Field day gives on-site insights on forestry

Soil scientist Dave Peterson shows attendees of the North Puget Sound Forestry Field Day the diversity of soil layers on the Graves family
Soil scientist Dave Peterson shows attendees of the North Puget Sound Forestry Field Day the diversity of soil layers on the Graves family's property.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — Soil scientist Dave Peterson stood in the shallow pit that he'd dug on the Graves family's property, surrounded by trees and fellow woodland owners.

"Most of what we see is above the ground, but soil is the source of all our productivity," said Peterson, who owns a 20-acre tree farm in south Skagit County. "There's such a great diversity in soils, from wet to dry, and poorly to well-drained, that even soil scientists can only be experts in relatively small geographical areas."

Peterson used a digging tool called a sharp-shooter to lay out multiple layers of soil from the pit, which he described as a dynamic system affected by water filtration and the layers of organic matter that settle onto the forest floor.

"And if anybody thinks that soil profiles aren't important, I'd just tell them to think of the Oso slide," Peterson said.

Peterson served as the instructor for one of six stations at the North Puget Sound Forestry Field Day, which was jointly coordinated July 26 by the Washington State University Forestry Extension program, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Snohomish Conservation District.

He used the Mattson Road property near Arlington to illustrate how the surrounding environment and human development inevitably affect soils.

"We're on a flat surface in the middle of hills, so water drains down into this valley," Peterson said. "There's a lot of cedar trees here, since the soil is more moist. With just a few observations, we've already interpreted some key traits of the soil here."

WSU Regional Extension Specialist Kevin Zobrist, who provided tips on pruning trees and growing edible mushrooms that day, noted that eight Darrington High School students joined two WSU interns, 10 instructors, 10 exhibitors and 65 public attendees at this year's forestry field day.

"Especially after the slide, we wanted to provide youths with an opportunity for gainful employment with the U.S. Forest Service, which builds their careers and is helpful to us," said Zobrist, who received virtually unanimous positive feedback from this year's attendees of all ages.

By covering subjects ranging from tree planting and seedling care to invasive species and fire prevention, Zobrist hopes that attendees' appetites were whetted for WSU's Forestry Extension courses.

"Half of them had never been to a forestry extension event before, so this was all new to them," Zobrist said.

"Our classes are usually multi-week affairs, so a field day like this lets them take in a sampler platter of our offerings with a minimal commitment. We have people enrolling in more in-depth classes that they didn't even know existed before."

Although WSU Forestry Extension will return to Snohomish County to offer forest stewardship classes in the early spring of next year, its on-site courses in the county are wrapping up for this year. On Tuesday, Aug. 12, the extension office at McCollum Park will host the debut of the North Puget Sound Chapter of "Women Owning Woodlands" starting at 6 p.m.

"Women represent an increasing segment of woodland owners, but they might not feel as free to speak up or ask questions in a more male-dominated environment," Zobrist said. "This gives them a chance to do peer-to-peer learning and networking with each other."

Admittance is free, but attendees are asked to bring items for a potluck picnic, and to RSVP with Lauren Grand at 425-357-6023 or

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