From the WFAN Inbox: Choices after Mt. St. Helens eruption show right and wrong ways to maintain forest health

Our Working Forest Action Network inbox is a magnet for truly great insights from our readers, many of whom have direct experience with what works and what doesn’t for maintaining healthy forests.

The recent anniversary of the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption inspired one WFAN reader, part of a multi-generational tree farming family here in Washington state, to send us his view on how choices by different forest managers in the wake of the devastation have yielded different results.

Dear Working Forest Staff,

To highlight the difference between managed (man working with nature) timberland versus non-managed (nature alone), one needs only to look at the aftermath of Mt St. Helen’s eruption.

Eleven years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the eruption, there was a short televised news segment delineating the difference between the Weyerhaeuser-managed portion of the eruption site versus the government’s unmanaged portion.

Suffice to say, the difference was as stark as night and day. Weyco had conducted an emergency salvage harvest immediately post-eruption to save as much timber value as possible. They then did a massive replanting of their property — 25 years later, they were doing an extensive commercial thinning on this verdant, biodiverse landscape. Their watershed was boasting deer, elk and bear. The miles of treed canopy covered a green understory of tremendous wildlife habitat value as well as recreation opportunities.

Contrast this to the park’s side of the eruption zone which was neither salvage logged nor replanted — 25 years post-eruption very few plants had yet started to colonize the bare landscape; it still resembled more a lunar surface than a rejuvenating forest.

In effect, when the government takes land out of the actively managed timber system (through government taking via riparian zones, park creations, endangered species act, etc.) there is a cost to the environment, economy, and the justice system.

By removing a sustainable, renewable resource from the Evergreen State’s timber industry, we are killing the proverbial goose that laid the golden egg. 

Bob Stewart
Father to the 4th generation of Stewart Tree farmers