Tulalips to thin fir on 130 acres

TULALIP — Thousands of Douglas firs and other trees will be chopped down and dragged out of forested lands on the Tulalip Indian Reservation before the end of the year.

About 130 acres in the northwest corner of the tribes’ 9,000-acre forest will be thinned, a process that removes the area’s most slender trees to allow more growing space for timber destined for the sawmill.

Leaders of the Tulalip Tribes believe the process will coax the forest to greater health and allow tribal members to preserve cultural traditions, tribal spokeswoman Mytyl Hernandez said.

“We do this to sustain our culture,” she said. “We use the forest for so many things, and if it were to die off, it would affect us in a negative way.”

Coast Salish American Indians have a long history of stripping cedar bark to weave hats, baskets and clothing. Tree trunks are fashioned into canoes, rattles and other traditional pieces.

Tribal leaders expect TimberTec, the Bellingham-based logging company hired for the job, to remove about 4,600 tons of timber. The tribe will then sell as many as 40 percent of the timber to paper mills. The larger logs, those with trunks measuring 5 inches in diameter or more, will likely go to sawmills, TimberTec President Christopher Secrist said.

The tribe won’t make much money from the sale of the trees, Hernandez said. She did not share the exact dollar amount, but said the project is designed to promote the growth of the trees that will remain, not to make money from the sale of young timber.

The last time the tribes’ forestry department thinned trees was in 1999, on 17 acres, Hernandez said.

Terry Grinaker, forest manager for the Tulalip Tribes since 1980, is about to leave his job, Hernandez said.

Grinaker developed the tribes’ forestry plan, which includes regular thinning projects, Hernandez said. The tribal government has hired TimberTec for that work in the past.

The forest thinning project began this month and will continue through November. Advocates of the practice say it improves the quality of timber destined for sawmills, and eases the chance of wildfire. Critics, including The Sierra Club, say forest thinning benefits the logging industry at the expense of natural growth and native wildlife habitat.

Forest managers often plant more trees than the forest ground can sustain, so the trees compete for sunlight and grow taller, Secrist said. Limbs that grow where the sun can’t reach them die and fall off, so the remaining wood is smooth and without knots.

“In thinning, we’re almost more concerned about what to leave behind rather than what we take out,” Secrist said.

The trees left behind are harvested when they reach maturity, which can be anywhere from 22 to 65 years, Secrist said.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or kkapralos@heraldnet.com.

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