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For more information on species & ecosystem science:

Wildlife Science
360-902-2515
wildthing@dfw.wa.gov

Fish Science
360-902-2700
fishpgm@dfw.wa.gov

Habitat Science
360-902-2534
habitatprogram@dfw.wa.gov

 

Managed Lands in Coniferous Forests

 
 

Fig. 1 - Map showing the approximate footprint of Washington forests in 1883 and their relative density (darker green = denser forest).

   
   

Coniferous forests dominate the landscapes of western Washington and a large part of eastern Washington. Historically, old-growth stands dominated these forests, but important disturbances (volcanic eruptions, fires, landslides) created a mosaic of stands that varied in age. Harvests of these forests began with immigration of Euro-Americans, and increases in harvests were spurred by different socio-economic events. For example, the earthquake and fire that destroyed much of the city of San Francisco in 1906 led to massive rebuilding, prompting an increase in harvest in lowland western Washington and leading to an economic expansion during the early 1900s.

The footprint of forests in the Washington territory in 1883 (Fig. 1) was only about 10% greater than what is seen today (Fig. 2). However, a general increase in area harvested has led to the landscape one sees today, with forests that are on average much younger. Concern with the loss of older forests led to large reductions in harvest on federal lands during the 1990s. However, the importance of managed landscapes as wildlife habitat was given little attention. Managed landscapes include over half of the forested area in Washington State, so their value as wildlife habitat is important.

By forging a new pact with the key assumption that wildlife and habitat protection could be compatible with a viable timber industry, the 1987 Timber, Fish and Wildlife (TFW) agreement was the first time attention was placed on the wildlife value of managed lands. This agreement, involving numerous stakeholders (Native American tribes, state and federal agencies, timber industry companies, and an environmental caucus), had an adaptive provision. This meant that the stakeholders agreed that there were gaps in knowledge about how to best protect habitat and wildlife in timber-managed lands. Science would be the tool used to fill these gaps in knowledge.

This new science would help inform, where needed, how to improve protection for both habitat and wildlife. TFW was revolutionary in helping understand managed landscapes, but it had two important limitations: 1) its provisions addressed only fish-bearing streams, and 2) it provided relatively little funding for doing the adaptive science. The Forests and Fish Law, the successor to TFW, went into effect in 2000. It largely removes both limitations by providing both protection for non-fish-bearing (or headwater) streams and funding to effectively do the adaptive science.

Forests and Fish Law

The Forests and Fish Law, developed in collaboration with federal, state, tribal, and county governments, environmental interests, and private forest landowners, is a comprehensive system of forest management practices intended to bring science and sustainability to Washington State's forests.  The Law is part of the State’s salmon recovery strategy and designed to protect fish and stream associated amphibians on some 60,000 miles of forested streams on private and state forestland.

The four resource objectives of the Law are to:

  1. Comply with the Endangered Species Act for all fish and riparian-dependent amphibian species.
  2. Support a commercially harvestable supply of fish.
  3. Meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act for water quality.
  4. Keep the timber industry economically viable in the state of Washington.

Research

The Law included funding for an Adaptive Management Monitoring Program to measure the effectiveness of forest practices at meeting the resource objectives.  This Adaptive Management Program, administered by the Cooperative Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Committee (CMER) allows for forest practice rule changes if new science shows it to be necessary.  

Since 2000, we have been studying non-fish-bearing (headwater) streams in managed landscapes to better understand how forestry practices may affect the wildlife associated with these habitats. Our work focuses on amphibians because they are the dominant large animals in headwater streams (since fish are absent), they are thought to be vulnerable to some changes in habitat resulting from forestry practices, and the decline of many amphibian species on a global scale has drawn considerable public attention. Our early work in headwater streams focused on developing tools for best sampling amphibians in these headwater habitats.

However, these tools represented only the first step in the process. The next step was the design and implementation of landscape-level studies to help understand whether current buffer prescriptions for headwater streams (rules for how many trees are to be left along the streams) provide adequate protection for this habitat and its wildlife.

Funding

Funding for the above mentioned research was provided by the Cooperative Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research (CMER) Committee.

Current and Completed Projects

Publications (Selected papers, posters and links)

Links