Expert encourages absentee owners to be aware of needs
By STEVE BROWN
RAVENSDALE, Wash. -- Though the July 31 family forest field day was held west of the Cascades, Andy Perleberg offered a session specifically on Eastern Washington issues.
"We're targeting absentee owners who live in the west," said Perleberg, head of the Washington State University Extension forestry program. "Anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of forestland in the east is owned by people who don't live there, and they're primarily in the Puget Sound area."
Different precipitation patterns in the east call for different management, but thinning and pruning are critical tools, he said.
He described how a landscape evolves from grasses and forbs, to an overabundance of saplings, to mature wood and sawlogs, to old growth.
"The stand will develop and change with or without your help," he said. "Right now there are two fires burning near Cashmere. A fire event or a wind event can send one stage back to another. Or you can culturally manipulate the landscape with active management and silviculture."
The objectives for woodland owners, especially in the east, he said, should be reducing hazardous fuels and making trees vigorous and resistant to infestation.
Pruning is a critical tool in eastside forests. Making a 10-foot gap between the lowest-growing fuel and the next thing fire can catch reduces "ladder fuel," which would allow a ground fire to climb up into the crown.
Better air flow through a mixed-conifer woodland also helps keep white pine blister rust, a fungus, from coming into contact with the branches.
Thinning in the east is the same as in the west, but spacing standards are different.
Perleberg estimated one Douglas fir's diameter at 12 inches. Using a formula for Lewis County in southwest Washington, it should be about 15 feet from the next tree. In areas of Eastern Washington, similar trees should be spaced 21 feet apart.
As thinned trees gain more access to scarcer resources, they can fend off pests better. For example, the pine bark beetle -- about the size of a Tic-Tac -- can bore into a stressed tree and eventually kill it. But when the tree has enough water to create its protective pitch, the beetle can't get in.
Andy Perleberg referred owners of eastside forests to a cost-share program funded by the U.S. Forest Service and administered by the state Department of Natural Resources. Eligible practices include Forest Stewardship Plans, flammable brush control, non-commercial thinning, pruning, slash disposal and creation of "defensible space" around structures.
* Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Lincoln and Spokane counties: Cliff Thresher, 509-684-7474.
* Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas, Yakima, Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, Asotin, Whitman and eastern Skamania counties: Bart Ausland, 509-925-8522
* Statewide forest stewardship program manager: Steve Gibbs, 360-902-1428.