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.

Tastes like Christmas

Engelmann spruce
Engelmann spruce is one of several conifers whose leaves (needles) can be made into tea. Photo: US Forest Service.

We have many ways of identifying our Washington state conifers, from looking at the bark or tree silhouette to examining the needles. As part of a tree ID session at a Forestry Field Day this summer, I challenged participants to sip a variety of conifer needle teas. We had a good time trying to identify the species by flavor, but the comment I heard over and over was “These taste like Christmas!”

So this season is a good time to venture outside and try something new. New to many of us, anyway—various conifer needle teas have a long history of Native American use for both culinary and medicinal purposes. You can purchase Engelmann spruce, Douglas-fir, white pine and other teas packaged up in tea bags for your convenience from internet sites but as forest landowners, we are usually able to harvest them straight from the source. Most authorities recommend gathering the fresh, soft growth on spring branch tips for optimum flavor, however, winter needles can also be used (though you won’t be able to find green larch needles this time of year!) Start with a teaspoon or so of chopped needles per cup of hot water, and if it isn’t strong enough, add more or simmer a few minutes for a slightly different flavor.

Avoid yew or cedar needles which contain toxic compounds, but most other species—including western hemlock (the poisonous association with its name come from an entirely different plant) can be safely brewed. Some authorities caution use of some pine species by pregnant women because they may be abortifacient, but advise that the dose makes the poison. As with all wild foods, its good advice to taste in small quantities until you know how you will react—individuals vary in allergies and digestive tolerances to any new food or drink.  And don’t drink large quantities of a favorite until you have researched the constituents and know they are safe on a daily basis—like most everything else, variety and moderation are key.

Most herbalists agree that there is a lot of nourishment in a cup of needle tea with many species boasting lots of electrolytes, much more Vitamin C than orange juice, and high Vitamin A levels as well. Frontiersmen often drank conifer tea to stave off scurvy. In his book Stalking the Healthful Herbs, naturalist Euell Gibbons said of pine needle tea, “With a squeeze of lemon and a little sugar it was almost enjoyable, and it gives a great feeling of virtue to know that as you drink it you are fortifying your body with two essential vitamins in which most modern diets are deficient.”

While “almost enjoyable” is fairly faint praise, other sources enthusiastically compare the taste of conifer needles to mint, lemon, or even cola flavors—all with an overtone of forest.  So take a hike around your woods this winter, collect some needles, and try a cup. You may be eyeing that Christmas tree for a whole new purpose!

By Carol Mack, WSU Extension Forestry, cmack@wsu.edu

Sources for this story:

  • Stewart, Hilary. Drink in the Wild. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, B.C. 2002
  • Parish, Roberta, Ray Coupe and Dennis Lloyd. Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia. Lone Pine Press, 1996

New Directory of Consulting Foresters and Silvicultural Contractors

One key take-home message from many of our forestry extension classes is the need to hire a qualified professional to manage a timber sale, do a planting, control vegetation, thin, etc.

There are two types of professionals you might need: consulting foresters and silvicultural contractors. A consulting forester provides professional forest management services to landowners. These services may include management plan writing, timber sale administration, permitting, timber marketing, inventory and appraisal, property mapping, management advice, coordination of contractor services, and other tasks. A silvicultural contractor provides the labor and equipment to perform forest management tasks such as site preparation, tree planting, vegetation control, pre-commercial thinning, slash disposal, etc. Some companies provide both forestry consulting and silvicultural contracting services.

A common question has been how to find the professional who is right for you. Up until now we did not have a good directory of these professionals. We had some old and very limited directories of consulting foresters (many of whom have retired), and nothing on silvicultural contractors. A searchable online directory has been in the works for a couple of years and now is finally finished and available online at forestry.wsu.edu/consultingdirectory/.

The directory is statewide in scope, up-to-date, and currently has 85 companies listed. You can search the directory by county served and type of service provided. Information is given on each company’s qualifications, professional affiliations, licenses, insurance, etc. This is not a logger directory (which is something we are considering for a future project). Also, not all consultants and contractors are listed. Getting into the directory is an opt-in process, so companies are not automatically entered. Some companies specifically requested to opt-out; others did not respond to invitations to participate.

When you consult the directory please note this important disclaimer about the publication’s content:

“The firms or individuals listed herein are engaged in forestland related work in Washington State. Consultants and contractors working for a private landowner do not represent or speak for Washington State University. Washington State University is not responsible for nor guarantees the quality, accuracy, or cost of the services provided by any of the consultants listed below. Information presented in this directory was provided by the individual service providers and is published on an “as-is” basis. Washington State University did not verify the validity of the information provided.”

There may be other companies with which we have not yet connected. If a company wishes to be added to the directory, they just need to contact us and we will provide a questionnaire to fill out.

By Kevin Zobrist, WSU Extension Forester, kevin.zobrist@wsu.edu 

Winter To-Do-List

Holiday greenery raw materials
Holiday greenery raw materials from family forest. Photo: Jim Freed/WSU Extension

Thinking about a winter to-do list for family forest landowners has a special meaning now that I will be retiring on December 31. In the past I just had to think of projects for all of you to do—now I will get to do them myself on my land in eastern Oregon. So along with the honey-do list that has accumulated, I can get a start on these NTFP (non-timber forest products) and forest health projects.

First on any forest owner’s list should be a survey of the forest health. Winter is a great time to do this because the deciduous leaves are down and you can see the broken tops and dead limbs. If broken tops, dead trees and dead limbs do not present any hazard to you and your family then you may choose to leave them to support wildlife needs. If they need to come out they will make great firewood, mushroom logs and wildlife piles.

If you are thinning a stand, you can use any trees are not infected with insects and disease (and not needed for firewood) to create your future supply of mushrooms. Winter is a great time to cut the four-foot sections of timber that you need for this. There is no chance of being infected by natural fungi so you can be sure that what you get is what you want. The best woods to use are deciduous trees and the non-pine conifers. Inoculating the wood with the desired fungi is a great project that can be done in a wood shed, garage or barn. You will have them all ready for the growing season next spring.

Don’t Forget Shrubs

The next project should be pruning any shrubs that you are using for nuts and berries. Pruning in the winter removes old and sick stems. This will direct all the energy stored in the roots to producing new tops and expanding the limbs you have saved, increasing the size and quality of the fruit and nuts.

In some cases if the shrubs and plants have been damaged by fire or drought you may want to do a very severe pruning. By removing all the injured and old stems you will encourage the plant to put up new stems. In many cases you will not have a crop of fruit or nuts in 2016 but will have a great crop in 2017.

Time to Transplant

Winter is also a great time to ready trees and shrubs that you may want to transplant.

First you will want to make sure that you can identify the plants you want to move. Often alder and cascara trees are mistaken for dogwood in their winter conditions. Make a positive identification and mark the plant with flagging or metal tree tags. Then remove any injured or unwanted limbs. You can remove up to 50 percent of the living crown and the plant will still be in good health. In fact, this kind of pruning will insure that the top of the plant is in balance with the roots. This will greatly increase its survival potential. If you can root prune them before the soil freezes that would be great. If not you can do that in the spring of 2016.

Transplanting young plants from your own land helps insure that they are adapted to your site. If you do not have suitable plants on your land, an option is to contact the local US Forest Service or Washington Department of Natural Resources offices and inquire about permits for personal use harvesting of native plants.

Christmas Tree Time

Since Christmas is just around the corner you should survey you forest to look for Christmas trees and Christmas greenery for this year and future needs. Often an overstocked stand of conifers will produce really great Christmas trees from the tops of the tree. These are natural, fresh, organic, wild and sustainable Christmas trees—good for family use and for direct local sales. These same tree stands may have boughs that can be used for swags, garland and center pieces. Western red cedar, Douglas fir, western white pine, silver fir, grand fir and noble fir are all used commercially. Ponderosa pine, Engelmann spruce, juniper and lodgepole pine are often used by families.

If you have an area of your forest where there is a nice but overcrowded stand of 3-6 foot tall trees, you can start the process of making them into a Christmas tree stand or a greenery orchard. Removing bottom limbs will create a handle for the Christmas tree and get the lower limbs out of the brush. Remove broken limbs and multiple tops. When harvesting, leave one whorl of branches about 2 feet up to be trained for the next crop. Trees used for boughs should be spaced about ten feet apart.

The nice thing about doing Christmas trees and holiday greenery with native plants is if you get tired of doing it you can just let the trees grow to become timber trees.

You can use this early winter time to provide protection for new plantings. Installing tree guards before the snow accumulates will protect your young trees from rodents (rabbits and mice) who love to use the snow as cover for their feeding or to reach up higher.

Lastly just make some new trails that you can access by foot, snowshoe or mechanized vehicles. Fall and winter is a great time to enjoy your forest. We often take a picnic lunch to the river on our land and have a thanksgiving lunch with friends. There is something special about a being around a camp fire with family and friends in a forest covered with snow.

Have a great time in your own family forest winter wonderland.

By Jim Freed, WSU Extension Forest Products Specialist, freedj@wsu.edu

After the Fire

wildfire aerial image courtesy of WSU ExtensionThe number of people affected by wildfire in Washington state this year is heartbreaking and tragic. As fires continue to spread as this is being written, we pray for the safety of humans and animals and their dwellings. We hope that all are taking steps to save lives as the top priority and trust that homes and livelihoods will rebuilt after this storm passes.

After the fire, there is a lot you can do to retake control of your lives and move assuredly to restore your land, tend your animals and build anew. Following these suggestions will help you get back to enjoying your forestland while actively working to minimize the risk that wildfire will menace you again in the future.

The first step, as is the case after every dire emergency, is to stay calm and take solace in all that you still have: your lives, your family and a caring community – local, statewide and nationally – that will help you get through this, and a government with enough resources and caring professionals to provide meaningful support.

The next thing you need to do is to identify the resources you will need and determine who you need to contact to get help with these. This initial stage may involve food, water and shelter and begin with contacting the Red Cross as well as families or friends who can help.

After that you are ready to begin building anew. If you have animals loose, injured or unaccounted for, finding and getting help to them will likely be your most immediate priority. Within the parameters of keeping yourself and anyone who may help you safe and NOT getting in the way of ongoing firefighting and rescue operations or violating evacuation/closure orders, make a rescue plan. Communicate it to others so that they will know where you are before proceeding.

Safety first

Once it is safe to get back into an area, you will want to walk, ride or drive through your property and do a preliminary assessment. First look for anything that poses an ongoing danger – areas rendered unstable by fire that could develop into a landslide, for example. Other hazards might include areas where trees have burned at the base leaving them in imminent danger of falling, or extensive areas where roots have burned out opening the risk that people or animals could fall into the holes created. BE CAREFUL during this early reconnaissance! Trees can fall without warning, the ground can be unstable and have hidden holes and the ends of burned sticks can be very sharp.

If possible, find and review your FOREST MANAGEMENT PLAN. The property may look dramatically different in the immediate aftermath of a fire—the plan’s maps and pictures will be helpful in your assessment. Your plan will also provide a reminder of your objectives, giving context around which to rebuild at an emotional and difficult time. The best publication available for learning about post-wildfire rehabilitation is “After the Burn: Assessing and Managing your Forestland after a Wildfire” by Yvonne Barkley. This 78-page online publication also is available as a .pdf file from the University of Idaho Extension. There also is a lot of information currently available from the Washington Natural Resources Conservation Service’s After the Fire: Resources for Recovery web page.

A new resource to check is the new wildfire recovery website hosted by Washington State University Extension.

Agencies you will want to contact in the near term include your local Conservation District, the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and its Washington state offices, the Washington State Departments of Natural Resources (DNR) and Agriculture, and the USDA Farm Service Agency. Each organizations is likely to have access to federal funds that they will administer to help people to rebuild and restore. Information you will want to be able to provide includes how many acres were burned, how completely these acres burned, your forest type (major tree species), amount and type of fencing damaged or destroyed and other important “metrics” that will help determine recovery needs. Other specific features to look for which may help prioritize your restoration work include fire lines cleared down to mineral soil or any other disturbed areas that can serve as entry points for invasive weeds. Preventing establishment in these spots is way easier than getting rid of weeds after establishment! Restoration techniques can include re-covering fire lines with forest floor material, or seeding so that you—not the random flight of weed seeds—determine what grows there.

Longer term, you will want to determine if the damage you suffered qualifies as “casualty loss” by checking the National Timber Tax website, which provides “Tax Management for Timberland Owners.” For information on Washington State taxes check the Department of Revenue website and search on “forest tax.”

Salvaging timber

Eventually you will want to take a good look at the extent of tree mortality, what you can anticipate about the rate and amount of decline in timber value, and what options for salvage logging exist. There is a lot to think about in this regard. Timber that may have had value before a fire may not now, not just because of loss in wood quality but due to simple economics of supply and demand. The Inland Northwest has had a declining number of mills for years and after a fire they are likely to be offered as much wood as they can handle by people eager to salvage some value from killed timber. As supply increases, prices will drop. The logging infrastructure, including the number of fallers, truck drivers, etc., has also declined, so there may be long waits to even get your timber felled and moved to mills. Having a Forest Management Plan and a relationship with a mill, a consulting forester, and a logger is an advantage at a difficult time like this.

Avoiding scams

As always after a disaster, be on your guard for people presenting themselves to be something they are not and offering help to you with timber harvest or restoration activities. There is no licensing requirement for a consulting forester in Washington and literally anyone can advertise as such. It is highly recommended that you work with a consulting forester to restore your property but please make sure they are legitimate. Find one that was in business BEFORE the fire hit. Find one that is certified by the Association of Consulting Foresters and is a member of the Society of American Foresters—an association with a strict code of ethics focused on professionalism and adhering to the landowner’s best interests. The Washington Farm Forestry Association has chapters throughout the state. Its members have a wealth of practical knowledge about management that works in your area, or does not. They also will know the local cast of characters, and can help you distinguish professionals from opportunists.

It is very important to note that this year we are predicted to have an EL NINO weather event in the Pacific Northwest which could produce unusually high precipitation and high intensity storms this fall and winter. Following a season of fires, this could mean flooding and debris flows. If you have streams or water channels prone to flooding, or banks that may now be unstable, check with local authorities to assess whether there is an imminent threat and what action should be taken.

We at WSU Extension and DNR are thinking about all of you as the fires continue to burn while we publish this e-newsletter. We will be reaching out with as much help, advice, education and financial resources as we can muster to get through this difficult time. With the destructive side of fire so much in evidence now, it is hard to remember the positive role that fire plays in re-setting trajectories towards improved timber growth, forest health, and wildlife habitat. Our aim is to do our best to help everyone make that more than just a saying.

By Steve McConnell, Regional WSU Extension Forestry Specialist, smcconnell@spokanecounty.org

and Dean Hellie, Stevens County Conservation District