Washington’s family-owned forests provide scenic beauty, clean water, wildlife habitat, and natural resources that support schools, hospitals, roads, and libraries across the state.

But the state’s 5 million acres of family forests are at risk from fire and drought, threatening communities, the economy, and our environment.

This fall, Washington State University Extension Foresters are partnering with state and federal agencies to help owners safeguard their forests. Two new projects, funded by more than $600,000 in national and state grants, are expanding stewardship education and helping landowners create and use master plans for healthy forests.

Important forests under threat

Forests have long been an important part of the Northwest economy, providing more than 106,000 jobs, $5.2 billion in annual family wages, and $214 million in taxes that support local communities. Half of Washington state is forested, and a quarter of that land is in the hands of more than 200,000 forest-owning families.

WSU Extension plays an important role in helping families steward their land.

“Through education, we help families become experts at protecting their forests,” said Extension Forester Andy Perleberg.

Stewardship education is more important than ever. Forests in Northeast Washington are at great risk of catastrophic wildfires due to over-dense stands, drought, and intense competition that leave trees vulnerable to tree-killing insects like bark beetles, or unescapable funguses that rot tree roots.

Across the state in southwest Washington, prolonged summer heat and erratic precipitation have impaired forest health, causing widespread tree death and raising concerns for vital resources like timber and salmon.

Master plan for stewardship

Extension Forester Andy Perleberg leads an in-forest workshop.
Extension Forester Andy Perleberg leads an in-forest workshop. Perleberg and other WSU Extension experts are helping Washington forest owners safeguard their lands through education.

To help, Perleberg has launched a new project in northeast Washington’s Colville and Little Spokane River watershed, aimed at significantly increasing the number of families who are managing their forests for stewardship. To Perleberg, stewardship means forests remain productive, healthy, safe, and resilient.

Funded by a $240,000 grant from the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the USDA Forest Service Landscape Scale Restoration Grant Program, Perleberg will enlist 6,000 landowners to develop master forest stewardship plans.

Addressing national standards, these plans will guide landowners in making decisions that reduce forest risks like wildfire. Owners who create these plans gain eligibility for property tax savings, funding for best management practices, and certification that increases the value of their timber.

Working closely with the Department of Natural Resources, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Stevens and Spokane Conservation Districts and other public and private cooperators, WSU Extension will engage landowners in coached stewardship planning courses, field days, winter schools, hands-on demonstrations, and forest health and wildfire hazard mitigation workshops, to help put master plans into action.

“Families understand the need for sound management to protect what they love,” Perleberg said. “By learning about and actively managing the forest, they ensure that valuable natural resources and the lifestyle they care about will be there for future generations.”

Forestry expert Patrick Shults leads an outdoor workshop.
Extension Forestry expert Patrick Shults will help lead planning workshops in southwest Washington.
A similar effort is under way in southwest Washington, where Perleberg and Patrick Shults, WSU’s Chehalis-based Southwest Washington Extension Forester, are using a five-year, $350,000 grant from DNR to share education and technical assistance with landowners.

Through the Resource Conservation Partnership Program, which includes partners from southwest Washington conservation districts and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Extension experts will help families develop stewardship plans that improve forest fish and wildlife habitat, protect water quality, and enhance forest health.

The two grants also help fill needed forestry education positions in southwest and northeast Washington.

“Projects like these send an important message to landowners: they’re not in it alone,” Shults said. “Managing a forest is a complex task, and no one should expect every landowner to have a degree in forestry. Our efforts provide landowners with educational, technical, and financial support to be good stewards and continue to enjoy their forests in the process.”