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Monday, September 28, 2020

Tree farm creates path for salmon

Nourse Family Tree Farm awarded the 2019 Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year award

Volunteers old and young planting trees at the planting event on April 1, 2017. // Photo courtesy of Dave New

By Hailee Wickersham

The story was updated to reflect details about Dave and Dar New, Dar New’s grandfather’s creek channeling and the New family’s meeting frequency with the Snohomish Conservation District, previously stated to be Whatcom.

The Nourse Family Tree Farm in Arlington, owned by Western alumni Dave and Dar New, was awarded the 2019 Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year by the American Tree Farm System. The family was recognized for their efforts toward conservation of their creek and in harvesting their land’s timber. 

The farm has been in Dar New’s family for over 75 years. After an uncle passed away, the family farm was put up for sale. Fortunately, the News were able to purchase the farm and prevent it from being developed, creating the Nourse Family Tree Farm.

Every Thanksgiving, the New family walks down to the lower fields of their property. In 2012, the family began their annual trek to the field when they noticed something shiny flopping around in the grass. 

Dar New was aware that in the 1950s her grandfather, Leroy Nourse, had channelized the creek around the field so he could plant hay to harvest and pasture his cattle. 

“The stream eventually was splayed out onto the lower field and it allowed for an invasive species, canary grass, to grow,” Dave New said. “The salmon were getting lost trying to swim in it.” 

The New family recognized this as a potential problem and contacted the Whatcom Conservation District about how they could help the salmon. 

“We asked what we could fix to our field so that we don’t have salmon dying in the middle of the field when they swim upstream,” Dave New said. 

Before beginning construction to reopen the stream, the New family met with the Snohomish Conservation District frequently for around three years to get permits and funding in place, Dave New said. 

Once everything was finalized, Dave New, who has a background in civil engineering, designed the stream. 

Today, coho salmon are able to navigate the route through the upper and lower fields of the family’s tree farm. 

The 30-acre area the creek runs through is leased to the Washington State Department of Agriculture. 

“We don’t harvest timber in that area to protect it,” Dave New said. “In return, the department provides back, and it covers the taxes on the property. It’s great for us, them, and the land.” 

The Nourse Family Tree Farm practices active management when harvesting their timber, as opposed to allowing their forest to overgrow. 

Bob Obedzinski, a certified forester and chairman of the Washington Tree Farm Program, alongside Dave New, said when you have a smaller group of people practicing active management, such as a family, they are able to monitor it much more closely and timely than a larger land base like federal forests.

According to Washington Public Lands Inventory, over 72% of the land in Whatcom County is federally owned and left untouched, while just 156,000 acres are privately owned timberland properties. 

Tom Westergreen has been a forester in Western Washington for the majority of his life. Westergreen was raised on his grandfather’s property, who originally acquired 160 acres from his use of the Homestead Act in 1888. 

According to the Library of Congress, the Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. The Act allowed Western settlers to pay a small fee to acquire 160 acres of land and after five years of residency, settlers received ownership.

“We see Sierra Pacific, the big sawmill in Burlington, but things have changed,” Westergreen said. “We mainly see industrial landowners down in the more rural areas of the foothills of Western Washington.” 

When comparing what active management practiced on a family tree farm looks like to industrial timberlands, the difference is the scale and how often harvesting takes place, Westergreen said.

When the Nourse Family Tree Farm first began harvesting timber, they noticed they had an older second-generation of alder trees growing, which would soon fall. 

“If we allowed the trees to fall, we would make the timber worthless and eventually create an invasive blackberry jungle,” Dave New said. “By managing and using timber production, we were able to keep it as a forest and sequester more carbon than an unmanaged forest.”

According to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, when timber is cultivated and made into its final form, the carbon that was originally in the tree stays. Carbon is only released back into the atmosphere if the wood is burned or decays. 

When a tree farm produces wood, it also produces clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat and more. It’s a positive story but it doesn’t always get told that way, Westergreen said.

“There are about 200,000 small-forest landowners and every single one of those has a different goal,” Westergreen said. “So, you know, you might love yours, but your neighbor doesn’t. The mosaic over the landscape is still very diverse but it provides good when you talk to everyone.”

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