Forest Health Watch – A New Community Science Initiative in the Northwest

Joey Hulbert, Research Scientist, Washington State University – Puyallup Research and Extension Center, hulbe@wsu.edu

Researchers from Washington State University are partnering with agencies and organizations throughout the region to roll out a program called Forest Health Watch to invite residents to contribute to research and learn more about forest health.

Western redcedar with thinning foliage and dying top as a result of drought stress (Photo by Patrick Shults, WSU Extension).

The first research project aims to advance knowledge about the factors involved in the western redcedar decline. The Forest Health Watch program is still in its early stages of development, but interested residents can sign up as community scientists, report tree health concerns, and suggest forest health issues to consider as research projects. More information can be found at foresthealth.org.

The program is based on the premise that biosecurity is a shared responsibility.

Unfortunately, forest pests and pathogens do not understand boundaries and affect all types of land ownership. Therefore, one objective of the Forest Health Watch program is to provide space for landowners to share concerns and learn about emerging forest health issues, thereby enhancing biosecurity in the region through greater inclusion in monitoring and research.

Sharing observations and reporting concerns can lead to the early detection of new pest outbreaks or novel disease epidemics, increasing our communities’ abilities to respond rapidly and protect our natural resources. For updates about emerging issues, visit the Community Calls to Action section of the website.

Another aim of the Forest Health Watch program is to address forest health issues, such as the western redcedar decline, through community science.

There is a general consensus that the health of western redcedars is declining in some areas of the Pacific Northwest in response to recent shifts in the region’s climate. However, it is unclear which environmental parameters (e.g., moisture levels, summer temperatures) or site characteristics (e.g., aspect, slope, drainage, soil type) are the most important drivers of the decline. Observations of healthy and unhealthy western redcedars spanning environmental gradients are needed to identify these drivers.

Having a greater understanding of the areas affected and the drivers involved in the decline can help identify vulnerable areas and support the investigation of solutions for growing western redcedar in the region. The Forest Health Watch program invites residents in the Pacific Northwest to improve the stewardship of western redcedar by sharing observations as community scientists. Please visit the website or contact Joey Hulbert at hulbe@wsu.edu to get involved or request more information.