Drive near the Washington state Capitol Campus in Olympia this month and you’ll see a banner proclaiming that “Sustainable Forestry Started Here.” What does that mean?
Seventy-five years ago, the first certified tree farm in North America was established on the Clemons Tree Farm near Montesano in Grays Harbor County under the American Tree Farm System. It was seen as a bold move in an era that was focused on rapid development, resource exploitation and world war.
Today, Washington boasts 35 family-owned tree farms that have been continuously managed for sustainable forestry under the ATFS certification program for more than 50 years and an additional 204 that have been managed for more than 25 years. They are part of a cohort of small forest landowners who own nearly half the private forest land in the state.
The original focus of tree farming was to ensure a sustainable wood supply by planting trees. Simple, right? Not quite — but with 75 years of scientific research, the development of state of the art nursery practices, and the sustained trial and error effort of many forest landowners, we know how to grow trees exceptionally well.
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So truly, sustainable forestry was started here in Washington 75 years ago by the Weyerhaeuser family, whose original holdings have expanded to become the biggest private forest land ownership in the United States as a publicly traded company. Their legacy lives on in the ATFS’ small family-owned forest lands being managed for now and for generations to come.
The long-term emphasis we have placed on sustaining our forests plays other critical roles well beyond wood supply. It includes direct benefits to water quality, fish and wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration.
Science shows that the forests in Washington are among the best in the world at taking massive amounts of carbon dioxide from the air and sequestering it as part of the wood. When harvested on a sustainable basis, that wood can be stored in buildings that can last hundreds of years. This helps solve the climate problem, generates economic benefits that are part of a low carbon economy and provides locally sourced high quality building materials from our tree farms.
In celebration of this 75 year milestone and the many benefits of tree farming, Thursday (Jan. 21) is Tree Farm Day in Olympia. We kick off festivities with a 75th Anniversary of Sustainable Forestry Proclamation Ceremony at noon in the Capitol Rotunda. The event is hosted by the Washington Tree Farm Program, Washington Farm Forestry Association, and Washington DNR Small Forest Landowner Office.
Please join us in celebrating that sustainable forestry started here in the Evergreen State.
Elaine Oneil is executive director of the Washington Farm Forestry Association based in Chehalis.