It seems unlikely, but Jefferson Land Trust is cutting down trees to protect wildlife habitat. The Bulis Forest Preserve is 130 acres that were donated to JLT in 1997 by Erika Bulis in memory of her husband Janis Bulis. Erika’s intent was to provide a working forest that would financially support the preservation of the remaining forested acreage in perpetuity.
“I think of those 28 acres of working forest as a built-in stewardship fund for the entire property,” said Erik Kingfisher, stewardship director at JLT. “The remaining 100 acres is permanently reserved for habitat—for natural forest succession. We manage that with a very light touch—just making sure it’s able to maintain its natural qualities, but having the working forest helps to ensure there’s a way in which that legacy is honored and protected forever.”
The preserve is part of over 800 acres of contiguous green space. It borders Fort Townsend State Park as well as 300 acres of conservation area including marine shoreline. Wildlife sightings on the preserve include great horned owls, barred owls, coopers hawks, bald eagles, a variety of songbirds, deer (of course!), coyote, raccoons, bobcat, and black bear.
“I haven’t seen the bears, but I know they’re there because they pull branches off the plum trees this time of year trying to reach the plums,” said Earl Kong, a retired forester who worked with Janis on the property beginning in 1991.
“Jan loved the forest. He loved to wander out there without a compass. We used to go out together and try to get lost and then find our way back, and doing that we found places around there that were very unique,” Kong said.
He said Erika loved the forest too, but the couple loved it in different ways. “Jan was more of the forestry management type, and Erika liked the wild land look with a lot of mixed species.” The preserve is honoring both of his friends’ relationship to the forest. He is volunteering his time and expertise on this harvest.
“We are harvesting timber, but it’s going to stay a forest,” he said, “You could think of it as a thinning. It’s called individual tree selection harvest.”
Kingfisher said the management of the forest includes keeping trees at three levels of growth at all times: an overstory of large trees, a middle story of intermediate trees, and an understory of relatively young trees.
“Right now we have an overstory of 90 to 100-year-old Douglas fir trees. It’s a nice robust mature canopy of Douglas fir. Under there we have a mix of other species, including 20 to 30-year-old cedars. When we give those cedars a little more light they will grow very fast and fill in those gaps. We’re going to release those from competition and allow them to grow. By doing that, we’ll add diversity to the structure,” Kingfisher said.
“By taking some timber away and removing the dense clusters, the whole forest itself will be more productive. This winter we’ll do a planting of cedars in shady spots and Douglas firs in sunnier spots. That will accelerate the rate at which we’ll be growing timber,” he said.
When the intermediate trees grow large enough so that they begin to compete against each other for space, water, and nutrients, then another thinning operation will take place.
“No matter where you are in Jefferson County, you are near a working forest,” Kingfisher said. “And having forests in our landscape is beneficial for a variety of reasons: they help produce the clean water we drink, the clean air we breathe, the wildlife we watch, and they also have economic values.”
He said those values need to be protected.
“Forests are critical for the long-term health of our community. Well-managed, sustainable natural-resources management is one of the main things that makes a place sustainable, healthy, and resilient. This resource could easily go away if we’re not paying attention to it,” he said.
“Timberlands in Jefferson County are being developed at a faster rate than those in other places,” said Carrie Clendaniel, stewardship assistant at JLT. She said the demand for residential development is high enough that, in many cases, selling forest property to convert into developed land is more financially rewarding than it is to grow and harvest trees, and, as more development occurs, there’s more incentive and pressure to convert those forests into something else.
“Forest fragmentation threatens the timber industry. It chips away at the feasibility of having a healthy logging industry here,” she said.
“In so many other places, the land owners individually worked with the market for the short-term gain and then all of a sudden those lands were converted to subdivisions,” Kingfisher said.
The Land Trust works to gather disparate stakeholders in the forest economy and forest landscape, including company representatives, government officials, philanthropists and ecologists, to address this issue.