Decades of fire suppression and forest preservation have led to an overpopulation of trees — in some places, at three times the density of forests in their normal state. This makes the forest more susceptible to destructive wildfires and disease, both of which have caused serious problems in Central Washington in recent years.
The area of interest is the 57,000-acre Little Crow Area near Nile Creek off State Route 410. What’s being developed is a proposal that is expected to produce about 26 million board feet of timber, the largest U.S. Forest Service project in several years. The Yakama Nation and Boise Cascade have expressed an interest in the project, which would support more than 160 jobs.
The project arises out of work by the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, a partnership of the state Department of Natural Resources and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the Yakama Nation and The Nature Conservancy. It formed a decade ago to assess forest health needs across 1.6 million acres in Central Washington.
The collaborative has established a track record of success. Its work last year in the Manastash and Taneum watersheds in southwest Kittitas County — which combined modest timber harvesting with stream restoration — won a national award from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.
The key to success in the Little Crow Area is finding what can be a delicate balance among economic, conservation and recreational interests — and achieving that balance has wrought contentious debate in recent decades. The project must be profitable enough for a timber company to participate, keep the timber at sustainable levels and maintain the recreational amenities that also buttress the local economy. The area is popular with campers, horseback riders, motorized trail riders, berry and mushroom pickers, hunters and anglers.
The collaborative’s efforts have shown a path toward finding a middle ground among at-times competing constituencies. This approach again shows promise in aiding the health of both nearby forests and the local economy.