Community Forests: A Growing Movement

Forest Stories

Members of the Coalition gather on the Olympic Peninsula to see community forestry and collaboration at work

Imagine local wood production as powerful for our community as the local food movement is. You’ve heard of “slow food.” Now there’s a buzz about “slow wood,” because forests are crucial to community wellness, economy, culture, and landscape. And we have new opportunities to manage them to provide maximum benefits for community health.

Northwest Community Forest Coalition

The Northwest Community Forest Coalition is a group focused on supporting the creation and management of community forests in the Pacific Northwest. Jefferson Land Trust and Sustainable Northwest hosted the 2017 Northwest Community Forest Coalition Field Tour in Chimacum this August, bringing together groups from throughout the Northwest who are working toward a new model of sustainable forest management. This model envisions forest management at a local level, where communities have control over how the land around them is managed.

Creating a community forest begins with a community willing to work together on a holistic long-term vision to support and nurture a healthy shared future, and find balance among occasionally competing needs and benefits in the process. Chimacum is just such a place, where intentional collaboration is creating a place for farms, fish, forests and people can thrive in harmony.

During the two-day field tour, community partners – such as the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, Jefferson County, the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, Finnriver Farm, the Washington Environmental Council, and Blue Zones – shared their stories of collaboration in the integrated community conservation work in the Chimacum Creek watershed.

The 2017 Field Tour took participants from the creek’s estuary, through Chimacum’s rich agricultural valleys, and to the upland forests where the creeks headwaters originate, highlighting along the way the community partnerships that created a strong, versatile, and deeply relevant local conservation movement that integrates ecological wholeness and community health.

Fish, Farms & Forests

“Chimacum is the nexus of so much amazing conservation work in our community,” said Sarah Spaeth, Jefferson Land Trust Director of Conservation and Strategic Partnerships. In its early days, our work had a primary focus on protecting salmon habitat, particularly at the mouth and lower reaches of Chimacum creek after a culvert had blown out and wiped out the summer chum run there. An enormous community effort brought the chum back, and forged partnerships that have been integral to protecting salmon habitat in multiple watersheds on the Olympic Peninsula.

“The fate of salmon doesn’t rest in the lowest reaches of the creeks though,” Sarah noted. “The health of salmon follows the water. If we follow Chimacum Creek upstream we come to Chimacum’s rich agricultural valleys. These farm fields represent the next evolutionary step of conservation in the Chimacum watershed. Seeing that generational turnover and a changing agricultural economy was putting local farms at risk, we formed community partnerships focused on preserving and supporting working lands. Since then we have seen a local food and farm revolution in Chimacum, and the creation of an agricultural movement that honors farms and fish alike.

“Jefferson Land Trust has worked with farmers to protect over 800 acres of farmland for agriculture and salmon habitat in the Chimacum watershed alone. It’s so exciting– what this has meant for this community. This is not a story about land being locked up and set aside; it’s the story of land and a way of life being revived and revitalized. Our farmers care about the salmon, and see how farming and fish can both thrive. They get it – it’s all connected. And it doesn’t stop there – this story, and these connections, continue with the path of the water.”

Chimacum Creek’s headwaters originate in the working forests that rise above the farm valleys. These working forests are an important part of local heritage, economy, way of life and community character–and working forests are at risk much as local farms once were. This represents the next step in the evolution of conservation in this community, and the next stop for participants of the Coalition field tour.

Chimacum Ridge

On Chimacum Ridge, an 850-acre working forest property that rises over this landscape of protected farms and salmon habitat, Jefferson Land Trust is now working with a group of partners, including Ecotrust Forest Management and Washington Environmental Council, to establish a community forest.

As a community forest, we envision managing the land for multiple community benefits. Selective ecological timber harvest would bring in revenue, protect water quality, wildlife habitat and the environment while letting a healthy, mature forest continue to grow. They envision this land providing business opportunities, outdoor classrooms for local school groups, and recreational access and trail connectivity to the community below.

“I know for some folks, cutting trees and conservation can seem like odd bedfellows,” Sarah said. “But, just like farming and salmon, they don’t have to be. We’re talking about forest management that benefits the forest in the long run, making it healthier, more diverse, and more productive. This timber management could be a foothold for local wood products as powerful to our community as local food has become.”

The location of Chimacum Ridge, within the context of the area’s greater conservation narrative, and by its incredible location in a vibrant rural center at an important regional crossroads, makes it a perfect candidate for a community forest. Demonstrating sustainable forest management practices in such a prominent and visible spot could make this place be a powerful ambassador for managing forests in a different way, honoring all the benefits they provide, and generating income that can support care of the land and give back to the community.

This post was originally published by Jefferson Land Trust.