On Monday, I headed over to Quilcene for ranger Dean Yoshina’s ‘State of Olympic National Forest’ talk at a North Hood Canal Chamber of Commerce meeting.
The big news from Yoshina, who manages Olympic’s Hood Canal Ranger District Office, was that the U.S. Forest Service is considering the closure of many of Olympic’s logging roads.
Olympic has nearly 2,500 miles of road but current funding levels can support the maintenance of just 600 to 800 miles.
Olympic will start a public process this summer to determine which roads to close. It’s possible that as much as a two-thirds of the roads – some 1,600 miles – will be closed in the coming years.
For more on that, read my story here.
Yoshina’s talk covered several other topics, which I’ll summarize below.
Olympic National Forest was founded in 1905, about 30 years before Olympic National Park was carved out of it.
It’s 635,000 acres neighbor 12 tribes and vast stretches of private and state-owned timberlands.
“It’s one of the best places in the world to grow really big trees,” Yoshina said.
That’s why all those roads were built. Logging peaked in the 1980s when about 400 million board feet of timber was cut annually.
The forest shifted from logging to a “restoration phase” in the 1990s – around the time the spotted owl and marbled murrelet were listed as endangered species.
“Now we manage for the spotted owl,” Yoshina said.
Yoshina didn’t say anything definitive when chamber members asked him whether Dosewallips Road will be fixed. A large chunk of the road was eaten away when the Dosewallips River’s path shifted several winters ago. The road cut off vehicle access to two popular campgrounds.
Business owners in Brinnon and other parts of west Hood Canal say the closure hurt their bottom lines.
“That forest service campground was absolutely critical this area,” said a Brinnon bed & breakfast owner.
In response, Yoshina reiterated that Olympic is in an “unfortunate situation” where it can’t keep up with basic road maintenance, let alone tackle big reconstruction projects.
Yoshina said recreation fees are helping but revenues are nowhere near the years of aggressive logging.
He said camping fees do little more than pay for campground water and waste systems.
Yoshina said past fire control efforts didn’t recognize that fire can be part of a forest’s natural process. Preventing small fires has left a lot of fuel that can make fires today “more catastrophic and of longer durations.” He noted that climate change may also be playing a role in making Olympic’s forests more fire-prone.
He stressed that, despite Olympic’s reputation for wetness, serious wildfires have occurred in recent years and are likely this summer.
He said the forest has seen no serious infestation from the pine beetle – a major cause of increased forest fire danger in other parts of the country.
Yoshina was asked by another reporter about the recent accident at Lena Lake in which a Silverdale boy scout was killed by a log rolled by his fellow scouts.
While the accident happened in Olympic, the emergency response fell to county authorities.
When asked what the forest service can do to prevent similar situations, Yoshina wasn’t sure .
“Trees are always falling out there…” he said.
Yoshina said the east side of Olympic draws a different type of visitor than the more remote west side. East side visitors tend to be older, stay for shorter periods and spend more money.
“There are a lot of retiring Baby Boomers moving or visiting here,” he said. They usually seek out scenic drives, wildlife watching opportunities and short hikes, he said.
Photo: Dosewallips River, Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun