Sustainable Forest Practices

Sustainable Forestry

Creating Forest Stewardship Goals and Strategy


The crew here at Tierra has been afforded the opportunity to put ourselves through a crash course (read 12 months now) of thought and “schooling” in forestry matters. There is a lot of interesting work bubbling across the internet, really an incredible array of folks striving for a sensible way to survive in forest work and best care for the resource and the trees. I recently came across a master “forester’s guild” site presenting their “Model Forests”  (No claims here to anything other than beginner status)  -but I liked the term and it helped  to frame an ideal in forest stewardship that includes:

                Thoughtful, Attuned and Skilled Operations

                Economic Viability

                Bio Mass Utilization

                Community Oriented Forestry

                Policy and Best Practice Involvement and Advocacy

                Educational Outreach

Tierra Learning Center has its toes dipped in each area (stay tuned for more information about our pilot projects) and hopes to offer and share a site specific yet comprehensive case study for years to come.

We have the great fortune of living amongst what still is an active forest community here in Leavenworth and have lineages of wood folks surrounding us. In preparation for the commercial thinning were currently in the midst of I walked the same stretch of woods with a dozen people whose lives are tied to the forest industry– the culminating outing at sunset, flopped in the bunch grass, listening to our very best “old timer” re-enact ax swing by swing the falling of the tree whose stump we were next to a hundred years ago… “and then, unless he was a lefty! He stood right here… there must have been a small one here….and it held and fell … through there, right next to the cart…” and the sun blazed down.

Our forest work here in Sunitsch Canyon starts with an even age (100 yr) stand of mixed Doug Fir and Ponderosa Pine surrounded by currently unmanaged Forest Service land. There are still some original trees, but, as the photos show, shorty after settlement much of the canyon was cleared. CAPTIONS: Barn Canyon 1910 – Barn Canyon Present.

Our Forest Stewardship Plan was originally compiled by an old agency hand who ended his government career in a dendrochronology lab producing the most comprehensive research on the historical tree stands in these parts - which tended to a more prominent Ponderosa Pine / Wildfire ecosystem.

He introduced us to east side (of the Cascades) forestry with an large, lacquered specimen from an old growth pine. “Start here, in 1500,” Richard said, “and watch for those incurved dark furls you see every 15 – 30 years – those are scars from ground fires moving through.” Sure enough, for 400 years, these blips in the tree ring record showed up on this pattern – until 1900, when the Forest Service began implementation of fire suppression activities. Then nothing for 100 years… until the crown fire that killed the tree.

Without fire, the more traditional open pine stands, with 60-120 trees/acre, turned into, in many places, a thicket of Doug Firs competing with 400-600 additional trees per acre. Tinder and stress.   TREE RING PHOTO Caption – The Smaller DF is Older.

Our forest stewardship work plan thus is largely motivated by two factors: to increase long term forest health and to prepare, as best as possible, for large scale, stand replacement type wild fires in Sunitsch Canyon.

Model Forests

The forests lands here at Sunitsch Canyon recently received their FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification. While a worthwhile endeavor for us to participate in, largely do to our public and educational nature, the FSC certifying guidelines, while comprehensive, are necessarily broad.  The attributes listed above for our stewardship goals are an attempt to add some local specific best practices to the FSC framework.

To step and squarely address the actual trees (or – Thoughtful, Attuned and Skilled Operations)– what do they need? For optimal health, less competition. Our stewardship work takes at its base that the forests were healthier in this area with a natural cycle that included wildfire. MAYBE INSERT BEFORE TYPICAL or Standpoint 1 not the best.   East slope foresters are faced with manually reproducing wildfire’s culling effect, removing a lot of trees (for us most of the biggest and all of the best stay while generally selecting towards pine stands) through commercial thinning operations and fuel reduction work. This creates a lot of bio mass. I would estimate that sites receiving both commercial thinning and fuel work left between 10 and 20 tons of woody debris per acre. What to do with all this bio-mass culled from the forest has to be an integral component of model, sustainable forestry.

Work on an initial 40 acres here will proceed on a plot by plot basis (approximately 3-7 acres) within the defined units laid out in an approved FPA. Plots will be worked with both a commercial thinning and pre-commercial treatment with specific attention given to the unique and individual requirements for distinct aspects and forest stands.  Within these small plots, we plan to work patch by patch with an appropriately scaled operation (lots of hand work, excavator, chainsaw and tracked skidder), leaving clumps and patches of both shrub and tree layers, always with an eye towards healthy, interesting, and varied habitat.

As to the loggers who handle the commercial side of thinning operations: I can only offer the following thoughts. Like many dynamics, here expense and speed seem to go together. The best decision that we’ve made to date was to steer away from a buncher/feller/processor operation. They simply have to move too fast and indiscriminately to pay for the machine time. They also centralize and leave slash piles that are impossible to deal with in any good way.   We’ve been lucky to be working with an operator who lends a great deal of care and efficiency to commercial operations.

We have two crews going right now – the commercial thinning in one area and a much lighter fuel-reduction project working ridgelines and some of the more sensitive slopes. The photos below show some of our work in progress – check back in this spring to see photos of wildflowers on these forest floors.