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Sustaining forest, one property at a time

The view from Lee Witter Kahn's deck is inspiring. In the foreground, a large pond gives way to a hillside Christmas tree plantation surrounded by tall conifer forests. The top of Mount Si rises in the distance and a rushing stream provides background music to it all.

While this bucolic scene may be common to many of our region's homesteads located in the Cascade foothills, the hard work and dedication that the Kahn family has put into their forested property in North Bend is exceptional.

The family - Lee Witter Kahn, her late husband Louis, and children Tim Kahn and Deeann Hansen - has owned their 40-acre property since the 1950s.

They operate a commercial Christmas tree farm, harvest timber on a periodic basis, actively enhance wildlife habitat, carefully steward several perennial streams running through the property and generate their own hydroelectric power.

They have hosted many tours and workshops on their property over the years to educate other landowners about forest stewardship. In recognition of their efforts, the Kahn family was recently named Tree Farmer of the Year, an annual award sponsored by the regional chapter of the Washington Farm Forestry Association and the American Tree Farm System recognizing an outstanding land steward. The Kahns were also one of three finalists for the state award.

Lee points out that there are always new challenges to overcome in managing their land. A few years ago, bears began showing up in the late spring and methodically stripping the bark off their maturing Douglas fir trees, fatally damaging them.

Last year, a needle blight caused such extensive damage to their Christmas trees that they couldn't open their U-cut business. To make matters worse, there is the ever-growing cost of owning - and preserving - forestland in a rapidly developing region.

"Despite all of these issues, owning our land has been well worth the while, and keeping up with the challenge of stewardship of our property has been fun and rewarding," Lee said.

To keep themselves current on best management practices, the Kahns take advantage of classes, tours and publications geared to the family forest owner. One such class is the Forest Stewardship Coached Planning Program, an eight-week class that helps forest owners assess their property goals, learn about the forest they own and design a management plan for their property.

The family participated in the class, which is co-sponsored by Washington State University King County Extension and the King County Forestry Program.

"In the class, we learned how to enroll our land in the current-use taxation program, which reduces our property tax burden," Lee said. "But beyond that benefit, the class really helped us to take a holistic view of our land. You learn about a lot more than just the trees."

The Forest Stewardship Coached Planning class begins Sept. 19 in Maple Valley. Anyone is welcome to attend, though most participants own five or more acres of forested land.

Interested landowners may call (206) 205-3132 or visit http://king.wsu.edu/forestry for more information.

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