Opinion

A city girl's path to forest stewardship

I live in a Pike Place Market condominium. What would I know about being a steward of the land? When I put my offer on 20 wooded acres in Carnation in October 2003, my initial attitude was pragmatic confidence. After all, I'm a college-educated, well-traveled, experienced problem solver. It's just a forest, I thought, and Mother Nature had been taking care of the place long before I came on the scene. Clearly, I would find a way to build my small home in harmony with the woods.

Soon though, I began to grasp the enormity of the task ahead. My real estate agent and future neighbors did their best to inform me of the hurdles I would face including land surveyors, well contractors, septic system designers and a "black cloud" on the horizon, something called the CAO. Before building, I decided I needed to take stock of what I had to work with.

After closing on the property last March, I decided the place to start would be the eight-week Forest Stewardship Class offered through Washington State University Extension and funded by King County Water and Land Resources. I'd seen the huge class notebook overflowing with resource information from a neighbor who'd completed the class. The depth and context the class provided was invaluable in the preparation of a forest stewardship plan, as well as a huge confidence builder for taking on the realities of property management.

The benefits of the class extended beyond the materials, instruction and field practice. Observing how we as individual class members expanded our views to actually "see" the elements of a forest, its health and fire vulnerability was the most meaningful civic participation experience I've ever had. And, for a mere $100, it was certainly a great value.

The adoption of the CAO (Critical Areas Ordinance) has generated many strong opinions about how rural land should be managed, but for me, completing the Forest Stewardship Class during the CAO debate was timely. By educating myself about how a forest grows and functions, and how it can be managed to meet my objectives, I felt empowered to take on the challenge of ownership rather than feeling frustrated about potential new regulations. From professional foresters and wildlife biologists that shared their expertise during the class, I learned that I can be proactive about tending my forest to create better fish and wildlife habitat. For example, if left alone, my land, which had been densely planted by a timber company about 25 years ago and then subdivided, will soon be growing "dying toothpicks." By supporting the health of the forest through periodic thinning, ensuring trees have ample access to soil nutrients, water and light, my trees will thrive. A huge distinction in vocabulary, for both landowners and citizens concerned about the health of the environment, has to be made between thinning and clearing. I know it was illuminating for me. Because of the CAO, there are limits on how much of my land can be cleared for development. But through the class, I learned that managed forest, including harvest, is not considered development. Those forested areas demand lots of attention permitted under the ordinance to keep them functional for habitat and water quality protection. And they can return income from the sale of harvested trees.

Whether you're a current landowner, considering property in the future or just have a heart attack traveling up I-90 remembering the forests that once were, the Forest Stewardship Class is truly the best hands-on resource available for the money. To find out more information about the class, which will be offered again beginning Jan. 18 in Bellevue, visit www.metrokc.gov/wsu-ce/forestry or call Amy Grotta at (206) 205-3132.

Tami Petrie

Seattle

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