Logging the Roslyn Urban Forest

The moment of truth has arrived, along with the loggers and their huge machines at my favorite local hiking trail and they will continue over it, “restoring” the forest. I admit to being way out of the loop on this issue due to not attending meetings about the project, and I didn’t give any input to the city about it. I might’ve done more if the local newspaper had been able to cover the story, but there wasn’t any detailed reporting about it during the planning process. At least not that I know of.

So now it’s too late. The project is fully underway and we’ve been hearing the rumble of loaders, the raspy grind of chainsaws, the crash and thud of big trees hitting the ground, the howling roar of a feller buncher. Without knowing much about the science behind this, I have to question it from an aesthetic and environmental viewpoint.

Especially in light of what I saw this morning. It was just after sunrise, tree tops glowing green with the first rays of sunlight as I walked up the forest trail with our golden lab Guy. This is our morning ritual, walking from home the short distance to the Roslyn Urban Forest and up a steep hill into the woods. We follow the soft, pine needle covered trail through the forest and then onto once-logged private land. It’s been a great spring in the forest, with multitudes of birds singing, ushering in each new day. I’ve been hearing robins, nuthatches, woodpeckers, flickers, sparrows and more.

Greeted by a wall o’ logs right across the trail.

What I saw this morning was shocking. The trail and the land on either side is now blocked by a large, U-shaped wall of logs pushed out ahead of the operation. The number of trees being cut seems to go beyond mere thinning and resembles industrial levels of logging. Where I envisioned a careful removal of smaller trees and brush growing too close to tall, fire-resistant trees, I saw instead a wholesale removal of what looks like at least 35% of the trees, many of them the taller, fire-resistant specimens. In some places there is no longer any canopy, which will allow for the rapid and thick growth of brush to replace the absent trees.

Looks like a clearcut to me.

The soil has been heavily impacted too, with heavy equipment in action, gouging out ruts and tracks throughout the forest. Some of the recreational trails have been obliterated by heavy equipment, leaving a 12 foot wide swathe of lumpy, powdery dust. Restoration will be costly and who is going to pay for that?

The planners did designate a riparian zone where no logging will take place, but in at least one location trees had been marked with a red stripe for cutting within the flagged RPZ. Someone came back later and painted over those marks with black paint. Has this happened elsewhere in the 300-acre forest?

After seeing the extent of the logging, I wonder about the fate of local birds nesting in the forest. It’s the time of year when songbirds are hatching and raising their families. The project must be having a huge negative impact on birds and wildlife. I wonder if this was addressed prior to the project. I also wonder if it’s even legal to undertake such a huge project during nesting season. Songbirds are supposed to be protected by federal law.

“Thinning” left a big old hole in the canopy. All the better to grow brush, which can burn just as vigorously as trees, especially when the absence of trees allows for higher temperatures and lower relative humidity.

All of this makes me wonder if the project was properly planned and being properly monitored. I hope to find out more about the process. I’m sure there are plenty of fine words and phrases to justify the way the thinning is being done, but to me it’s being overdone.

From my perspective, the phrase “forest restoration” seems like a human construct for justifying meddling in actual, natural forest restoration. The trees in the Roslyn Forest were mostly 60-100+ years old, indicating to my uneducated mind that the forest was a third to halfway on its way to being an old growth forest again. Careful thinning would’ve aided that process. The level of thinning I saw this morning appears to set the forest back.

So what was the goal of this project? To eventually have an old growth forest of tall trees with a shading canopy to retard the growth of brush? To reduce the wildfire threat? To make money for the city? To fulfill the obligations of the city’s stewardship plan? I’ve got a lot of questions and will try to keep my perspective as I learn more.

Very thin indeed.

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