Playing the “License Plate Game” with Native Trees

Summer weather is here. Time for a road trip!

We have all played the “license plate game” whereby occupants in the car on a long road trip keep track of how many out of state license plates they see. This game is enjoyed by all, but mostly children and grandchildren, so why not make it a forestry game with trees?

Here in Washington and the rest of the Pacific Northwest from western Montana to the Pacific Ocean and from British Columbia to central California we enjoy a whole host of wonderful native trees. You know them, from ponderosa pine and western larch to the east, Douglas-fir and western hemlock to the west, Alaska yellow cedar in the north, alder and birches near our rivers and streams, and big redwoods, sequoias, and sugar pines in California.

Why not make it a game? Who can identify the most tree species from common to rare along our highways? Are you aware that forestry students start learning tree species by looking at the leaves, needles, and cones, but in practice they quickly identify trees by their crown-shape, stature, and bark characteristics. Why not learn to recognize and identify trees by these characteristics?

Caution: If you play this game, get off the interstate! It is really hard to look at trees going 70 mph with a behemoth 18-wheeler pushing you along.

My personal favorite Washington route for tree touring is State Route 20, from Discovery Bay on the Olympic Peninsula to Newport near the Idaho border, 440 miles of great scenery and tree watching.

Other excellent routes are: US Route 2 from Everett to Newport; US Route 12 from Aberdeen to Clarkston; US Route 101, highlighting the Olympic Peninsula, via a meandering course from the Astoria Bridge to Olympia; US Route 97 from the international border near Oroville south to Maryhill; and last but not the least, State Route 14 from Vancouver to Plymouth. Of course any paved or gravel road in our national forests is sublime as well.

Happy travels watching the trees this summer!

Generalized locations of predominant tree species in Washington state (Click the table to download)


Need a bit more help?

Washington State University Extension has excellent free or inexpensive publications and other resources to help you get started. Listed below are a few publications easily accessible from the web.

Trees of Washington by Milton M. Moser & Knut Lunnum. This venerable classic is still available from WSU and has been since 1951. Over 19,000 copies have been sold and many more downloaded from the web.
Native Trees of Western Washington by Kevin Zobrist. A contemporary (2014) book illustrated by wonderful color photographs.
Eastern Washington Tree Identification and Silvics – Online Module by Carol Mack. This educational module provides an introduction to native trees in eastern Washington forests.
A Guide to Washington State’s Urban Tree Canopy by Charles A. Brun, Catherine Daniels, & Tim Kohlhauf. This guide book lists many introduced and native species found in our cities and towns. It’s included here for folks who will spend their summer near home.

By Donald Hanley, Extension Forester Emeritus, Washington State University

Announcements, Events and Other News

If you are reading a paper copy of this newsletter, links for these events can be found at the WSU Extension Forestry website:

Forest Stewardship Coached Planning

If you own wooded property, our flagship course will teach you how to assess your trees, avoid insect and disease problems, and attract wildlife. State experts will help you develop your own Forest Stewardship Plan to keep your woods on track to provide enjoyment and income for years to come.

  • Aberdeen (Grays Harbor County) – Mondays starting April 23rd

2018 Invasive Forest Weed Control Field Practicums

  • Bellingham – May 12, 2018
  • Kent – June 2, 2018
  • Mount Vernon – September 15, 2018

2018 Forest Owner Field Days

  • Eastside (Spokane) – Saturday, June 23rd (details coming)
  • Westside (Woodland) – Saturday August 18th (details coming)

Workshops and Trainings

  • Hands-On Chainsaw Safety and Maintenance Training – May 17th

Can’t find the event you were looking for? Visit or contact:

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

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,

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

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,