This past spring, 14 SEFS students had the unique opportunity to partner with King County to write a forest stewardship plan for the 645-acre Black Diamond Natural Area, south of Seattle near Maple Valley. Writing the plan was the focus of a new course set up to provide applied, real-world forest management opportunities for students: Applied Forest Ecology & Management (SEFS521/ESRM490).
King County had purchased this forested land through a series of acquisitions during the past decade as part of the King County Open Space Plan. These forests, which were previously managed as industrial plantations, needed a long-term stewardship plan that aligned with King County Parks’ goals of providing recreational opportunities to the public while maintaining the social, ecological and economic functions of the forests. King County has recognized that these dense, 15- to 30-year-old Douglas-fir plantations need active management to provide quality, long-term habitat and recreation. Yet the land is right in the middle of a rapidly developing area where managing forests presents a major social challenge. So to facilitate that planning process, the county partnered with SEFS on this course—co-taught by Research Associate Derek Churchill and Associate Professor Greg Ettl—that would give students direct experience designing a stewardship plan.
Specifically, students were tasked with designing a stewardship plan and stand-level prescriptions for Douglas-fir plantations where the major uses have now shifted to mountain biking, horseback riding and trail running. The quarter was split between field sampling and inventorying forest structure, and also class sessions covering stand dynamics, variable-density thinning, logging systems, FVS modeling and landscape analysis, among other topics. With the heavy field component, students gained hands-on experience with a number of forestry concepts, including mastering the Relaskop, using density diagrams, installing inventory plots and cruising timber, as well as how concepts from forest ecology directly apply to designing forest management treatments. Throughout the quarter, students were able to draw on the expertise of Professor Emeritus Peter Schiess and several SEFS alumni, including Paul Wagner, Paul Fisher and Jeff Comnick.
Students also engaged and interacted with neighboring communities in Maple Valley that are adjacent to the project area—a sensitive social dimension that is essential to successful forest stewardship in the proximity of urban growth boundaries. These neighborly considerations hit especially close to home for one of the students, Mary Starr, who has lived in Maple Valley for four years and knows firsthand the close relationship these communities have to their natural areas. “If you can work with stakeholders to do forestry successfully here, you can do it anywhere,” says Churchill.
While each student was assigned to write a section of the final stewardship plan, Abraham Ngu, a Master of Forest Resources candidate, coordinated and edited the final plan as part of his capstone project. The course then culminated with the students giving a formal presentation of their management recommendations to county officials, including the lead environmental coordinators.
Feedback from the county was immensely positive. Officials praised the students and, perhaps most importantly, gave a sincere indication they would like to continue the collaboration. In his post-presentation email to the course instructors, Dave Kimmett, program manager of King County Parks, wrote, “Is it too soon to think about the next class? The students made a very good impression today. ”
Not too soon at all, in fact, as King County Parks administration had a follow-up meeting with SEFS Director Tom DeLuca, Ettl and Churchill this past July, paving the way for another class in the spring of 2015.
Photos © Sam Israel/SEFS.