Restoration and Resilience: Sustaining forest productivity in the face of current and emerging threats

Progress report for WRGR22-009

Project Type: Research to Grass Roots
Funds awarded in 2022: $89,178.00
Projected End Date: 08/31/2025
Host Institution Award ID: G142-23-W9216
Grant Recipient: Northwest Natural Resource Group
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Kirk Hanson
Northwest Natural Resource Group
Stacey Dixon
Snohomish Conservation District
Dr. Gregory Ettl
University of Washington, School of Environmental and Forest Sci
Tami Miketa
Washington Department of Natural Resources Small Forest Landowne
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Project Information


Forest owners in the Pacific Northwest face new threats from a warming, drying climate, on top of pre-existing challenges to forest health stemming from past management practices. Forest plantations established after industrial clearcutting lack the species diversity and spatial heterogeneity that help forests to provide a broad spectrum of ecosystem services. They also tend to be too dense for the expected moisture and heat conditions of coming decades, and are therefore at risk of decline in the face of climate change. Recent research points to steps that forest producers can take to make their forests more resilient in the face of these threats.

This project will build on two previous SARE-funded projects to increase forest producers’ understanding of climate threats and forest health, and train forest producers in management techniques to address those challenges. Through a geographically distributed series of 6 master-class workshops and 80 site visits to individual producers, the project will acquaint 175 forest owners and managers with four key tools to increase their forest’s resilience: stand release, young-stand thinning, commercial thinning, and fire hazard reduction. These educational efforts will address two misconceptions: that previously clearcut forests thrive best when left alone to recover; and that intensive monoculture timber production is the only economically viable choice for forest owners seeking income from their forest. These techniques will help forest owners maintain commercial production of timber even in the face of climatic disruption, and will increase the provision of ecosystem services such as watershed protection, salmon and wildlife habitat, and carbon storage even while increasing the likelihood of robust timber yields.

Project Objectives:
  1. 140 forest producers increase their knowledge of the ways they can steward their forest to increase seedling survival and improve young-stand growth rates. 
  2. 140 forest producers learn to anticipate the likely impacts on their forest from climate change, and gain greater knowledge of actions they can take to make their forest more resilient in the face of the changing climate.  
  3. 140 forest producers become convinced that active forest stewardship can be preferable to “letting nature take its course” in their forest, as a pathway to greater forest health and resilience. 
  4. 140 forest producers are persuaded that partial harvest techniques such as thinning and individual tree selection can increase the health and resilience of the forest compared with the business-as-usual practice of regenerating it around age 40. 

Objectives 1 through 4 are evaluated based on surveys administered before and after the workshops, as described below in Question 9 on Evaluation. 


  1. 105 forest producers commission a new or updated forest management plan in light of the knowledge they gained through this project.
  2. 90 forest producers embark on a new management activity in the realm of thinning, fire hazard reduction, or seedling release after taking part in the project.

Objectives 5 and 6 are evaluated based on online surveys sent in the last 3 months of the project.


Non-industrial private forest lands in western Washington are in a state of suboptimal health. Immediately after harvest, vigorous shrub species can outcompete recently planted tree seedlings. Alternatively, where replanting succeeds, it often results in a “dog-hair” young stand that is too dense for all the trees to thrive. In either situation, the site falls short of its full potential for timber production. A recent state assessment finds the dense, young, homogeneous stands that are prevalent throughout western Washington to be historically unprecedented on the landscape (Washington State Department of Natural Resources 2020). 

These issues are exacerbated by the impacts of climate change, which are already being felt in the region. Fewer trees per acre can persist in the hotter, drier summers of a warming world. Pressure from brush species is even harder on young seedlings when both moisture and light are in short supply, from below-ground and above-ground competition respectively (Lipton et al. 2018 and Vose et al. 2018).

In this time of increasing threats, small forest landowners are asking for help more frequently, and have been judged by state officials to need increased technical support and resources (Washington State Department of Natural Resources 2020).  

This project will connect forest producers with the results of research on seedling release and young-stand thinning that our organization is about to complete (OW19-350), in which we tracked the costs and benefits of different approaches to those two techniques for the re-establishment and restoration of young forests. It will also disseminate to the grassroots the technical expertise we brought together in our 2016-2019 project, “Climate Adaptation Training for Foresters” (EW16-021), and draw on those findings to help wood producers make their slightly older (20- to 60-year-old) forests more resilient to climate change.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Forestry field tour #1 - May 2023

Introduce forest owners and managers to ecologically-based commercial timber thinning techniques.


During this afternoon field tour, participants will tour a recent commercial timber thinning project that utilized ecologically-based harvest strategies. Participants will learn about: tree selection, appropriate logging equipment, fire risk reduction, climate adaptation, carbon sequestration, managing a timber sale, soil conservation, wildlife habitat enhancement, and more.

Outcomes and impacts:

This educational event will provide forest owners and managers the information they need to make better decisions about harvesting timber from their forests. With the information provided during this tour, forest owners and managers will have a better understanding of harvesting alternatives to clearcutting, as well as how to manage their forests for resilience to climate change and to improve timber production, carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat, and other ecosystem services.

Forestry Field Tour #2 - July 2023

During this afternoon field tour participants will be introduced to various strategies for managing young stands to improve growth, timber quality, and climate resilience.


This afternoon field tour will take participants through a young forest that is being managed for multiple benefits, including: long-term sustainable timber production, improved wildife habitat, carbon sequestration, water quality, aesthetics, biodiversity, and more. The tour will introduce a variety of concepts related to young stand managemennt, including: seedling release, control of invasive species, pre-commercial thinning, and commercial thinning.

Outcomes and impacts:

This field tour will equip participants with the information and knowledge they need to manage young forests for climate resilience, timber production, and a wide range of ecosystem services. With the information they received, participants will be enabled to change their management practices to better protect their resources for both economic production and conservation. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.