Experimental restoration project comes to Olympic Peninsula

By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service

FORKS — The Washington Legislature has set aside $1 million in the capital budget for management of land and rivers on the Olympic Peninsula, home to forests recognized the world over.

It also will become the site of an experiment in restoration. The Nature Conservancy is using lessons learned from more than 15 years of management of Ellsworth Creek in southwest Washington to convert former timber plantations on its peninsula reserves into something more natural.

According to David Rolph, director of forest conservation and management for The Nature Conservancy, those bygone timber stands look like very simple forests, with a single species of tree growing at even spacing and similar height.

“Through our restoration, what we’re trying to do is create a lot of complexity, which is what you find in an old-growth forest,” Rolph explained. “So, there’s gaps of sunlight and different layers in the tree canopy, and there’s a lot of different species that create different habitat niches in the forest; and there’s a lot of under-story diversity.”

The Nature Conservancy’s work will be focused on land near the Clearwater, Hoh and Queets rivers. The Quinault Nation and Hoh Tribe rely on these river systems.

Rolph added the peninsula is home to some of the largest old-growth conifers on earth and is recognized as a World Heritage Site.

One of the goals is to protect and restore salmon spawning ground. The rivers are considered salmon strongholds, but the Conservancy estimates their population is about 10 percent of historic levels. Shade for cool stream water and even logjams are key for fish habitat.

Bernard Bormann is director of the Olympic Natural Resources Center, which works on Department of Natural Resources land that abuts Nature Conservancy reserves. He said young salmon rely on diverse species of plants for one of their main food sources.

“One of the key issues is to do some thinning in these extremely overly dense stands to bring in some other plant species, Bormann said. “And in particular, we’ve got to start thinking about the food chain for young fish, which is largely insects.”

Kyle Smith, a Nature Conservancy forest manager, thinks the most important element of restoration is the human one. He said folks sometimes assume that conservation groups are going to lock up the land not let people use it, which he stressed isn’t the case with Nature Conservancy reserves.

“I think we look at it as a different approach where we want to work with the community and make sure that this works for them as well, because it’s where they live,” said Smith.

(Editor’s note: For more information, visit washingtonnature.org/fieldnotes/funding-to-help-salmon-forests-and-create-jobs-on-the-coast.)

 

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