson, Hershman Marine Policy Fellow

On our way to the Marine Resource Committee Summit in Long Beach, Washington, several members of the Marine Team here at The Nature Conservancy got the chance to visit forester, Dave Ryan, at Ellsworth Creek Nature Preserve. This 7,600 acre preserve encompasses an entire watershed, and links with the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Together these provide more than 15,000 acres of refuge to species like nesting marbled murrelets, cougar, black bears, elk, amphibians, and salmon.

Our visit began with a tour of the recent log jams that have been installed upstream on Ellsworth Creek. These jams, while appearing to be no more than piles of brush and logs thrown haphazardly across a stream, are in fact an important natural feature of creeks and rivers. For decades, woody debris was removed from rivers and streams to promote navigation, recreation and beautify river beds. However, recent research has shown us that removing debris is detrimental to fish habitat. Recent creek restoration efforts have therefore focused on rebuilding these essential features.

By forcing the water over, under and around them, log jams slow the water and allow historical flood plains around creeks and rivers to fill and pool with water, providing a more favorable environment for returning adult salmon and growing fry. Slowing water flow also allows the deposit of larger sediment like rocks and rubble further upstream, creating the habitat needed for salmon to build redds and lay their eggs. These newly established woody areas also lower stream temperature by providing shaded environments, and somewhere to hide. Properly engineered, they also serve to reinforce creek beds, preventing erosion.

The Ellsworth Creek Preserve also encompasses an area of old growth Sitka spruce and Western red cedar. Following a one-mile trail down into the valley, we walked among giants, some over 800 years old to what’s known as Ellsworth Beach.  With the recent rains and cooler weather, the group had hoped to see that the Chum had arrived in this part of the creek. Alas, the Chum prefer to arrive in solitude, and waited until the following day to show up in droves.

Our visit to Ellsworth served as a wonderful reminder of the interconnectedness of nature – and the various elements that work together to create habitat that is ‘just right’ for some of our region’s most beloved species. Conservation progress has implications far beyond the lands we walk on, and progress made on land has rippling effects all the way out to the deep blue sea.

Visit Ellsworth Creek Preserve

Central Cascades Forest Restoration Project Honored

Photographed by John Marshall

A groundbreaking forest restoration project led by The Nature Conservancy here in Washington has been honored with the SFI Leadership in Conservation Award at the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) 2016 Annual Conference.

“At its heart, the Manastash-Taneum Resilient Landscape Restoration Project recognizes that good forest management, which includes responsible harvesting, allows fire-, insect-, and disease-resistant forests to thrive and also benefits a diversity of species,” said the award announcement.

"We are so pleased to recognize the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Yakama Nation, both SFI Program Participants, and their partners the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. Forest Service," said Kathy Abusow, President and CEO of SFI Inc.

"These forests will benefit if they are managed in ways that allow them to better tolerate wildfires. Responsible harvesting, followed by controlled prescribed burning, should help reduce crown fires, which are more dangerous and difficult to control. This is a practical way to help mitigate some of the damage that climate change is expected to cause," said Laura Potash, coordinator for the Tapash Sustainable Forests Collaborative, which brings all the project partners together.

Read the full press release here

Read more about the project here

Collaboration Works for Forest Restoration

Written by Lloyd McGee, Eastern Washington Forests Program Manager

Stewardship project launched in the Colville National Forest. 

Last week we celebrated with Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers to kick off an innovative forest stewardship project in the Colville National Forest. This first of its kind stewardship partnership between a national forest and a private company is a pilot aimed at restoring the 54,000-acre Mill Creek watershed—a beloved area near Colville that’s been well-used by people for a century. 

Vaagen Brothers Lumber (VBL) will carry out forest treatments on more than 17,500 acres of this landscape. By removing smaller trees and leaving the big ones, this project will reduce the threat of wildfire while at the same time supporting local jobs, as small-diameter timber is harvested and processed by Vaagen Brothers.

But it’s not just harvest—these are complete forest restoration projects that include forest thinning and controlled burning to reduce forest fuels, restore streams and riparian zones, repair roads and close some roads harmful to fisheries and water quality, and restore wildlife habitat. No old growth trees will be cut.

Congresswoman McMorris-Rodgers has been instrumental in laying the groundwork for this project, working with stakeholders and the Forest Service to develop this public-private approach that enables the private sector to fund the presale environmental requirements, carried out here by Cramer Fish Sciences.

This approach was developed by the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, or NEWFC, of which The Nature Conservancy is a member. NEWFC is an alliance of timber companies, conservationists, business owners, tribes and forest professionals.

Work on the A to Z began last week after an onsite ceremony Aug. 12 with Congresswoman McMorris-Rodgers, VBL President Duane Vaagen, VBL Vice-President Russ Vaagen, VBL Resource Manager Josh Anderson, Lloyd McGee from the Conservancy and NEWFC, NEWFC Executive Director Gloria Flora, Stevens County Commissioner Steve Parker, Colville National Forest Supervisor Rodney Smolden and other local community members. Sen. Maria Cantwell has also supported this project. She was unable to attend the Aug. 12 ceremony, but visited the area the day before and met with stakeholders.


Learn About Our Forestry Work


On the Radio: Washington’s Forests In the News

Washington’s forests are critical for water, recreation, wildlife, local economies.

The Nature Conservancy is working with many partners to restore these forest to health, to better withstand the impacts of climate change and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.


Fish of the Forest: Large Wood Benefits Salmon Recovery

Written by Emily Howe, Aquatic Ecologist
Photographed by Hannah Letinich, Volunteer Photgraphy Editor
Graphics by Erica Simek-Sloniker, Visual Communications

Boots. Any aquatic ecologist worth their salt needs a collection of boots. Rubber knee boots, lug-soled hiking boots, felt-soled stream boots, chest waders, and caulks.  Caulks? Before last week, a sturdy pair of spike-soled logging boots had not made my inventory list as a fisheries biologist.  Flippers, yes.  Wet suit booties, sure.  But generally speaking, spikes are left to those scaling glaciers or trees. 

My recent trip to Washington’s coastal rainforests changed my footwear paradigm. 

After a 3-day four-wheel drive tour of Ellsworth Creek, the Hoh, Quinault, and Clearwater Rivers, it is clear that active forest management goes hand in hand with salmon and river recovery.  Rolling back a century of damage from industrial logging requires active logging operations to thin and replant monocultural tree plantations, decommissioning and rerouting roads, and reintroducing large wood into streams and rivers.  The caulks come in handy on that last one.

You see, to enhance natural river processes critical to salmon and watershed recovery, The Conservancy and its partners are reintroducing fallen trees to streams and floodplains throughout coastal Washington, Puget Sound, and the Central Cascades. This restoration technique ranks as one of the most urgent actions needed for the recovery and future resilience of salmon because it promotes a complex portfolio of aquatic habitats. Once in the water, large wood initiates log jams that in turn increase natural scour, create new pools and deepen existing ones, provide slow-water refuge for juvenile fish, create gravel beds for nesting, trap nutrients in streams, and increase food availability.

The Conservancy’s coastal forest preserves embody the integration of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems- right down to the boots.

A New Way, A New Forest

Written by Robin Stanton, Media Relations Manager
Photographed by Hannah Letinich, Volunteer Photographer

Some 25 foresters from a variety of agencies hiked up into the sun-filled forest of the LT Murray Wildlife Area on a May morning to practice a new way of evaluating tree stands and selecting trees for ecological restoration thinning.

The workshop, led by University of Washington research scientist Derek Churchhill who developed the method, was organized by our own senior forest ecologist Ryan Haugo.


It brought together foresters from the U.S. Forest Service, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington State Parks, Department o fNatural Resources, and The Nature Conservancy to learn this new way of ecological restoration. The method, called ICO, for Individuals, Clumps and Openings, is designed with the goal of creating a mosaic pattern in the forest to make it more like historic conditions.

This all part of the preparation for a 100,000-acre restoration project in the region to be carried out by the Tapash Sustainable Forests Collaborative, of which the Conservancy is a partner.

Learn More About Our Work in Forests

Finding Tracks in the Central Cascades

Photographed by Brian Mize, Field Forester; Lara Gricar, Central Cascades Community Coordinator

Our Central Cascades forest team was lucky enough to see bear tracks on our land! The tracks were on our land on the South Cle Elum Ridge. It is likely the bear recently awoke from a winter of slumber! See the photos in the slideshow above!

Learn more about our work in forests.

Ellsworth Creek's Log Jam Extraordinaire

Written by Jeanine Stewart, volunteer writer

Think of a Chinese finger trap. Those little woven paper toys have one thing in common with a log jam: they tighten up with the application of outside force.

This is the type of contraption our Willapa Area Forester David Ryan is helping to install 47 times over down a one-mile stretch of Ellsworth Creek. 

It’s part of the Ellsworth Creek restoration project – a major component of our overall restoration strategy for the 8,100 acre Ellsworth Creek Preserve.

The plan may sound like a head scratcher. After all, could there possibly be environmental benefit from jamming up certain points in the river with logs? The short answer is yes.

For one, log jams restore complex structure to the ecosystem in this section of the river.  Literally and figuratively, these logjams provide a cascade of many benefits that help rehabilitate the watershed.

Decades ago, people engaged in what they termed “stream cleaning” – getting rid of the wood in the water – in an effort to improve the salmon habitat, Ryan says. He adds this backwards thinking created an oversimplified and more sterile riverine habitat. The salmon need the wood in the water to foster spawning habitat, security structure and also for nutrient cycling.

The log jams also re-engage floodplains – that area of low-lying ground adjacent to the river – in order to restore the habitat. This is important since floodplains create productive forests, store and filter water for streams and create a complex stream structure, which supports larger and more diverse fish populations. In return, healthy salmon populations help return nutrients to the forests as they complete their life cycle.

But for Ryan, there are far more benefits than simply the outcome of this project. For him, the beauty lies in the journey.

He gets up every morning knowing he's about to head out into the wilderness, into the thick of the forest along Ellsworth Creek, to direct the installation of these log jams. Each of the 172 trees he’ll have installed by September takes anywhere from 10 minutes to one hour, as each presents its own unique problem to solve.

"It's so much fun and it's so out of the box," he says, "because the intent of the project was pretty extensive, as the engineer said this was the rehabilitation of an entire system. So right there, when you look at it from that perspective, that's out of the box."

Similar projects of this sort will start with one, or maybe up to three log jams. He's already done over 30 and is well on his way to completion of all 47 by September, all using trees that were already scheduled to be felled as part of our other work on the preserve.

Ryan helps direct the process of cutting the trees down and then placing them in the water by lowering them, via lines attached to cranes, into the stream. This means relaying plans to the loggers and ensuring that when the cranes lift the logs up and then lower them into the streams, they land in the correct place. Besides the excitement of the sheer magnitude of this project, the capabilities, dedication and hard work of the people Ryan works with are a major part of the thrill for him. That includes Natural Systems Designs and its engineer Mike Hravocek, who surveyed the stream and drew up the plans; as well as White & Zumstein, who have been contracted to do both the logging and the installation.

“From the landing to the creek, the sawyers, equipment operators, chasers, and rigging crew worked hard in a challenging environment and not only did a great job with the logjams but the logging as well,” he explains. “The rigging crew was particularly noteworthy for their ability to understand the purpose of each design and make those designs manifest on the ground as they were drawn up and intended.  The whole crew understands the physical forces at work, has a positive attitude and is very mindful, which makes me feel a lot safer on site and makes compliance a lot easier.  And their innovative approach to using heavy equipment for a different purpose makes this project a lot of fun to be part of.”


Out with the Old, In with the New

Written by Lara Gricar, Central Cascades Community Coordinator
Photographed by Brian Mize, Central Cascades Forester

On a rainy winter day in the Central Cascades we began the adventure to find and replace all of the old Plum Creek Timber Company signs scattered across the Cle Elum Ridge. The Nature Conservancy purchased 47, 921 acres of forestland in the Central Cascades from Plum Creek Timber Company in December 2014 to connect, protect and restore the land for people and nature. A little over a year later we are posting signs as a continuation of our efforts to help people understand what land we own, how it can be used, and where to find more information about our work in the Central Cascades.

Brian Mize, Central Cascades Forester, and I took on this task, and let me tell you, it is not always easy to attach a 24 x 18” sign to a tree surrounded by soft snow and deep voids. At lower elevations there was very little snow so it was quite a stark difference as we traversed up and down the land. Thankfully we had our trusty snow machine to stand on when needed!

The best part of the day was when we had the unique opportunity to see a set of cougar (mountain lion) tracks. They were located about a mile east as the crow flies of the Cle Elum-Roslyn schools off SR 903. Several key clues were the larger track size, lack of claw marks which are visible in tracks left by members of the dog family, and the tail drag marks in the snow between prints. I learned that it is really helpful in the field to take a photo of the track next to a familiar object such as a glove so that you have a point of reference to use when evaluating track size.

Alas, after a full day of crisscrossing the land we finished installing all of the new signs on the Cle Elum Ridge. Now, onto the next tract of land!