State: ‘Quimper Lost Wilderness’ is old growth

Posted 1/8/20

Scientists from the Washington Department of Natural Resources have determined that a 33-acre parcel of forest in the Cape George area is an old-growth forest.

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State: ‘Quimper Lost Wilderness’ is old growth


Scientists from the Washington Department of Natural Resources have determined that a 33-acre parcel of forest in the Cape George area is an old-growth forest.

The forest, which was dubbed the “Quimper Lost Wilderness” by its champion, photographer and author Steve Grace, is a 33-acre parcel owned by DNR as part of timberlands that are harvested to generate funds to benefit public schools and universities.

Upon first discovering large, old trees while bushwacking a running trail to get from his neighborhood on Kruse Street to the Cape George colony, Grace and a group of neighbors started measuring trunk diameters to get an idea of the age of the trees. But when he first reached out to DNR, Straits District Manager Brian Turner said the area was included on a list of forest lands considered for harvest within the next one to five years.

Alerted to the possibility of old growth by Grace and his neighbors, researchers from DNR then set out to do an “Old Forest Assessment,” in which UW Professor and forest scientist Daniel Donato determined the size, age and composition of the forest.

Results from that assessment showed the 33 acres of forest meet the state’s official definition of old growth. DNR has two manuals, written by Robert Van Pelt, PhD, about how to identify an old growth forest, explaining the many variables that determine old growth.

Large trees, a lack of cut stumps, fallen logs and woody debris, snags (dead trees that are still standing), and a layered canopy are all signs of old growth forest.

But there are many variables about the trees themselves, such as the diameter, the crown form, the trees’ vigor and the bark that can help indicate whether it is an older tree.

For a forest stand to be considered “old growth” it must contain trees that are at least 170 years old.

Donato’s forest assessment shows that trees in the Cape George stand have been determined to be 120 to 170 years old.

Because it has been listed as old growth, the parcel will not be harvested.

“This is welcome news, but the work is far from finished,” Grace said. “I want to make sure that the stand and a forested buffer surrounding the old-growth trees are preserved in perpetuity.”

The 33-acre stand of old growth is part of DNR’s Cape George parcel, which totals approximately 230 acres and is located between the communities of Ocean Grove and Cape George just outside of Port Townsend.

There is no harvest plan for that entire parcel, according to Kenny Ocker, a communications manager for DNR.

“I think there is strong community support to turn the entire parcel into a county park,” Grace said.

In a “Forests for the Future” report—an evaluation of East Jefferson County DNR lands by a citizens committee—the Cape George Parcel was identified as having high potential for a community forest due to wildlife habitat and human use values and adjacency to the developed Cape George area. It was recommended for the category “DNR Hold or Community Forest or Trust Land Transfer.” This report was approved by the Jefferson County Commissioners after a public hearing in March of 2011.

Trust Land Transfer is a process through which the county could obtain ownership of the parcels with funding from the state legislature that reimburses DNR’s School Trust. This would keep the parcel in public ownership and it would then be possible to turn it into a community forest.

The process relies on state funding, however, which can be difficult to obtain.

“If any community can figure out how to accomplish this, it is this one,” Grace said. “I’ve led maybe a hundred tours of the Quimper Lost Wilderness at this point. I never grow bored, in part because the forest is endlessly fascinating, but also in large part because members of the Port Townsend community continue to inspire and astound me with their intelligence, their creativity, and their goodwill.”

County Administrator Philip Morley said DNR has expressed interest in exploring options for the county to obtain ownership of not just the 33 acres of old growth, but the entire Cape George parcel, which is 230 acres.

“We are in the process of finding time for DNR and county staff to sit down and begin discussions of what could potentially happen there,” Morley said.

At a presentation before the county commission in July, neighbors and advocates packed the County Commission chambers in support of Grace, who showed photos and explained the importance of preserving the forest.

Having led people on tours of the old growth forest, Grace believes it can be an important tool for education about the natural history of the Quimper Peninsula and for the conservation of a native ecosystem.

“Saving the Quimper Lost Wilderness, perhaps the most pristine stand of old growth rainshadow forest remaining on the Quimper Peninsula, is one of the most exciting conservation initiatives in the history of East Jefferson County,” he said. “The Quimper Lost Wilderness is a living museum, a living classroom, and a living cathedral, and it lies at the heart of a continuous wildlife corridor that stretches between the bluffs of Discovery Bay and Fort Worden, spanning the entire Quimper Peninsula. We have an opportunity to give an invaluable gift to future generations.”