Kowitz Family Forest: Memories, Multiple Uses, Million-Dollar Views

By Sean M. Alexander, Forester, Washington State University Extension, sean.alexander@wsu.edu

Perched on the Columbia

Contained within the banks of the Columbia River is a history of reliance on the landscape to support families and communities. For thousands of years, the abundant populations of salmon returning upstream supported the extensive network of indigenous, Salish-speaking people throughout what is now northeast Washington.

By the 1800s, the abundance of the area attracted new settlers who took advantage of the access to water and the rich, fertile soils of the area. At the same time, the Homestead Act enticed people to settle the area. Fruit farms began springing up along the banks of the Columbia.

As the need for irrigation rose with the expanse of agriculture in Washington as well as the need for hydroelectric power to support the growing communities, construction began on the development of Grand Coulee Dam. By 1940, water levels behind the dam had risen to such an extent that Lake Roosevelt had fully covered the ancestral fishing grounds of the Salish groups and displaced the town of Kettle Falls, along with many of the farms along the old banks.

In 1919, just downstream from Kettle Falls, a farmer looking to make his way in the West purchased a small plot. Slowly cultivating the land, the farmer, planting each fruit tree seedling by hand, sowed his future and the future of his generations to come. Royal Cranston relied on the fertile soil and abundant water that the Columbia River valley provided. Agricultural living in rural America during the early 20th century was dependent on the connection you have to your community. Ranchers, fruit growers, and farmers provided the necessary resources their community needed to thrive. As western expansion continued, railways made their way across Washington, providing needed transportation to ship fruit to cities across the country.

The orchard began to disappear during the Depression. By the 1940s, only a few acres of apple, cherry, and peach trees remained. Albert Kowitz, Royal’s great-grandson, remembers picking cherries in the late ’40s and selling to White’s IGA grocery store in Colville. His father, Howard, would harvest the peaches and sell at the local auction yard in Colville. Today, a half-dozen remnants of the original orchards remain.

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Al Kowitz’s son Christopher and wife Evelyn move sprinkler pipe in the 1980s. The view is to the south, looking down the Columbia River. (Photo courtesy Kowitz family)

After World War II, the farm began moving away from fruit to a diversified small farm that included dairy, hogs, livestock, and growing grain and hay. During this period, Howard purchased the original parcel of land from Albert’s grandfather, Clarence Cranston. Howard later inherited the Kowitz land owned by his stepparents and over the ensuing years purchased adjacent parcels of land around the farm, which grew to about 1,000 acres on the hills looking out over the Columbia. The land included 725 acres of forests of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, western larch, and western redcedar. The remainder of the property was dominated by open grasslands and agricultural land, perfect for Howard to raise livestock. However, income to dairy and livestock sales were not enough to support the farm and Howard’s family leading Howard to look to his forested land as a source of income.

While diversified small farms were popular across northeast Washington, sawmills and wood production were the drivers of the economy, especially around Kettle Falls. Rivers running down the hills around Sherman Pass were commonly used as log flumes, narrow corridors of waterways ferrying trees down the mountain and spilling them into the Columbia. In the mid-1900s, Kettle Falls had a stud mill to which many local tree farms sold wood. During the offseason for livestock, Howard would select stands throughout his forest and harvest trees to take to the mill. Howard would select the trees, drop them, and buck them into 8-foot logs. Al was right behind on the Caterpillar, choking the trees and skidding them to the landing site to be sorted.

Howard was raised in the timber economy and in the late 1920s and 1930s worked at the White Pine Mill located on the west side of the Columbia River across from the original Kettle Falls and near the historic namesake waterfall. He saw trees in terms of saw logs and felt that they were a wasted resource if they were not used for logs and lumber. Some of the loggers he hired understood sustainable forestry and some did not. Overall, however, through the many decades he was able to support the farm through successive harvests of timber.

Howard’s final harvest was in 2002 to qualify for the Forestry Riparian Easement Program run by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. A year-round stream runs from west to east across the property and flows into the Columbia River. Most of this stream and two other seasonal streams are enrolled in FREP, which compensates landowners for some of the lost value of timber retained in the bigger buffers required by the Forests and Fish rule changes in the late 1990s. Today, the 725 acres of forested land includes a diversity of tree species of varied ages and sizes with considerable regeneration, and a diverse understory.

Choosing to Manage the Land

When Albert’s mother and father retired and were thinking seriously about selling the ranch, he decided to leave his teaching position in communications studies at California State University, Sacramento and return to Kettle Falls to manage the ranch.

Although Al had grown up helping his dad throughout the farm, he had no experience on how to manage forestlands, let alone 725 acres of them. Using the resources that Washington State University Extension had to offer, Al began learn what it meant of be a steward of the land.

The first thing he needed to do was learn about his land. He knew the difference between a pine tree and a “red fir,” but he’d wonder things like, “Why are their only pine growing at the lower-elevation foothills of the property?” He began digging into the influence of soils, how elevation changed precipitation. He learned about topography and the difference between a north- and south-facing slope. Al would notice a few trees turning red or would wonder what was causing the abnormal clusters of growing branches and needles on his Douglas-fir. Walking the forests, he would find evidence of large game on the ground and see cavities created from pileated woodpeckers. Down in the foothills, he would find white-tailed deer tracks. Halfway up the mountain, he could hear the drumming of ruffed grouse or the flight of blue grouse. Game cameras have captured pictures of moose, elk, cougar, coyote, and black bear. The land supports snowshoe hares, multiple species of raptors, and a wide variety of songbirds. He plans to continue to create and maintain snags and abundant wildlife habitat on the property.

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The 50-horsepower Kubota tractor is a workhouse around the farm and forest. (Photo courtesy Kowitz family)

In 2015, the Kettle Complex fires, primarily the Stick Pin fire, began raging just a few miles north of the Kowitz property. Every year for the past 20 years, it seemed the smoke choking the sky was getting worse and worse, with megafires wiping out forests across the Pacific Northwest. Now it was at his back door.

Luckily, the fire was north of the property and was moving northward. But it struck a chord with Al, and he knew it was time to take action on his forest. Stemming from his desire to manage with the best science, Al wanted to make sure his decisions and actions set the trajectory of his forest toward
one that was resilient and healthy in the future.

Al began working with local foresters to outline a plan to tackle the ever-growing thicket his forest was becoming. Ladder fuels stretched from bottom to top, with mistletoe permeating through the stand. Al hired a sawyer to drop the trees, and Al and his brother worked evenings and weekends to buck the logs and limb the trees that were left standing. But Al’s curiosity wasn’t diminishing; he took the WSU Extension Forestry Coached Planning course because he wanted to craft his own vision for his landscape and knew he needed to learn more.

Sense of Place

While Al and his brother Ed are the primary caretakers and stewards of the forestland, they are only two of five siblings, all of whom grew up on the farm. Each one developed a deep relationship with the forest and landscape as a child. Now, as adults, some have moved away from the farm and some have continued to live on it, but regardless of where they are, they all return to reconnect with their home forest.

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Million Dollar View looks south over the Columbia River. (Photo courtesy Kowitz family)

As children growing up, the Kowitz kids would wander through the forest, exploring the hidden groves of cedars or cliffs looking out over the blue water of the Columbia. Over the years, footpaths began to form, creating a storybook journey throughout the property, each journey earning its own name along the way like the title of a chapter. Million Dollar View was a hike that led up the steep southern slope of the property, coined for its namesake, as you could see the vast expanse of the Columbia, the neighboring farm, and the hills. If you got too tired hiking to the Million Dollar View, you could stop at the Half Million Dollar View on the way. Cedar Grove is a hidden, secluded area deep within the forest, where family members go to renew their connection to the land. Whether watching the blossoms of camas turn the hillsides blue, catching the late-summer bird migrations, or hunting to put food on the table for the year, each member of the family finds their sense of place on the land.

Multiple Uses

Although selling wood to the mills is a viable option, one of Al’s goals was to use the available resources from the forest for projects around the farm. When Al and his family moved back, he reached out to an old friend, an architect who specialized in building solar homes. Three sides of the home would be the traditional wood framing and siding, and the fourth side, which faced south, would be entirely glass. He cut a few larch and ponderosa pine trees and hired a small portable sawmill to cut the wood into 1-by-6 boards. He then took the lumber to the planing mill in Northport and cut tongue-and-groove and used the paneling for parts of the interior walls of his home. The wood gives the interior a beautiful cabin scene, lit up by sun coming through the southern glass wall. When the home was first built, Al would find dead cedar trees, and would use the trees to make cedar shakes for the roof. However, when fires became more frequent on the hillside, he later replaced the roof with a red metal one.

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The south-facing view over the quarter-acre plot of squash that is home to six varieties. (Photo courtesy Kowitz family)

Al has a love for culinary pursuits, and his most recent special spot has been in his asparagus rows. After retiring from the Stevens County WSU Extension Office, Al decided to take a two-year culinary course at the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy at Spokane Community College to get a better idea of how to bring locally produced foods to area restaurants. Over the years, his garden quickly sprouted into about 1 acre that includes asparagus, winter squash, leeks, watermelons, cantaloupes, and corn. He is a member of the LINC Foods cooperative, which works to distribute local produce to restaurants and organizations in the Inland Empire.

During one of his DNR cost-share thinning projects, he read some research on the benefits of using biochar as a soil amendment. He attended a workshop on how to make biochar and consulted with a national expert on how he might use some of the wood from the thinning project to produce biochar.  He could then add the final product to his vegetable garden as a soil amendment to improve the soil microbial community, water holding capacity, and a whole host of other benefits.

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Al Kowitz tends to a biochar burn in front of his house. (Photo courtesy Kowitz family)

During his thinning projects, he would save 2-to-6-inch pieces of ponderosa pine, cut to 4 feet in length. When the weather was good, he would create a crossing pile, 4 feet by 4 feet. Adding a little kindling to the top of the pile, he would light the stack and allow it to burn downward. After a fair amount of time, Al said you would begin to see small chunks of charcoal. Before the coals would continue to break down into ash, he would repeatedly turn the pile over, spraying water on the pieces of charcoal until they were cool.

Facilitating the Future

In recent years, Al has found a renewed passion for learning about his forest. After taking the WSU Coached Planning course, Al began to research what frequent-fire ecosystems would have looked like. Kaci, Al’s daughter-in-law, is pursuing a master’s degree in forest ecology at Oregon State University and, as a part of a larger team, is hoping to implement management techniques that facilitate resilient and healthy forests including the use of fire. She will be a valuable resource for Al and his brother Ed as they care for their forest.

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Al Kowitz assesses a forested parcel while on a hike. (Photo courtesy Kowitz family)

Like many forest landowners, maintaining forest health has always been a concern for Al. When he took over the property from his father, dwarf mistletoe had been spreading rapidly on one of the parcels. He does not intend to manage for commercial purposes but recognizes the need to cut trees across all diameter ranges if it improves the overall health of his stands.

Once Al has reached his target density for the forest, he hopes to begin to implement prescribed fire in the lower, dry pine stands. Litter and duff layers have built up over the years. Prescribed fire will help reduce the fine fuels on the forest floor and promote regrowth of fire-adapted species. Al and Kaci are also concerned about the future of the climate, especially how it will impact their dry forest, which already receives limited precipitation.

Through partnerships with carbon credit programs and DNR cost-share programs, Al wants to manage the Kowitz family stand for a resilient forest that will store carbon, be resistant to fire, and become a land legacy to pass down to the coming generations.

“There’s Gold in Them Thar’ Two-by-Fours!”

By Dave Richards, Timber Cruiser, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, david.richards@dnr.wa.gov

If you’ve been to your local lumber yard in the past few months, you probably were sticker-shocked at the amount you paid for your backyard wood project. An 8-foot 2-by-4 might have cost you somewhere in the range of $7 to $8 instead of what historically has been a price range of $2 to $3. What used to be a $10 to $15 sheet of plywood would set you back by $40 or $50! What’s going on here?

The lumber you buy at your favorite lumber yard or big-box store is what’s referred to as a commodity, a good or product bought and sold regardless of who produced it. Commodities are often sensitive to the economic forces of supply and demand, and the demand for lumber is driven largely by the U.S. housing market. New single-family construction uses 25 percent of all lumber produced in the U.S, and remodeling and repairs use another 21 percent of the lumber produced.

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Percentage of Manufactured Wood Products by End-Use. (Graphic courtesy USDA Forest Service and Virginia Tech)

After the housing bust in 2007 and 2008, new home construction gradually began to recover. By late 2019 and into 2020, new housing construction was hitting its stride and had increased to 1.3 million starts.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, new construction, like most industries, came to a sudden halt. Mills closed, builders stopped construction, lumber suppliers quit buying, and most of the lumber industry expected a protracted downturn in the demand for lumber. What happened instead? People were stuck at home due to the pandemic. They found home remodeling projects and repairs were the answer to making use to all the extra time they found they now had.

It quickly became apparent that new home construction, remodeling, and repairs were not affected nearly as much as analysts had expected. Mills quickly found themselves low on lumber inventory and scrambling to fill new orders. As the building boom continued unabated and demand continued to rise, prices began to soar. In April 2020, the lumber composite price was just under $350 per thousand board feet. One year later, in April 2021, the lumber composite price index had risen to over $1,100 per thousand board feet, a more than 250 percent increase!

The run-up in lumber prices added more than $36,000 to the average cost of a new home. As with many economic shocks, what goes up must come down – as an old friend used to say, “The lumber market went up on emotion and down on reality.” After peaking at over $1,700 per thousand board feet in June this year, prices began to plummet to under $500 per thousand by August. The lumber boom was over and the bust had begun.

What about timber prices?

You have to have trees to make lumber, so what about the price of logs the mills buy? Did the price of timber go up like lumber? If not, then why not? One interesting thing about timber is that trees continue to grow and produce more wood until they are cut.

Many mills buy their timber from landowners and may decide not to harvest their timber immediately. They may purchase timber sales and wait to harvest the timber until they need to harvest the trees to meet the demand for their lumber.

A timber buyer can sit on a purchase for several months, if not a year or more before they need to harvest the trees. This ability to schedule their harvests and buy timber as needed provides a buffer between the demand and supply, therefore insulating the mills need for raw materials from the shock of lumber demand and supply.

As a result, timber prices did not increase nearly to the extent that lumber prices did. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources publishes a monthly log price survey for domestically processed logs. Prices shown in this chart are the prices a mill pays per thousand board feet (MBF) delivered to their log yard.

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Delivered log price in dollars per thousand board feet (MBF), as of August 2021. (Graphic courtesy Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

These charts show delivered log prices for a #2 Saw Douglas-fir and a #2 Saw Hemlock log. (A #2 Saw log is one that is 12 inches in diameter or larger on the small end of the log.) You can see from the chart that pre-pandemic log prices were relatively stable between $600 and $700 for fir and $450 and $550 for hemlock. There was a sharp drop in log prices from March to May 2020 when the pandemic began, then a rapid increase in prices through the third quarter of 2020. Now through the last three quarters until July 2021, prices leveled off in the upper $700s for fir and $600 for hemlock.

We typically expect log prices to start dropping in the summer until late fall or early winter when logging slows down due to wetter, snowy weather. We see that beginning to happen in August this year with a drop in fir prices. One caveat to these observations: The prices reflect logs milled and processed within the United States and not logs exported unprocessed to Asia. There are similar ups and downs in the export market, but there are other economic forces to consider for export, including shipping costs and the strength of the dollar.

The bottom line for the independent tree farmer? When should I harvest my timber? When it makes sense for YOU both economically and for your management plan. Just like the stock market, trying to time your harvest with the market is more likely to fail than not.

Wildfire Corner: Thinning Trees to Change Fire Behavior

By Guy Gifford, Landowner Assistance Forester and Fire Prevention and Firewise Coordinator, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Northeast Region, guy.gifford@dnr.wa.gov

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Figure 1: This untreated area experienced a crown fire and significant mortality. (Photo by Guy Gifford, Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

I’ve written multiple articles in Wildfire Corner about how proactive work has helped save homes and change the intensity of wildfire. So far, I have not had a personal stake in the examples I’ve described but, this year, the Pine Meadows fire in Spokane County burned an area that I’m very familiar with. It burned 140 acres, including forest stands that I’ve helped landowners to thin and reduce the risk of crown fires.   

The area had experienced fire in the past, with several structures being lost nearby to a wildfire in 1991.  Some time later, I helped secure funding from the American Jobs Act to do some much-needed thinning work in the ponderosa-pine-dominated forests. The work focused on removing small trees, less than 8 inches in diameter and taller than 4.5 feet. Reducing stand density this way increased space between tree crowns to about 5 feet, creating what some foresters call “roads in the skies.”  Doing this minimizes the risk of a full crown fire if one tree torches, similar to how a road on the ground can stop fire from spreading.  

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Figure 2: As the fire moved back into a thinned area, the flames moved back to the ground. (Photo by Guy Gifford, Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

Ladder fuels, which can be small bushes and branches that carry fire to the crowns of trees, were also removed. Trees were pruned 10 feet from the ground unless that would mean removing more than 50 percent of the crown. Sometimes, clumps of trees would be left to meet other landowner objectives such as aesthetics and wildlife habitat, but they were given more space from surrounding tree crowns. More than half the area was treated, with the focus being around structures.

Cut to another decade later, the wildfire started in the afternoon on August 16 as the result of a nearby structure fire. It burned the entire 140 acres in only 90 minutes. Winds coming from the southwest caused the fire to spread rapidly, and one structure was lost early in the fire’s development.

The fire spread into an area that had been thinned and pruned, and it stayed on the ground.  As the fire was pushed by the wind, it reached an area that had not been treated, and the fire quickly climbed into the canopy and started spreading to other crowns, which significantly increased the fire intensity (Figure 1). When fire gets into the crowns of the trees, fire resources have to wait until the fire comes back to the ground before they can attack the fire.

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Figure 3: The thinned area around the home. (Photo by Guy Gifford, Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

As the fire continued to spread to the northeast, it came into another area that was thinned and pruned, and it again came back to the ground. This work was done around a home to increase the chance of the home surviving a wildfire. Looking at Figure 3, we can see that it worked. You can see the house in the background and how the tree needles are only brown, not scorched, which means the fire stayed on the ground and the fire intensity was reduced. 

As I look back at this project and the work we did, there are a few notable lessons to take away:

  • Thinning and pruning trees in the forest made a huge difference in reducing the severity of the fire and keeping it on the ground.
  • A fire doesn’t have to be big to destroy a home. The size of this fire was quite small but did serious damage.
  • In the early stages of a fire and when it is moving quickly, homeowners may not always receive evacuation notices.

If you own forestland or a home in a forested area in Washington, wildfire is an inevitability, especially in eastern Washington where fires are more frequent. However, you can control how that fire behaves with proactive forest management and application of Firewise principles. The fall season is a great time to take a look at your property and determine if you need to do some thinning and pruning in your forest to reduce the fire intensity of the next wildfire.

 

Cascades to Coast Landscape Collaborative to Launch Conservation Program Explorer Tool

By Rachel Santa Olalla, John Mankowski, and Kaitlyn Landfield, Cascades to Coast Landscape Collaborative

Small forest and agricultural lands comprise a large portion of the Cascades to Coast region, making them a significant part of the region’s culture, economy, and livelihood. These lands provide a variety of benefits to people, including wood products, food, clean air, and extreme weather mitigation, and they support mental and physical well-being. However, the risk of small forests and farms being converted to non-forest or agricultural uses poses a threat to these valued these ecosystem services.

One of the challenges of preserving these lands is small forest and agricultural landowners aging and the uncertainty about how to pass their lands to the next generation. Land use pressures are influencing the decision-making of small farm and forest land management. There is a widespread common interest in the best management and viability of private farmlands.

Various state and federal regulations can impact what landowners can and cannot do with their lands. Most landowners are committed to good stewardship for wildlife and ecosystem health that their lands provide. Effective and efficient incentive programs are important tools to support and encourage environmental stewardship for landowners. Incentive programs play an important role in achieving many of the region’s shared landscape values. It is in everybody’s interest to maximize access to incentive programs.

In the quest for connected and resilient landscapes, the many conservation and working lands partners involved in the Cascades to Coast Landscape Collaborative (CCLC) looked at how regional challenges impacted landscape values. How does climate change, invasive species, development, and siloed decision-making impact productive farms and forests, health of fish and wildlife populations, habitat connectivity, collaborative decision making, and the vibrancy of rural communities? The economic viability of forests and farms, and the ability to manage land and associated resources needed to be carefully considered.

Among many potential solutions, the landowner community suggested that it is too time-consuming to discover which incentive programs are available for them to apply to their lands when looking across the spectrum of all federal, state, and local programs. Thus, the CCLC partnership took on a project to create a simple web-based tool called the Conservation Program Explorer. This tool enables landowners or agency staff to quickly discover which incentive programs are available based on one’s geographic location and the type of program they are interested in.

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Ken Miller, a small forest landowner and active member of the Washington Farm Forestry Association, leads an informative forest tour. (Photo courtesy Cascades to Coast Landscape Collaborative)

The CCLC partners worked with rural landowners to better understand their needs while developing the tool. The consistent hurdle for landowners to take advantage of programs was navigating the numerous websites, which was something we came to understand while creating the Conservation Program Explorer’s program database; there really are a lot out there.

The goal of the Conservation Program Explorer is to easily access all incentive programs that landowners could be eligible for in one place, including those offered by federal, state, county, non-governmental organizations, and other resources. Incentive programs were grouped into three categories: Financial, Public Recognition, and Free Technical Assistance. Using a series of drop-down menus, landowners will be able to select their location, land type, and desired program to see what’s currently available to them. The Conservation Program Explorer prototype for western Washington launches in early November through an informational public webinar. If you are interested in participating in the webinar, please sign up to receive the invitation here.

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This animation shows how to use the Cascades to Coast Landscape Collaborative’s Conservation Program Explorer.

While the launch of the tool is a milestone for CCLC, feedback from landowners using the tool will be just as important as the tool itself. This feedback will drive the dialogue with program providers to create and amend programs as needed to further collective stewardship efforts. The project lead, Rachel Santa Olalla, will work with the project advisory team to engage landowners and stakeholders in the Conservation Program Explorer tool. In addition to periodic program database updates, feedback on experiences using the tool will also be an important driver of future improvements.

CCLC is an informational hub for landowners who value conservation, and a collaboration space for conservation partners. Please visit our website here to see what we are up to, stay informed with updates and events (like the Conservation Program Explorer launch) by signing up for our newsletter, and get in touch with us for partnership in your conservation endeavors. In the meantime, if you have questions or ideas on this project, please contact Rachel Santa Olalla (Rachelo@peaksustainability.com) or John Mankowski (john@mankowskienvironmental.com).

 

What’s in it for Me? The Ecosystem Services that Wildlife Provide

By Ken Bevis, Stewardship Wildlife Biologist, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov

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Deer are an important source of meat, but they also serve a key role in the function of forested ecosystems. (Photo by Ken Bevis, Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

“Keep forests as forests.” This is one of the objectives for various stewardship forestry programs throughout the state, including Washington State University Extension Forestry and our program at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. The values for people found on these lands that serve all of us, as well as the landowners, are extensive.

In Washington, we have about 3.2 million acres of small private forestlands owned by about 219,000 families and individuals. These lands are an integral part of the greater landscape and provide enormous benefits for everyone. These benefits are collectively known as “ecosystem services.” This is one way to describe and demonstrate the actual value of forests, as well as their intrinsic value.

Ecosystem services have been divided into some basic categories. There are “provisional services,” which refer to materials we use from a forest, such as wood, food, and other forest products. “Cultural services” refer to the spiritual, recreational, and aesthetic values of forests. “Regulating benefits” encompass the ways that forests moderate or facilitate important resources for society, such as clean water and air, carbon sequestration, and pollination. The last category is “support services,” which refers to important ecosystem functions whose benefits are difficult to quantify but are intrinsically invaluable to society, such as soil formation, water cycles, and nutrient cycling. Wildlife on forestlands provide direct and tangible benefits to landowners in all of these categories.

Many of the social and cultural benefits are aesthetic and make us feel good.  We enjoy seeing a hawk or an owl, or a deer with her twin fawns. We marvel at the salamander in the leaf mulch. A glimpse of a cougar or bobcat is a life highlight. Our lives are generally enriched from the presence of wildlife, and knowing they are there. Providing habitat to enable wildlife to thrive is one of the great satisfactions from owning forestland.

Wildlife can provide tangible goods, too, particularly in the form of meat or pelts. Although the number of hunters has declined in recent years, it is still an important activity on forestlands. Deer, elk, bear, and grouse live in forest habitats and are harvested by hunters for their meat. Beaver, bobcat or marten are sometimes trapped for their pelts. Tangible goods in the form of food are an ecosystem service from wildlife.

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Douglas squirrels like this one can help disperse tree seed. (Photo by Ken Bevis, Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

Wildlife can provide important regulating and support functions, too. For example, Douglas and red squirrels enable tree dispersal by losing a few of their cached cones. Clark’s nutcrackers actually plant seeds of pines on open ridges and mountaintops. Beaver create wetlands that raise water tables and provide habitat for a myriad of species. Slugs (yes, they are wildlife!) break down dead plant material and help with nutrient cycling and soil building. Gophers aerate the soil with their burrow systems. Wildlife can have key roles in many ecosystem functions. I bet you can think of a few more.

Having forests on the landscape benefits all of society in a myriad of ways, and many programs, including WSU Forestry Extension (and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Stewardship Program), are directed to assist landowners with land management questions and solutions. Thinking about our forests in terms of ecosystem services broadens and specifies our appreciation for our lands and our determination to keep forests as forests.

Send me your best example of a wildlife-based ecosystem service at ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov!