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Tulalip forests thinned with eye on supporting local economy

TULALIP — The Tulalip Tribes recently awarded the bid for the thinning of 78.5 acres of Tulalip forest land to Precision Thinning of Sedro-Wooley, which began thinning 28-year-old Douglas fir plantations to a stocking level of 160 trees per acre in February. This thinning is designed to accelerate the growth of the remaining trees, creating a healthier and more productive forest environment. Saw logs will be shipped to Hampton Mills in Darrington, the pulp will be shipped to Willis Enterprises in Everett, and the alder will go to Washington Alder in Mount Vernon. This thinning is scheduled to continue through April.

"Many years ago, we decided that our forests would remain undeveloped and natural," said Glen Gobin, chair of the Tulalip Business Committee. "Our people depend on the forests to hunt deer and elk, gather berries, and harvest cedar. The forests are important to our culture and who we are as Tulalip people."

Gobin remembers working for the Tribes' forestry department in the 1980s, planting trees and hauling logs back when forestry was the Tribes' largest department, with 40 people.

The goal of the original program was to preserve the forests, but it has since expanded, and now not only preserves the forests for the Tulalip people, but has also created a logging operation designed to create revenue for Tribal welfare. Within 25 years, the ongoing thinning could eventually generate significant revenue to further the forestry program and help support the future economy of the region, according to Tribal spokesperson Mytyl Hernandez.

"Forest preservation is not just important for the commercial aspect, but also for the culture of the Tulalip Tribes," Hernandez said. "Tulalip Tribal members have always used the resources of the land and water to live. Keeping the forests healthy allows Tribal members to practice their culture through hunting, gathering of berries and herbs, and the use of cedar to make baskets, hats and clothing."

Since the first forest management plan was written and adopted by the Tribes in 1978, nearly 4,000 acres of timberland have been harvested and replanted, with close to 1.6 million seedlings. Each year's harvest averages 200 acres, on which the Tribes plant approximately 80,000 2-year-old seedlings. The tree species mix is generally 70 percent Douglas fir, 20 percent Western Hemlock and 10 percent Western Red Cedar.

"For more than two decades, pre-commercial thinning has also been done to improve the health and longevity of the forest ecosystem, since removing the deformed or suppressed trees naturally allows the healthier trees to grow to their full potential," Hernandez said. "In addition, managing the density of forest growth promotes healthy tree and plant development, animal populations, and carbon emissions and absorption that are critical for oxygen production and stabilization."

Since 1987, the Tribes have pre-commercially thinned 3,000 acres of sapling-size timber stands, on an average of about 150 acres per year.

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