The first week of August, during a working staff retreat, many of us here at Ecotrust had the opportunity to travel to the Olympic Peninsula and experience some of our work on the ground.
During our first evening at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, we were honored with a welcome and salmon dinner prepared by Jamestown S’Klallam elder Elaine Grinnell and her family. The Jamestown S’Klallam tribe has called the Olympic Peninsula home for more than 10,000 years, and we were so grateful to be welcomed to their home through their sacred traditions of salmon and oral history.
We spent our first full day in Washington trekking through EFM’s Chimacum Ridge property, while hearing from our partners at Jefferson Land Trust and Pacific Forest Management (PFM). We visited a recently-thinned timber stand, while Jeff McGinley from PFM described our efforts to restore the surrounding forest to healthy, natural stands through ecological forest management practices. The thinning operation allows more room for trees to grow, provides animals with space to travel, and helps control disease like root rot, which can spread more easily in overcrowded forests. Thinning also provides timber for commercial use, while increasing plant diversity and overall stand resilience.
“I’m still learning about the relationship between people and the natural systems we depend on here in this amazing region. To have Elaine — whose people have lived in that place for 10,000 years — tell stories about how the Jamestown S’Klallam consider those issues was incredibly important and grounding.”
— Jeremy Barnicle, Executive Director
We even had the opportunity to witness commercial thinning in action, thanks to the skills of logger Ryan Clark from Bekkevar Logging and his high-tech maneuverings of the Ponsse harvester, which targets and removes trees with minimal impact to the surrounding forest. The harvester logs single trees, strips them of their branches, then proceeds forward on a pile of slash, which cushions its impact and minimizes soil compaction.
“Standing in a forest owned by EFM helped me ‘get it.’ The trees were evenly spaced, but it still felt like a forest. There were sticks under our feet, underbrush around our ankles, scat on the trail, and birds above us. It smelled like a forest. Trees had been harvested there, and yet it felt so drastically different from the clear-cut field overgrown with weeds across the road.”
— Allison Brinkhorst, Development Associate
During a lunch break, Sarah Spaeth and Erik Kingfisher from Jefferson Land Trust filled us in on their work to preserve open space and working lands across the Peninsula. EFM is serving as interim landholder of the Chimacum Ridge. A bridge ownership agreement provides the opportunity for Jefferson Land Trust to arrange the public and philanthropic financing required to acquire the property from EFM in phases over a seven-year period. EFM and Jefferson Land Trust are working together on Chimacum Ridge to establish a model of forestry that generates high-quality timber for local and regional uses, creates jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for local residents, provides recreation and scenic beauty, and enhances habitat for fish and wildlife.
“In my work, it can seem like trees are just records in a data table and forests a list of descriptors. Spending the day at Chimacum Ridge gave me context for my work that I didn’t know I needed. I saw what a residual basal area of 110 felt like. I crunched through a forest floor of slash. I saw a feller buncher reach into a dense forest stand and process a saw log in seconds. I’ll soon be back at my desk, but I don’t doubt my thoughts will often return to Chimacum.”
— Sara Loreno, Natural Resources Data Scientist
After lunch, we were off to Finnriver Farm and Cidery, just down the road from Chimacum Ridge. Finnriver holds permanent land conservation easements across the property that link the farm to the adjacent forest and watershed, permanently protecting it from development. Co-founder Crystie Kisler gave us a walking tour of the farm’s layout and history, sharing all the bumps along the winding road that delivered her and her partner Keith to where they are today. Ecotrust became part of Finnriver’s story by assisting the small farm in securing a USDA value-added producer grant, in order to help them grow their business in a way that supports stewardship of lands and waters alongside thriving local economies.
“At Finnriver, we witnessed the potential a capital grant can have on a working farm. It was empowering to experience firsthand how Ecotrust’s expertise in navigating the federal grant process can support Finnriver in spawning a robust, regional food economy. The potential we have in expanding markets and increasing financial returns in rural communities left me feeling inspired.”
— Aaron Vargas, Food and Farms Coordinator
The staff trip was a refreshing reminder that, while the time and work we put in may more often than not be at our desks, the connections and results out in the world are ultimately what we’re building together.