“Memorializing Forests of the Pacific Northwest”
[Beverly Parsons writes in a blog series. This excerpt by permission.]
“If you come to Oregon or Washington today, you might question why I’m commemorating something that seems so alive and present. You’re seeing the trees but not the forest.
The original forests, while dominated visually by trees, were alive with diverse vegetation and animal life. The cycle of life—an infinite pattern of birth, maturity, release, and reconfiguration of elements—worked together as a complex system. The forests anchored and stabilized the soil so that heavy rains were absorbed. They protected the top soil that had been developing over thousands of years. Their canopies captured the fog from the Pacific Ocean and brought water to the streams. They sequestered massive amounts of carbon.
Today you see the mono-culture of Douglas fir trees, industrial timber farms. The undergrowth is meager. There is no moss on the trees. This year, you are likely to see large areas of clear-cut land. The industrial forests are clear-cut every 35 to 40 years with the specific timing depending on the timber market. Timber prices are high now, especially in markets outside of the US, so the land is stripped. You might even see a small plane flying overhead spraying chemicals to control the undergrowth before genetically modified trees are planted in preparation for the next market cycle.
Less obvious changes may be the most important. The microbiome of the forest’s soil is diminished. Pesticides have entered the streams. The salmon are dying due to their high sensitivity to toxins. The diversity of wildlife, birds, bees, plants, and more are gone.
…We need not stand idly by. We can proactively help restore and rebuild the forest ecosystems or whatever ecosystems are important where we live and work. Nature is ready to do its part if we humans support nature’s ecosystems instead of undermining them.”
Case in Point: Sawdust Hill (Poulsbo)
With Beverly Parson’s description in mind, consider one example. Just last month, Pope Resources harvested a 35-acre parcel of forest along Sawdust Hill Road about a mile west of Bond Road in Poulsbo. Thirty five acres have been shaved of all vegetation—especially disturbing since the site is a steep gorge with a stream running through the bottom. The stream has, or had, fish. With the trees gone there’s nothing to keep it cool for the fish or to prevent erosion and destruction of the stream.
Pope does not own this land, but did. In 2017 the company sold it and other parcels to Kitsap County. The County couldn’t afford to purchase these areas outright, so Pope retained rights to harvest the trees for thirty years.
Pope is in flagrant violation of state regulations that specify that no trees may be taken within 30 feet of a stream. They cut down not just trees that can be used for timber, but every sapling and bush that might have held down a little soil on an extremely unstable slope. Trees are critical to carbon sequestration and they provide homes to so many creatures that are facing species extinction. Pope also took beautiful 60-year-old trees right next to the road.
Now that the damage has been done, KEC asks:
- Is our government, which is supposed to be trusted to protect people and land, going to hold Pope liable for its wanton violation of regulations, or is it business as usual for the county and the state? Of course the trees can’t be brought back in time to save beauty and wildlife, but shouldn’t Pope face some punishment and/or be more closely monitored?
- Is Pope planning to replant? The law requires the replanting of trees after cutting them.
- Is Pope going to spray this (and the other parcels) with chemicals, as per its usual practice? Since it retains lumber rights for 30 years, is it planning for another crop? A site supervisor told local residents that Pope is “giving” the land to the county parks department, will not spray, and has no further plans for it. First of all, this is no “gift,” but a sale; in addition, replanting is a requirement which KEC hopes Pope will meet.
Since the County is now the owner, it appears that Pope cannot spray with chemicals because a new Kitsap County regulation, which came about largely through KEC’s efforts, stipulates no use of glyphosate on county land. KEC certainly hopes this is the case.
Sawdust Hill’s residents are uniting to ensure Pope and the County do not ruin this area further. Community action is laudable and necessary in a time when government appears to have little accountability to the people it serves. The days of being passive, and waiting for our officials to do the right thing, are over.
As a KEC member stated at June’s general meeting, the central problem is money. Kitsap County and many other counties use our forests as ATM machines—the proceeds from timber sales going to fund schools, roads, and so forth. This is a horrible and unsustainable model especially now as deforestation is a major contributor to climate catastrophe. Who has the vision and courage to change the paradigm? Remember that as elections roll around, you are not powerless.
KEC is vigilantly monitoring the situation at Sawdust Hill. Among other actions, we are inviting state and county officials (including State Sen. Christine Rolfes and the County Commissioners) to walk the site in July, along with journalists and media, to witness the devastation up close and discuss the relationship between timber companies, state agencies, and the people. Meanwhile, go see for yourself—access Sawdust Hill Road west from Bond Road.