Storm solves area firewood woes

THE OLYMPIANJanuary 29, 2012 

As with most rural property owners in Thurston County, I know what I’ll be doing for the next month of Sundays – cleaning up branches and bucking up large limbs and trees that fell all over Horsefeathers Farm in the Snow and Ice Storm of 2012.

Not since 1996 have so many trees in South Sound been damaged or destroyed, succumbing to the weight of the snow and ice that blasted us 10 days ago.

Two weeks ago, I was starting to wonder where I’d get my firewood for next year’s heating season. The storm delivered the answer, and then some.

When I stand on my deck and look out to the back pasture, I see gigantic leaders from a majestic, multi-stemmed bigleaf maple lying in a jumbled mess, waiting for me and my chain saw.

“The maples took the biggest hit,” said Ken Russell, a forestry consultant and retired state Department of Natural Resources forest pathologist. Anywhere a maple tree snapped a trunk or limb, there likely are signs of decay, he said.

No longer will many trees be a haven for Western tanagers and cedar waxwings seeking a late-summer taste of bitter fruit.

Aging alder trees are either stripped of branches or lying on the ground, along with hundreds of hefty limbs from the mature Douglas fir trees that stand along the southern border of the property.

“Those 3- and 4-inch-diameter Douglas fir limbs will make really nice firewood next year,” Russell said. “They’re dense and filled with pitch.”

Unlike my neighbors – they had a huge maple topple, crushing their barn roof – I have no significant property damage, other than some fencing that needs repair.

I cleaned the accumulating snow and ice off my blueberry bushes at dusk Jan. 18, which kept them from being crushed to the ground. The apple and pear trees also fared well.

“What happened at your place is pretty typical of what happened all over the county,” said Kevin McFarland, a consulting arborist and owner of Sound Urban Forestry.

McFarland has been assessing historic tree damage in the urban area. Here’s some of what he’s found:

 • About 10 of the red oak trees that line Legion Way in downtown Olympia sustained so much damage that they will need to be removed. That’s in addition to five of the old oaks already slated for removal.

 • A beech tree in Sylvester Park, which was planted in 1893 to mark the official park dedication to Olympia pioneer Edmund Sylvester, is too damaged to survive.

 • The cherry trees that line Capitol Boulevard in Tumwater near the old Olympia Brewery took a real beating.

More than 20 trees on the Capitol Campus will need to be removed. They include four Yoshino cherry trees on Capitol Way, which are part of a grove planted in 1976 to celebrate the nation’s bicentennial. Three old black locust trees near 11th Avenue and Franklin Street won’t survive. The storm also knocked down seven elm trees that were planted along Deschutes Parkway when it was rebuilt after the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake.

The Department of Enterprise Services, which manages the Capitol Campus, still is assessing the fate of a Norway maple near the World War II memorial that was planted more than 80 years ago as part of the Olmsted Brothers’ original campus landscape plan.

“Trees are very much a part of the beauty of the Capitol grounds,” Enterprise Services director Joyce Turner said. “Losing historic trees is sort of like losing a good friend.”

In Tumwater, one of the old friends that took a beating in the storm was the Bush butternut tree. One of the largest and oldest trees of its kind in the nation, the tree was transported by wagon train from Missouri and planted on the George Bush homestead in 1845.

Mark and Kathleen Clark are the proud owners of the tree and what remains of the Bush homestead, a 5-acre farm near the Olympia Airport.

Three gigantic branches were ripped out of the tree during the storm, including one that punctured the roof over the family living room.

“It came down around midnight; it was a frightening sound,” Mark Clark said. Despite the harrowing encounter, the Clarks won’t remove the tree. But they will have a certified arborist prune it to balance the tree’s weight.

As homeowners and businesses assess the damage from falling limbs and trees, McFarland cautions people not to do rash things such as top trees or remove healthy trees just because they’re close to homes and offices.

Topping a tree sets it up for catastrophic failure in future severe wind, snow and ice storms. For more information, go to the Arbor Day Foundation website at

That’s it for now. It’s time to get back to work, cleaning up storm debris at the farm.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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