An inspirational story of forest restoration


What is required to build a forest from scratch? According to Robert and Kazuko Barker of Nelson Road Tree Farm in Deming: thousands of baby trees, hundreds of biodegradable plastic tubing, fencing and plenty of persistence.

A Whatcom County tree farm and its owners received high praise and recognition for their determination and commitment to forestry recently. The Washington Tree Farm Program named the Barkers the 2022 Tree Farmer of the Year.

L to R: Nelson Road Tree Farm ownersRobert and Kazoo Barker and their daughter Robin Barker and son-in-law Dave Tempero .

Managed forests provide numerous benefits for society, the environment and wildlife. Managed forests naturally improve air and water quality, provide habitat for animals, contribute to biodiversity and help promote healthy, resilient trees that are more resistant to fire and disease.

Nelson Road Tree Farm is a 71-acre tree farm near the Mount Baker Cascade foothills, and the story of how the Barkers got into forestry is truly inspiring. The couple purchased the land as a retirement project for Bob with the intent of restoring the wet lowland marginal pastureland back into a forest.

“I decided as a retiree, it would be a good thing to plant some trees…so I can putter around in,” Robert said.

Nelson Tree Farm is along the Black Slough, which is a prime aquatic off-channel habitat for the south fork of the Nooksack River. For nearly 25 years, the Bob has worked to restore the acres of land covered in Reed canary grass and blackberry bushes back into its original forested land. Though it hasn’t always been easy.

Of the initial 5,500 indigenous trees that included Douglas fir, red cedar, yellow cedar, Japanese larch, spruce and river birch planted, an estimated 800 survived because of voles and rabbits eating the newly planted, young trees, Robert said. The following year, Robert installed biodegradable blue plastic tubes to protect the young trees and was rewarded with a 99% survival rate. Later, the Barkers installed fencing to deter beavers and prevent the semiaquatic rodents from gnawing on the growing trees.

Robert  shared with the Bellingham Herald that he has planted “roughly 30,000 trees…half of which he put in the ground personally, armed with a shovel.”

2022 Washington Tree Farmer of Year Kuzuko and Robert Barker.

“[Nelson Road Tree Farm] is really unique,” said Tom Westergreen, a Washington Tree Farm Program member and a fourth-generation private forest landowner who also owns working forest lands in Whatcom County. “Instead of having inherited the forest, or buying a forest, [the Barkers] bought a field and made it into a forest.”

The Washington Tree Farm Program administers the certification of more than 400,000 acres of forestland under The American Tree Farm System® (ATFS), a program of the American Forest Foundation. ATFS is the largest and oldest sustainable woodland system in the United States, internationally recognized, meeting strict third-party certification standards. As part of the certification process, each state participating in the ATFS recognizes one of its members as Tree Farmer of the Year. A national winner will be selected by the American Forest Foundation later this year.