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WSU’s Forest Owners Field Day helps land managers meet their goals

NEWPORT, Wash.—How can I reduce wildfire risks on my property? How can my forest land generate income without depending on a timber harvest? And what kind of tree bark smells like butterscotch?

These were just a few of the many questions that Northwest landowners asked, and had answered, at the recent Forest Owners Field Day, held Saturday, June 16, near Newport in eastern Washington. Andy Perleberg, Washington State University Extension regional forestry specialist and organizer of the event, was pleased that 275 landowning family members turned out.

Emily Burt, former Extension forester, points to a canker on a branch, which should be pruned for the health of the tree. Photo by Bob Hoffmann, WSU. Click image to download higher-resolution version.

While various forest landowners attending had different priorities, including timber harvest, wildlife habitat enhancement, and environmental protection, all were able to benefit from the field day by learning about:

  • better road maintenance;
  • better personal safety;
  • reduced wildfire risk;
  • improved forest health assessment;
  • reduced impacts to water quality and wildlife, and;
  • better utilization of all forest products.

“In the state of Washington, 215,000 individuals and families control 5.8 million acres of non-industrial forest land,” said Perleberg. “Our field days are where many of them get their start in forest management.”

With 25 topics to choose from, the big problem facing attendees was not being able to attend them all.

“It’s like Disneyland,” said Ginger Geil, “You want to hit everything, but you can’t.”

This double-headed axe was one of the many tools on display at the Forest Owners Field Day. Photo by Bob Hoffmann, WSU. Click image to download higher-resolution version.

Ginger and her husband Jim bought 66 acres of pine forest in Stevens County five years ago. The San Diego residents spend the summers on their land, enjoying nature and looking for ways to manage the forest. While they already have taken steps to thin their trees, one field day session awakened them to the problem of noxious weeds. They were excited about biocontrol, or the introduction of insects that eat the weeds, although they were also disappointed that biocontrol often needs to be repeated, as the insects can disappear after they chew the weeds down to the ground. When the weeds spring back, the insects are no longer there.

Don Hanley and Emily Burt co-taught a session on thinning and pruning trees. Hanley, a WSU Extension forester emeritus, told attendees that thinning will allow the remaining trees to compete better for moisture, light, and nutrients. He boiled it down to a simple principle: “Select the tree you want; then thin around it.”

Burt was formerly a WSU Extension forestry educator, but decided to open a brewery with her husband. She still consults with landowners on the side, and happily comes to field days to give tips on the “why and how” of pruning. While some think the removal of lower limbs will improve timber quality and value in future years, she extolled the immediate benefits of reducing the risk of wildfire.

“Prune the tree to a point that’s twice as high as the ground cover. This will prevent a ground fire from climbing into the crown and killing the trees. In spring, pine slash can build up a population of Ips beetles, which can then spread to live trees. To prevent this, only prune pines from the fourth of July through the end of the year.”

She positioned her lopper on a branch about half an inch from the tree trunk, away from the bulge where the trunk and branch met. “To reduce damage to the tree and speed healing, avoid cutting the collar,” she instructed. By placing the cutting edge of the lopper on the underside of the branch, she prevented the falling branch from peeling the bark down the trunk.

Ed and Elly Styskel, owners of 26 acres near Newport, were grateful for the advice. Ed said, “I worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 29 years, but still learned new things at these sessions.” He wasn’t previously aware that some pathogens, such as Ponderosa pine canker and white pine blister rust, can spread via pruning tools. Cleaning the shears with antiseptic can prevent disease spreading from one tree to another.

Jim Freed, WSU Extension’s special forest products educator, described ways of profiting from the land that doesn’t involve timber harvest. When selling non-timber products, landowners will receive very low prices for unfinished natural goods such as ferns and pine cones. He encouraged landowners to consider first how they could personally use the plants on their property, whether by harvesting berries, mushrooms, and young ferns to eat, or cutting greens for holiday wreaths, swags, and garlands. After finding personal satisfaction from the bounty of the land, the owner could turn to financial gain.

Mary Ann Rozance, a Snohomish County Extension forestry assistant, discusses a wood biofuels research project with a guest at the Forest Owners Field Day. Photo by Bob Hoffmann, WSU. Click image to download higher-resolution version.

“People will pay whatever it takes to get something for free,” advised Freed, and recommended selling an experience, and giving a product as a bonus.

One suggestion was to hold a day-long wreath-building workshop, including evergreen branches, cones, and berries, for $100. He also noted that the average consumer will spend seven minutes picking out a Christmas tree from a parking lot, but three hours at a “choose and cut” farm. Especially appealing to modern consumers are keywords such as “local,” “fresh,” “wild,” and “sustainable,” so landowners should package their products and experiences with these catch phrases.

At the end of the day, Andy Perleberg reflected with satisfaction that the landowners had learned the basics of managing their properties to meet their goals. They were also exposed to other opportunities to enhance their education, such as the WSU Extension forestry coached stewardship planning shortcourse, online education modules, WSU forestry publications, and commercial service providers, such as consulting foresters.

And what tree bark smells like butterscotch? Some swear that Ponderosa pine wafts this fragrance, especially in summer.

Forest Owners Field Day’s sponsors include Washington State University Extension, Washington State Department of Natural Resources, and the Family Forest Foundation.

WSU Extension forestry website:
Online forestry classes:
WSU Extension publications: