PORT ANGELES — Dozens of protesters and counter-protesters lined U.S. Highway 101 to rally for or against the sale and logging of Aldwell timber, roughly 90 acres of what conservancy groups determined to be old growth or legacy forest that has been auctioned off to a Clallam County-based company by the state Department of Natural Resources.
The root of the issue appears to be a difference in opinion regarding the definition of old growth or legacy forests.
“A legacy forest is a forest that has never been logged by a machine,” said Nina Sarmiento, regional coordinator for the Center for Responsible Forestry, during the protest on Sunday.
“A legacy forest has been logged before industrial logging practices began in the 40s and 50s. A legacy forest is about 100 years old, in contrast to the 50-year-old plantation forests that DNR manages. So these legacy forests are double the age, and they have these structures that will become the old-growth forests,” Sarmiento said.
DNR’s definition is the stands must predate 1850, it must be structurally complex, and it must be 5 acres or larger.
Protesters, like Scott McGee, argue that DNR’s definition is limited and presents a risk to forest ecosystems if DNR continues to harvest timber in legacy forests.
“They have acknowledged in their assessments of Aldwell forest that there are trees as old as 280 years old and multiple trees over 250, but because there weren’t a certain number of them within a certain amount of acres, they don’t count as old growth,” McGee said.
McGee and his wife live close to an old-growth forest that is slated to be logged in the coming year and through that got connected with groups like responsible forestry and the Earth Law Group, which organized the Sunday protest.
McGee noted that DNR may protect the older trees as part of leave-in clusters, but he said logging the rest of the forest around them could create an unstable ecosystem.
“When you cut down the rest of the forest, you destroy the entire ecosystem around them, and it makes them likely to become wind felled or diseased,” McGee said.
McGee and his wife photographed the protest and have done a series of videos on the sale of the Aldwell timber, which can be viewed at https://adventurephotography.forest2sea.com/aldwell-forest and on Youtube.
DNR intends to continue with the sale and harvest of Aldwell timber.
“We believe the Aldwell sale is an environmentally responsible way to provide building products and revenue to the junior taxing districts in Clallam County,” said Kenny Ocker, communications manager for DNR.
Ocker said all of DNR’s land management across western Washington is managed with a habitat conservation plan through the U.S. Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of NOAA.
“All of our policies are managed with safety in mind, and all of our lands have been managed that way since 1987,” he said. “We have a long-standing commitment to doing our timber harvest in the most environmentally responsible manner possible.”
Ocker said the Aldwell sale has gone through all the appropriate processes.
“The design of the Aldwell sale follows all of those rules and regulations and has gone through public comment periods,” he said. “The timber sale went through a state environmental policy act (SEPA) process, which had its own public comment process, which was reviewed by our regulatory arm, and then the sale was publicly approved by the DNR board.”
Elizabeth Dunne, one of the protest organizers and the legal director for Earth Law Group, noted that despite DNR’s reported commitment to save the older trees and limit their impacts on surrounding environments, many of the trees have been included in the DNR sale, citing safety concerns and further comprising the structure of what remains of the forest.
“The amount of subjectivity in this process means that structurally complex legacy forests that are being logged are significantly compromised even if there are some clumps of trees left,” Dunne said in an email. “The science tells us that destroying significant portions of the forest is detrimental to forest health and here we are also talking about the watershed — Port Angeles source of drinking water,” Dunne said.
In September, the City of Port Angeles voted to send a letter to DNR to pause plans to harvest the Aldwell forest.
“The Aldwell legacy forest is a critical part of the tributaries on the Elwha River,” council member Navarra Carr said in a press release. “Legacy forests like Aldwell not only provide biodiversity and recreation opportunities and aid in reducing climate impacts in our community but also protect the water supply for every resident and visitor to Port Angeles.
“Our water supply is solely supplied by the Elwha and negative impacts to the larger ecosystem affect our water city-wide. We already experience drought conditions each year, and logging these important forests will likely worsen the already existing challenges we are facing. Logging the Aldwell legacy forest will lead to the permanent destruction of a valuable forest on the Olympic Peninsula,” Carr added.
Ocker said DNR did pause to ensure the agency was operating appropriately in the region, after receiving the letter from the city, but it continued on with the sale and harvest because it determined there had been ample public process, that it would protect the watershed and not impact any old growth or legacy trees.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.