by Ray Birks

There was a packed house of close to 75 people in the old lodge at Squilchuck State Park on Wednesday, September 5th to hear agency forester David Cass from Olympia give an informative presentation about the upcoming logging in the park slated for this winter. I was in attendance as a park user and curious citizen wanting to know how the operation was going to affect the trails in the park and winter use. Judging from the questions asked after the presentation, I got the sense that more than half of the crowd were concerned residents from the Forest Ridge subdivision.

Cass started with a brief history of the park then took the audience through the plan to log certain areas that are in dire need of attention. He focused on the why, the how, the who and the when of the operation as well as post logging and park restoration.

The focus of the logging will be the west side of the park to the Forest Ridge boundary with the goal being the creation of a shaded fuel break that will help avoid a major crown fire which not only would damage the park but threaten nearby homes. The most recent major fire in the area was in 1892 and the area was last cut in the early 1990’s.

Cass laid out the case for why it is important to intervene now and thin the park. The forest around the park is considered unhealthy, with some areas averaging 200 to 1,200 trees per acre. The end result would put that number at 27-70 per acre with variable spacing of 25-35 feet between trees. Thinning the trees would build resilience and create a more natural forest that can more adapt to change. With the current density there is higher competition for resources, greater susceptibility to disease, slower growth and higher amounts of fuel, all of which create very high risk of a catastrophic fire. Matt Rose, who lives near the park and has spearheaded much, if not all, of the trail building at Squilchuck commented on the fire risk, “I could take you to some scary places in the park.”

In addition to the natural factors that are leading the way for intervention, local residents specifically asked for the park to be logged. The 2018 state budget allocated $100,000 for the project and a group from Forest Ridge helped secure the funding to make it happen.

How does a project like this proceed? The first step was a prescription plan in which a local contractor was identified to help plan the logging. Nine total units were identified on the western boundary of the park with seven of them marked for a mechanized logging operation with the goal to reduce the stocking or number of trees. The working boundary has been marked with pink ribbons clearly visible on the lower trails and many of the homeowners property lines at Forest Ridge.

Cass added more details and mentioned that old growth timber would be protected and not logged. A hearty cheer went up when he mentioned that mistletoe would be removed because it promotes larger fires. Slash and snags would also be taken out to promote the growth of natural grasses.

The logging operation will be ground-based, meaning there will be no suspended wires or cables. There will be three landings where logs will land all of which are on the western boundary with Forest Ridge as well as the construction of two temporary gravel roads that will later be deconstructed.

The nearly $100,000 price tag gets broken down accordingly with mulching gobbling up $80,000 of the total cost, hand crews at $13,000 and an archaeological survey, which has already been completed, adding an additional $11,000. Cass assured attendees this was not a money making operation with the estimated sale of timber to be about $20,000.

The timeline for start and completion is roughly October 15th of 2018 to March 31st of 2019, which is somewhat dependent on weather. Logging will be the first phase and is expected to last about a month with another month set aside for mulching and clearing the underbrush. Hand crews will then follow in the spring and summer. The goal is to work only weekdays during daylight hours but that could be extended if bad weather is approaching which could promote longer working hours. When the project starts a sample area will be laid out so the loggers have a good idea of what the final result should look like and subsequent compliance checks will happen regularly to make sure the contract is being followed with penalties invoked if they’re not.

Cass pointed out the obvious impacts of having a full scale logging operation in the park to include trail closures, noise and general disruption as well as increased traffic on local roads. Half of the cut timber will exit via the park entrance and the other half will leave out of Forest Ridge. The parking lot will not be used during the job. Some of the popular hiking and biking trails on the west side, including Vulture Gulch and Yellowjacket, will be closed. There was not a unanimous decision on whether or not all of the trails would be closed on the west side with safety being the main concern. These trails are also popular during the winter for snowshoers and fat tire mountain bikers and Matt Rose said there will be some degree of trail grooming still happening this winter.

After the project, cleanup will entail repairing any ground disturbances, adding water bars to redirect rainwater so trails don’t get rutted, and reseeding logged areas with native cover and sterile grasses. There will not be any replanting or stump removal but mulching will clear out most of the leftovers from the logging. The trails will be fixed and reopened with the possibility of additional money set aside to pay either the Washington Conservation Corps or Central Washington Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance to do the work. There was a small contingent of trail builders in attendance eager to let CWEMBA do the trail repair work since they had originally built the trails. Cass said loggers are well versed in working around trails and the contract will include mitigating damage by using techniques such as only crossing trails in a perpendicular manner. In addition to the trail repair, logged areas will be monitored for noxious weeds and maintained with additional treatments and mechanical logging or prescribed fires.

There were a handful of attendees who were strongly opposed to any slash fires or prescribed burns taking place even in wintertime with one attendee pointing out the potential for a crown fire proclaiming, “You can’t be careful enough.  Fire season is year round.” Cass assured Forest Ridge residents they would be contacted if there was a prescribed burn happening so they would not be alarmed and the local fire department would be notified as well. He also mentioned that although it makes sense to log the east side of the park in the near future, it is steeper and more dangerous and the state may have other priorities.

A few other noteworthy attendees who spoke up were Travis Hornby who is the president of the Central Washington chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance. He said Evergreen supports the thinning process so we can enjoy local trails with clear air and no major fires. 12th Legislative District representative Senator Brad Hawkins also spoke up and praised Cass for his presentation as well as the audience for their decorum, respectfulness and obvious eagerness not only to be a part of the process but also part of the solutions to restore the park and protect local homes.

David Cass will be the state’s contact for the operation and can be contacted in Olympia via email at david.cass@parks.wa.gov and phone at 360-902-8606

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