Introductions: New WSU Extension Forester and Stewardship Notes Editor

Patrick Shults. Photo: WSU
Patrick Shults. Photo: WSU

Before we sign off on this edition of Stewardship Notes, I would like to introduce myself, Patrick Shults, as the new Extension Forester for WSU in southwest Washington. A little about myself: I was born and raised in Michigan and received a B.S. and M.S. in Forestry from Michigan State University. Much of my background has been with environmentally focused non-profits, where I’ve gained experience leading volunteer teams and educating the public in fields like sustainable forestry, urban forestry, and habitat restoration. I also have a history of writing forest management plans for small forest landowners and a strong background in agroforestry and non-timber forest products. I’m very excited to be bringing this experience here to build education programs and assist landowners in this part of the country. Forestry and education are my two greatest passions, which means this is essentially a dream job. I’m looking forward to meeting landowners and making connections as I continue to settle into this role.

As a part of my new position, I will also be taking over as the editor of Stewardship Notes (wishing Carol Mack a happy retirement!). As I get accustomed to the area and the many issues facing small forest landowners I will be keeping in mind the opportunity to address these concerns through Stewardship Notes. In particular, I hope to highlight the landowner perspective by inviting your submissions for future editions of SN. This could be in the form of a personal narrative about you and your land, you can send your forest management questions and I will have them answered in the next edition, or maybe you just want to share something you find interesting with the small forest landowner community. Since landowners are the target audience for this newsletter, I think a great way to have your concerns and interests recognized is to have you submit them, so don’t be shy!

Please send your submissions to patrick.shults@wsu.edu and feel free to contact me with any questions via email or phone at (360) 740-1213.

New Cooperative Project will Benefit Southwest Washington Landowners

DNR Stewardship Forester Julie Sackett
DNR Stewardship Forester Julie Sackett advises a small forest landowner in southwest Washington. Photo: Ken Bevis/DNR.

Washington State University (WSU) Extension will soon hire a forest stewardship educator, who will help landowners plan and execute various management activities to achieve their goals and reduce risks.

Based out of the WSU Lewis County Extension office in Chehalis, this unique position will serve throughout southwest Washington, providing organized educational opportunities landowners with the purpose of significantly increasing the amount of forest land being managed sustainably under written forest stewardship plans.

The three-year project is funded by the U.S. Forest Service Landscape-scale Restoration Grant program, awarded to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and cooperatively implemented by DNR, WSU Extension and the Grays Harbor Conservation District. This joint project is a ‘surround-sound approach’ to landowner assistance, providing on-the-ground technical assistance as well as educational events such as field days, demonstrations, workshops, and the flagship Coached Planning – Forest Stewardship Shortcourse. Here is a list of practical examples of services you can expect:

  • Informational workshops that help you understand “What is a healthy forest and how do I know?”
  • Advice on planting trees and tending a young forest
  • Thinning trees to improve forest health, tree growth, and aesthetics
  • Pruning trees for wood quality, disease prevention, and attractiveness of the woods
  • Improving wildlife habitat and controlling animal damage
  • Advice on hiring a consulting forester or a logging contractor
  • Identifying native trees and shrubs and reducing noxious weeds
  • Writing a Forest Stewardship Management Plan

The new forest stewardship educator is expected to begin in 2018. In the meantime, if you have questions or need technical assistance, contact Andy Perleberg, andyp@wsu.edu or Julie Sackett, Julie.Sackett@dnr.wa.gov

Southwest Washington Family Forest Facts

Approximately 54,000 family forest landowners own and manage 1.1 million acres in southwest Washington, making this group the largest private land user group in the region. Family forests are typically located in lower elevation watersheds, adjacent to streams and rivers and often in the rural‐urban interface. In addition to their critical contributions to public amenities and commodities (namely timber), these forestlands are essential for clean air and water, wildlife habitat and for the economic vitality of rural communities. Annually in Washington state, the forest sector provides over 45,000 jobs, generates $16 billion in gross business revenue, and pays out $2 billion in wages and $100 million in tax receipts. Southwest Washington has been identified as the most critical region in Washington state for the production of timber resources and is a major contributor to salmon recovery.

Getting Back to the Land

Load of logs from the Mack property
Load of logs from the Mack property heading to the mill. Photo: John Stuart.

After five years of helping assemble Forest Stewardship Notes, this is my last newsletter before I join the happy crew of new retirees at the end of the year. Andy Perleberg asked me to write a few words of reflection for the occasion, and what could be more apt than describing the impact our forest stewardship classes have had on my own personal experience as a forest landowner. After 20 years with WSU Extension, I will truly miss the day-to-day work with colleagues from DNR and WSU. But, I’ve got to say I am ecstatic about having a lot more time to play in my own 40 acres of woods here in the northeast corner of the state.

I feel very lucky to have landed in this spot, considering that I was a mere 23 years old when I signed the purchase papers for the property—a back-to-the-lander wannabe from the 70’s. My husband and I built a house here, raised a family (and a large garden) and have watched our forest grow for more than 40 years now. John and I both did forestry contract work for the first 20 years of our careers so we probably had more woods know-how than the average landowners. Even so, one of the most eye-opening experiences for us was taking a Forest Stewardship Coached Planning course as participants about 10 years ago. (Yes, I’d led this course locally at least four times already—but somehow had never got around to writing a stewardship plan for our place… It was clearly time to get the rest of the family involved.)

Logging techniques 1980/present
Left: Pony logging in the 1980s. Photo: Carol Mack Right: ATV with logging arch. Photo: Carol Mack

Like most timberland for sale at the time, our place had just been logged when we bought it. We knew from the beginning we wanted to grow big trees back as fast as possible to improve wildlife habitat and forest health, as well as to create beautiful woods for our family to enjoy. We did a lot of thinning and tree-planting over the years to that end, including three small commercial sales. As the diameter of the thinned logs increased, John graduated from using a draft pony to a Belgian draft horse, and more recently, to an ATV or tractor-pulled logging arch. We hired a truck driver with a self-loader to haul our logs to a local mill. Although we never made much more than our wages off the sales, doing it ourselves allowed us to fit the work between other jobs. (And, it was a lot of fun, mostly.)

But even though we thought we knew what we were doing, having to actually write our long-term property goals down on paper precipitated a whole lot of soul-searching and discussion for us—just as I’d witnessed my class participants go through many times. The coached planning protocol encouraged us to not only clarify our somewhat nebulous goals more explicitly, but come up with some measurable ways to chart our progress towards them.

Pileated woodpecker on house
Pileated woodpecker on house eating western conifer seed bugs from siding. Photo: John Stuart

My husband is an avid birder, and especially enjoys spying on the local pileated woodpecker families in the neighborhood, an icon of northwest old growth. But as he learned more about their habitat needs, he came to realize that their presence was likely a result of being surrounded on three sides by over 600 acres of commercial timberland with abundant large trees and snags. We knew this neighboring landscape was destined to be logged in the near future. And that sparked the idea of managing a portion of our place as “core habitat” to help protect these populations over time, which became a unifying theme of our stewardship plan. John dug through a lot of research to develop specific goals to include in our plan—see his 2010 Diggings Newsletter article “Managing for Big Birds on a Small Acreage” for the details.

The beauty of Coached Stewardship Planning is that the emphasis on developing a plan specific to your own particular goals means that every plan is different. While we are using woodpecker habitat needs to determine where we cut firewood, place trails, log, plant trees, etc., we have friends whose plans center around providing cabins throughout the property for a religious order retreat center; others who manage primarily for harvesting medicinals and non-timber projects; and still others who are devoting much of their acreage for timber harvest timed to fund grandchildren’s college expenses. Like us, many of them have plans with goals that may extend beyond their own lifetimes.

And that brings us to the second forestry class offering that I highly recommend from our own personal experience—the “Ties to the Land” estate planning course. These sessions opened our eyes to how many obstacles the absence of a plan presents to kids who want to take over land ownership after their parents die. So we had the requisite family discussions and ended up converting our property to an LLC (one of many options discussed in the class) with our son and daughter as shareholders. Who knows what the future holds for any of us, but at least if the kids decide to hang on to the property after we’re gone, it will be a fairly straightforward process.

When it isn’t raining or snowing these days, you can usually find me out in the woods working on a trail system around the property with loppers and pruning saw. While the trail improvement is ostensibly for our 3-year-old granddaughter (“Nana—I don’t like pokey trails—is this going to be a nice trail?) I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself, and we find we are making the rounds of our property almost daily. And yes, despite the clear-cut acreage that now surrounds our land, we often spot a big woodpecker with a bright red crest along the way.

by Carol Mack, WSU Kalispel Tribal Extension, cmack@wsu.edu 

Steve Gibbs: Longtime Stewardship Forester to Retire

Steve Gibbs. Photo: DNR.
Steve Gibbs. Photo: DNR.

Steve Gibbs, manager of the DNR Forest Stewardship Program, is retiring this month after 35 years of dedicated service helping landowners protect and enhance their forests and achieve goals. If you have participated in one of the DNR-WSU Family Forest Owners Field Days in the past three decades, chances are that Steve was there providing an “out-in-the-woods educational opportunity” as he describes it. Steve often jokes that his educational programs were a success if “everyone learned a lot, nobody got hurt, and no cars were left in the parking lot at the end of the day.”

Gibbs spent his entire career working in landowner assistance.

After graduating from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Steve started his career in 1975 as a service forester assisting landowners in Maryland. After three years there, he got the “itch” to move west. Following a short stint with the US Forest Service in Idaho, he returned to school to earn a master’s degree in forest and range management at Washington State University and subsequently worked as a forestry extension agent in Washington and Oregon. In 1989, DNR hired Steve to lead a pilot project in southwest Washington to restructure the agency’s Service Forestry Program. In 1991, he moved to DNR headquarters in Olympia to head up the newly created Forest Stewardship Program, and continued in that capacity until retirement.

Anyone who has worked with Steve will agree that his focus on helping landowners is unmatched. For Steve, familiar phrases like “the customer is always right” and “money-back guarantee” were not platitudes but, rather, the tenets of good customer service. Steve’s caring, generous spirit and get-er-done approach have made him an invaluable resource both for family forest landowners and for those of us who work with him. We’ll miss having him on the team and wish him the best in his future endeavors.

by Andy Perleberg, WSU Extension Forester

NOTE: DNR Small Forest Landowner Office Manager, Tami Miketa, has assumed leadership of the Forest Stewardship Program in addition her current duties. She can be reached at tamara.miketa@dnr.wa.gov  or 360-902-1415.

Longtime DNR Forester Boyd Norton Honored by State Tree Farm Program

Boyd Norton
Boyd Norton was named Outstanding Tree Farm Inspector of the Year by the Washington State Tree Farm Program.

At the recent annual meeting of the Washington Farm Forestry Association, Boyd Norton, a long-time Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employee, was awarded the Washington State Tree Farm Program’s Outstanding Tree Farm Inspector of the Year Award for 2017.

The award recognizes Boyd’s decades-long service as an inspector and dedicated supporter of the Washington Tree Farm Program. The program is a state affiliate of the American Tree Farm System, a national third-party certification program for forest landowners who meet strict internationally recognized standards for producing certified wood. The program’s Certified Tree Farmers are required to manage their lands in a sustainable manner according to an approved written forest management plan. Periodic re-inspections by tree farm inspectors like Boyd ensure continuing compliance with program standards.

Tree Farm inspectors volunteer their time and perform considerable outreach efforts and inspections to educate the public and private landowners about the benefits of sustainable forestry.

Boyd started his career at DNR in the South Puget Sound Region in the spring of 1975. By 1977 he’d been twice promoted and moved to Pacific County in what was then DNR’s Central Region. After 14 years and two more promotions, Boyd relocated to northwest Washington where he’s been ever since.

Boyd has worked in a variety of DNR programs over the years including State Trust Land Management, Forest Practices, and assisting small forest landowners both as a Small Forest Landowner Office field specialist and two positions in the Forest Stewardship Program. In all of his career experiences Boyd’s first love has been working with small forest owners. It was that dedication that led him to his current position as the DNR stewardship forester for the northern half of western Washington, including northwest Washington, the central Puget Sound area, and northern Olympic peninsula.

Boyd Norton’s achievement is particularly noteworthy, since he is one of only two remaining stewardship foresters in western Washington due to the current low funding for the program following the loss of all state funds during the recession concurrent with declining federal funding.

The American Tree Farm Program has its roots in southwest Washington with the certification of nation’s very first Tree Farm near Montesano in 1941. It subsequently grew into the nationwide program that it is today. More information about the program is available at treefarmsystem.org

The Forest Stewardship Program is a nationwide program delivered in partnership between the USDA Forest Service and state forestry agencies. In Washington state, it is administered by Washington DNR.