Summer 2019 kicked off on an upbeat note for Washington hikers: our favorite mountain trails were snow-free weeks sooner than in previous years. But like schoolkids let loose unexpectedly early, we are wary of a catch. And there is a catch: it’s a drought.
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.
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.
Written by Kara Karboski, Kristen Taggart & Ryan Anderson, Washington RC&D Council
Photographed by Heather Hadsel
Washington State is a land shaped by fire and water. Mighty rivers have formed our landscapes and help to support wildlife, power our homes and cities, and water our farms. Likewise, fire has existed in the forests, prairies, and shrub-steppe of our state for thousands of years as an important agent of change and rejuvenation.
Toward the Yakima Valley, the Naches and Yakima Rivers flow out of the Cascade Mountain’s forested slopes in central Washington State and into the Columbia River. The Yakima River is one of the most productive watersheds of the Columbia. Unique folds in Columbia basin basalt (LAVA!) combined with gravel and sediment created vast floodplains that once were, and soon will be again, critical habitat for upwards of a million adult salmon returning to the Yakima Valley throughout each year.
The water that runs from the snow and forests of the Cascades has become a vital economic driver in modern times. The valley’s sun, soil, and irrigation supply, along with its hard working community, have created a hop industry that supplies approximately 70% of the nation’s hops. That means 70% of our beer is dependent on reliable, clean water that originates in the forests of the eastern Cascades.
September and early October bring familiar and odorous reminders that Yakima is “Hop Town, USA.” Crews cut hop vines off of trellises and haul them to various processing facilities while the familiar smell of beer’s most distinct flavoring agent – hops – drifts through town. Occasional whiffs of smoke from prescribed fires blow through town as well. These autumnal smells are both important to the beer industry and to the forest. Beer needs clean water that has been filtered and stored in healthy forests. The dry forests of the eastern Cascades need occasional low-severity fires to protect them from devastating fires and to preserve their necessary function of providing clean water.
But our forests are unhealthy. Natural fires, started by lightning during the dry months, used to dance their way across the eastern forests of Washington. These low- to moderate-severity fires are necessary for the health of the forests and served to burn through the vegetation on the forest floor returning nutrients to the soil, naturally thinning the forests, opening up the understory for new plant growth, and creating important habitat for wildlife. Periodic fires like these reduced the available build up of fuels for the next fire, continuing the cycle of low- to moderate-severity fires.
We have been very effective at fighting fires to protect forest resources and communities. This has resulted in the suppression of natural fire which would otherwise reduce the buildup of dead vegetation. With higher fuel loads, fires burn hotter and faster. And these fires are much more difficult and costly to fight. These megafires are consuming resources – economic, environmental and human – at an unacceptable rate.
Megafires can affect water supplies in devastating ways. Without vegetation to slow down the movement of water, it can move large volumes of soil, ash, and other sediment. Although sediment movement, landslides, and debris flows are all normal processes in the Cascade Mountains, they can occur at super-natural scales if our forests suffer burns that are also super-natural. During Washington’s Carlton Complex Fire, for example, massive debris flows destroyed infrastructure such as irrigation systems, roadways, and buildings. When debris flows like this occur above reservoirs or water intake structures, capacity of those systems can be lost for long periods of time or indefinitely. This is on top of the water quality lost due to more silt running into waterways. These events change the clarity of water, its taste and odor, and can result in other adverse effects on water.
If our forests are not treated, through mechanical thinning or planned and coordinated burns called prescribed fire, a highly destructive fire could cause a disruption of our clean, reliable water, impacting our hop production, drinking water, and brewing industries and create major expenses for water users.
Healthy forests and the reliable water they produce are not just for beer, but for the benefit of all downstream communities. Some communities are recognizing the risk from uncharacteristically large and destructive fires and the potential impacts these fires would have on their clean water supply. In New Mexico, a community in the Santa Fe Watershed recognizes the value of healthy forests for providing clean water. This type of investment is also seen in the Rio Grande Water Fund. Communities are recognizing the risks and are protecting their watersheds with investments from utilities and other funders that depend on healthy forests.
In our state, the Washington State Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network is working to connect communities that live in fire prone areas so that they can learn from one another, share resources, and support each other when fires affect them. Understanding the impacts of fires on our water resources is one piece of this complex issue, and communities are coming up with local solutions that work best for them.
The Yakima Valley is blessed with hops and beer, forests and fish. Both fire and water play an important role in supporting these natural resources. We can protect these resources and our communities by recognizing the role fire plays, both good and bad, and by addressing these risks for the benefit of all.
Photo Credit: Epic Beer, Flickr
Climate change is threatening even the beer we drink.
The Yakima Valley is Washington’s agricultural treasure house, home to rich crops of cherries, peaches, apples, wine grapes and hops – a key ingredient for beer.
About 75 percent of the nation’s hops come from the Yakima Valley. They’re valued around the world because the valley produces so many varieties of hops.
All this bounty is dependent on the Yakima River, which flows down from the Cascade Mountains and nurtures about 6,150 square miles of forests, farms and communities.
And that river is under stress. The need for water for farms, salmon habitat and communities exceeds what is available. The situation is getting worse as communities grow and a changing climate shrinks the snowpack. In 2015, Washington suffered through one of its worst droughts in history, with record-low snowpack to sustain the river. And NOAA reports that affects hops as much as anything else.
What can we do about it?
One measure is to protect the forest from which the river flows. Healthy forests protect the snowpack, filter the water and ensure clean cool water for the future.
In 2014, The Nature Conservancy acquired nearly 48,000 acres of forest lands in the Central Cascades, including 390 miles of rivers and streams and the headwaters of the Yakima River.
We’re working with partners to restore these forests to health and ensure the streams and rivers will flow clean and clear for generations to come, sustaining salmon, people and beer.
Photographed by John Marshall
Eastern Washington’s dry forests have evolved with and depend on regular, low-intensity fire to thrive.
Washington's recent string of record-breaking wildfire seasons is spurring a call to action to develop and implement an overarching strategy to restore healthy forests that are resilient to routine, low-intensity wildfires.
To protect communities and timber resources, we have been aggressively suppressing wildfire for over 100 years, and today, large portions of our forests are unnaturally dense with high levels of forest fuels, and less able to resist insects, disease and severe fire. When wildfire does break out, these unhealthy forest conditions increase the likelihood of catastrophic fires that threaten lives and homes.
One tool in restoring forests to be more resilient to this kind of fire is the use of controlled burns, or prescribed fire, to reduce the fuel load and return forests to a more natural fire cycle.
In the spring of 2016, the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill 2928, the Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot project. This pilot is examining the role of controlled burns in creating healthier, more resilient forests.
More details about the project are here: Put Fire to Work
The Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is working with partners now to implement a series of controlled burns across about 8,000 acres under the pilot project. The Conservancy is supporting this work. Participants in this pilot include the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative, Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, and Washington Prescribed Fire Council.
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
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.
Written & Photographed by Evan Eremita, Northwest Photographer
Last year the northwest was treated to a very early and long summer which, to me, translated to lots of swimming! I decided early on to spend most of this long summer seeking out and jumping into as many blue and turquoise lakes as I could.
This hike was to Goat Lake in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, in the center of three volcanoes, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams. After a good swim in the beautiful turquoise waters, much snacking, and a long nap in my hammock, it felt just about right to start making the hike back to the car. I decided to make the loop and take a different trail back, and I'm glad I did. Long views of Mt. Adams towering above thick forest highlighted the early portion of the hike back, especially as the sun began to set and paint the sky with beautiful pink and purple tones.
What looks to be a giant cloud in the left side of the frame is actually thick smoke from one of the many wildfires last summer. Mt. Adams is acting as a barrier, momentarily keeping the smoke to the east. Another beautiful end to a beautiful summer day in the Pacific Northwest.
I first got into photography shooting with a cheap point and shoot camera on a 4 month cross country road trip, eventually landing in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, which is now my current home, living in a sailboat in Seattle.
Evan's goal as a photographer is to help develop a deeper appreciation for this beautiful world we live in, to spark something in the back of people's minds to become a little more conscious and caring for the earth with their actions. To see more of his work visit his ETSY shop, and follow his adventures on Instagram: @Snuggly.Bear!