And more than bragging rights, the outcome someday could help flagging timber industries in both countries.
Forestry students from the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia arrived in Darrington on Friday to participate in the 2012 Silviculture Challenge.
Silviculture is the art of cultivating forests. While competing to see who can prove their silviculture plans are best, these students seem to universally share the intent to manage Northwest forests for multiple uses to benefit the economy, the environment and society.
"Driving into Darrington was a revelation," said UW student John Simeone, 28. "It made me realize how changes in the logging industry have affected little timber towns such as this one. The societal aspect is an important one. People's livelihoods are at stake. As students, we want to strike a balance between sustainable economies and conservation needs."
On Friday afternoon, the two five-member student teams ventured across the North Fork Stillaguamish River and up Forest Road 18 northwest of Darrington to begin the competition. On a clear day, the views of Whitehorse Mountain from Road 18 are spectacular. Instead of sunshine, however, the students got rain and snow.
At 3,000 feet up, they and a few of their professors piled out of vans, donned hard hats and plodded through four feet of snow to assess a stand of hemlock and Douglas fir on acreage that had been clear cut and replanted in 1955.
It is an area of the national forest where the federal standards, guidelines and restrictions of the Northwest Forest Plan can be challenged and tested, and where management experiments can take place.
The Darrington District once produced a lot of trees for lumber, but since the adoption of the forest plan in 1994, relatively little timber has been harvested in the national forest.
"With the recent loss of lumber mills in Arlington and Snohomish on the minds of foresters, the Silviculture Challenge presents students with a real world discussion of nontraditional approaches to timber harvests and the income they provide," said Darrington resident Paul Wagner of the Society of American Foresters.
To gather basic information for their plans, the students walked into the woods to measure the height, width and age of the trees, the distance between the trees, the volume of timber available and other calculations that measure the health and future of the stand of trees.
It's like a big laboratory for the students, said Phyllis Reed, a Forest Service biologist.
"The information we collect helps us form our management plans," said UW graduate student Andrea Watts, 31. "The challenge question is, how do you want your forest to look in 100 years?"
Today the students plan to present their forest management ideas to a panel of judges, who will score the teams based on their ability to offer their ideas in language the general public can understand and to prove they used the information they gathered in the woods as a basis for their management plans.
One forestry school will go home with a trophy and the bragging rights.
The 2012 Silviculture Challenge is hosted for the first time this year by the Darrington District of the National Forest, the North Puget Sound Chapter of the Society of American Foresters, the Darrington Area Business Association and the Darrington Library, which stayed open extra hours on Friday night so the students could use the Internet.
Darrington District Ranger Peter Forbes said the event for university students benefits the Forest Service, as well.
"It's good to have the connections with expert professors and with innovative students," Forbes said. "And the contest brings people to Darrington."
Justin Lenze, 23, a UBC student from Ontario, said the Silviculture Challenge was worth the hassle to get a passport to cross the border.
"It's a practical and fun exercise," Lenze said. "I am glad I made the trip to Darrington."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hear their plans
Presentations and judging in the 2012 Silviculture Challenge between the forestry schools of the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia are scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. today in the conference room of the Darrington District Ranger Station on Highway 530. The public is invited to hear how university students would manage a 57-year-old stand of trees in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
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