Washington’s forests are appreciated by us all, for their beauty, ecological values, jobs, recreation, and the forests and wood products they provide. We don’t often think about the health of our forests because they look so green from a distance. Those who recreate, hunt, live or work in forests, have a different vantage point, and can see when unmanaged forests are unnaturally overstocked and unhealthy. With too many trees per acre, these dying, diseased and dead trees and brush are fueling today’s wildfires, which burn hotter and are more damaging to the environment. We should all want to support healthy, productive, forests across our landscape. While there are 9.2 billion live growing trees in our forests, did you know there are also 651 million dead trees standing in our forests? (USDA-FIA) Even though the US Forest Service manages 37% of our forestlands, more than half (55% or 359 million) of all standing dead trees are located in USFS national forests. If we don’t bring our federal forests into balance and protect the health of our federal forests by removing dead and dying trees and brush, wildfires will burn hotter than nature intended, turning our federal forests into carbon sources instead of sinks. Having a healthy balance of young and old forests is important and we can only achieve that by active forest management. The misguided effort to simply set aside more old trees without a plan for managing them takes us further away from our goal of healthy, productive forests across the landscape.
Top: Unthinned forest in Republic, WA
Bottom: Thinned forest, removing dead and dying trees and brush, Republic, WA
The average age of Washington’s forests is 92 years, but our national forests are 126 on average and national parks, 192 years old. Some want to set aside second growth, legacy forests age 70 or greater — but they must not realize that the average age of all forests is 22 years older than that. The average age of state and county forests is 69 and private forests is 53 years. When old trees are not replaced by younger trees, forests continue to age, decay and emit carbon, all the while increasing wildfire risk. Each year, 71% of the growth on national forests is dying, emitting carbon and creating more fuel for hotter fires.
The alternative is to manage our forests. Each year healthy, managed state and private forests absorb twice as much carbon per acre than older, unmanaged federal forests, and lose just 23% of their annual growth to decay and decomposition. These managed forests also transfer 44% of the annual growth to the built environment through carbon stored in harvested wood products. Vigorously growing trees absorb carbon at twice the rate of older, dying forests. We need to bring our forests into balance and support healthy, productive forests across our landscape. While it’s easy to gloss over these details in the push for more 70-year-old set asides, it’s not easy to live in the smoke from unmanaged and unhealthy forests. We owe it to our forests and to ourselves to promote healthy, productive forests. To learn more, go to: https://healthyproductiveforestswashington.com