Controlling Animal Damage to Young, Healthy Trees

Animal damage has an enormous economic impact on private forest landowners, causing millions of dollars in damage each year in Washington.

Animal damage refers to the damage of healthy trees by animals foraging for food. Washington's biggest culprits of animal damage are bears, porcupines, beavers, mountain beavers, deer, and elk, but it is the black bear that does the most damage. A single foraging black bear can peel bark from as many as 70 young trees a day trying to reach the sweet layer of a tree trunk just behind the bark. By stripping away its bark, a young tree of 15 to 25 years old becomes susceptible to insects and disease.

Most animal damage occurs in early spring when bears come out of their dens and the abundance and nutritional value of natural foods are limited. In Washington State, the Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and western red cedar are three tree species targeted as a food source by black bears. Through tracking of bear populations and researching alternative food provisions, Washington forest managers are finding new options to reduce tree damage.

The Animal Damage Control Program in Washington and Oregon

With the beginning of intensive forest management in western Washington during the mid-1940s, the Animal Damage Control Program (ADCP) was created to protect forests from excessive animal damage. In 1959, the ADCP became an umbrella organization under WFPA, with an independent budget and membership. Today, the program is a joint effort of private, government, and tribal forestland managers in Washington and Oregon. In Washington alone, 27 private members in coordination with state agencies, manage more than 3.2 million acres of forestland, of which 1 million acres are vulnerable to black bear and other animal damage.

Supplemental Feeding Program Has Become First Option for Control

The collaboration among private, government, and tribal forestland managers in Washington and Oregon through the ADCP has led to the creation of a supplemental feeding program to meet the dietary needs of foraging black bears. Historically, lethal means were a preferred option for controlling animal damage. But since 1985, ADCP members have used the supplemental feeding program as a first option for damage control. More than half a million pounds of feed are distributed annually to more than 900 Washington and Oregon feeding stations. Research has shown that providing an alternative food source during the critical months of spring the damage was six times less on treated stands than in areas where no supplemental food was available. Other control options to forest managers include fencing, birth control, devices to frighten bears, repellents, introducing alternative natural plants, and transporting bears to other areas.

How Timber Harvesting Has Become an Art and a Science