Along the Elochoman River, we're transforming a tree farm into what it once was: a wild forest teeming with life.
A couple of years ago, Columbia Land Trust bought a 150-acre-piece of forested property along the upper reaches of the Elochoman River, a small Columbia River tributary near the town of Cathlamet. Like many forested areas here, the land had been logged in 40-to-60-year rotations and replanted with Douglas-fir and hemlock: it’s a tree plantation essentially, a single-layered monoculture. But conservation work requires a long-term vision of the natural world, an ability to see what one day could and will be.
You can see our goal by walking the shore of the Elochoman, where a few large trees still grow, spared from being felled by rules limiting forestry next to streams. It’s a narrow strip, but even in this band, trees three feet in diameter or more cool the water and anchor the shore. Occasionally, you’ll happen on old-growth stumps, the remains of the hundreds-years-old trees once found here.
This year, we’ll be thinning that overly simplified forest, to allow bigger trees to grow and under-planting with species such as Sitka spruce, western red cedar, and grand fir. The goal is to create a complex forest with many layers—something more like what used to grow here 200-plus years ago. “It creates a mosaic, adds richness, and attracts more wildlife,” says Stewardship Lead Dan Friesz. We’ll also be dismantling an old creosote-and-lead-laden bridge once used by steam locomotives and then logging trucks, a project that removes the toxic hazard and evidence of the land’s timber industry past.
Growing complex forests also will deliver big benefits to the Elochoman River itself, providing shade, releasing the nutrients that sustain food webs, and adding more limbs and wood to the water, which steelhead use for protection. The location is ideal for this vision. Across the river, there are large areas of protected land where federally threatened marbled murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) nest in towering old-growth spruce and hemlock. Our new land expands that habitat.
One day, we’ll leave the next generation of Northwest stewards a piece of the Elochoman River that’s much wilder than it is now. In 100 years, this will be a complex forest with more recharged floodplains and reconnected wetlands. And, perhaps the next generation of marbled murrelets will find it so enticing; they’ll choose it for their home. –Jill Davis