Meeting Minutes from InspireSeattle Social on January 12, 2013

Saving Our Forests


Topic:  Establishing New Partnerships to Save Our Forests

The pine bark beetle has long been a natural part of mountain ecosystems in the southwestern United States.  Normally these insects play an important role in the life of a forest, attacking old and weakened trees, allowing for renewal by younger trees.  However, mild winters and hot, dry summers have led to infestations that have devastated American pine forests.  Now the pine bark beetle has become a problem as far north as British Columbia and Eastern Washington.  This growing infestation may now be the largest insect blight ever recorded in North America and climate change has widely been cited as a reason for the size and severity of the outbreak.

The Nature Conservancy is a non-profit environmental organization, well-known for taking direct ownership and acting as steward to some of our most precious and endangered ecosystems.  To address this new and widespread threat of the pine bark beetle, the Nature Conservancy is playing a new role by creating partnerships with businesses, loggers and other environmentalists who all have common cause to preserve Washington's forests.

Speaker :  John Rose has been a member of the board for the Washington chapter of the Nature Conservancy since 2000.  Previously John was Budget Director for King County.  Later, he served as both president and CEO of Seattle Northwest Securities Corporation, the region's leading underwriter of municipal bonds.  More recently, John has provided consulting services related to debt management for both public and private clients and he is co-founder of Practical Steam, a start-up company dedicated to developing steam engine technology for the twenty-first century.  

Key notes:

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) just celebrated its 60th anniversary.  Their mission is to protect species and their habitat.  TNC is best known for taking ownership of threatened habitats and then transferring the land to government agencies to manage.  The group is now expanding its partnerships beyond government agencies to include businesses, landowners, and other groups.  TNC is finding common ground among these groups to protect the environment and to promote sustainable business practices.


Currently Washington TNC is focused on three areas of the state:

1)    Washington Coast

2)    Puget Sound

3)    Eastern Washington Forests


1)    Washington Coast – short summary

Salmon runs are currently at 10% of historical levels.  TNC is buying lands to help protect the runs as well as working with the Quinault tribe to improve fishing management under their treaty rights.


2)    Puget Sound – short summary


TNC is working with a variety of groups to try to clean up Puget Sound.  John gave one example where TNC worked with farmers in Skagit valley to take out several dikes both to improve water flow into the Sound and to begin to restore estuaries in the area.


3)    Eastern Washington – focus of the session

Between Yakima and the area north of Leavenworth lie some of the most biodiverse forests in North America.   Sadly the health of these forests is threatened by human involvement in 1) fires, 2) pests, and 3) development.


NOTE:   Many Western forests are facing similar problems that Washington State is facing.  These states (CA, MT, ID, CO) will send TNC representatives for a conference in Seattle on January 30 to start the process of sharing problems, data on projects and pull together new strategies to work on restoring our forests.


Fire:  If you were to examine the rings of a 200+ year old tree from this region you would see burn marks indicating moderate forest fires occurred about every 20 years.  But starting in 1900 the burn marks end with the new policy of fighting all forest fires.  (Timothy Egan’s excellent book, The Big Burn, discusses in detail the impact of this new policy.)


Without regular burns, the forests became too dense and the brush too thick.  (For a while sheep herds were allowed in these forests and would keep the brush down, but such grazing is no longer allowed.)  The timber industry no longer clears trees in this area because there are no mills within an economically feasible distance to ship fallen trees.  The closest mills are the White Swan Mill and another in Colville. 


Pests (the Pine Bark Beetle and the Spruce Budworm): Attempts to replant areas of forest have brought pests that live within the imported trees.  Compounding this problem, large groves of trees of a single species are grown in high density.  As a result any insect pests that feed on that species have an ample, uninterrupted supply of food in every direction and their population explodes.  In addition, the milder winters (attributed to climate change) allow a far higher percentage of these pests to survive from one season to the next.  Declining rainfall in the area will delay the return of a truly diverse forest.


Development:  Development of forest land has splintered healthy wildlife populations, interrupts migration routes, and cuts off water sources.  Ecosystem management must be part of any development plan.


TNC Strategies in this area:

Any successful strategy will involve thinning the forests, maintaining road access for stewards of the forest, replanting with a diversity of trees, and allowing for non-catastrophic fires.  (A catastrophic fire is one that burns so hot it destroys the soil, making it sterile for many years, i.e., the fires in Colorado in 2012.  The Washington Taylor Bridge and Table Mountain fires this past year were non-catastrophic.)

Methods currently used and being explored by TNC include: 

1)    Land acquisition – buying large parcels as they come up for sale. In process.

2)    Forest Restoration – working with commercial companies to thin forests and implementing controlled burns.  This is in the works.

Example:  The Tapash Collaborative is where TNC, Yakama Nation, State Department of Natural Resources, State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife  and the Forest Service are working together to manage multiple properties as one tract of land.

3)    Economic Heath – the hardest to do and has not yet been cracked.  The idea is to make the forest sustainability economically sustainable as well.  Two examples that TNC has worked on…

a.    Changing Central Washington University’s heating system to wood burning then use regular thinning of the forests to supply the wood.  This was in process but financing fell through as the Forest Service would not commit to long term agreements to provide wood products and the recent drop in natural gas made wood a less attractive fuel.  This is on hold.

b.    Working with a group to mill “presto” logs from the products of forest thinning in the region.  This is being investigated.  

4)    Public Engagement – building a steering committee to help develop the work.  Talking with many groups to build awareness.


Thanks John for a fantastic and informative evening!


Thank you to our speaker John Rose (left) and to Carrie Bogner (right) for organizing and hosting this event

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