2006, mid-December. A record-breaking wind storm hits the Pacific Northwest. Sustained winds in the Seattle area of 40 to 50 mph, with peak gusts recorded near 100 mph on the coast and as high as 70 mph in the interior. Nearly 1 million households lost power, most remained without power for at least four days and some did not have power back for more than a week. This is about as close to a hurricane as it gets around here, and the trees don't like it one bit.
At our property near Carnation, WA, numerous trees were lost. A quick, but reasonably-accurate, estimate was made based on a few sampled inventories around the property. In all three tenth-acre plots, eight or nine trees were lost, suggesting an average loss of about 80 to 90 trees per acre (TPA) across the property. In the sections harvested in 2005, tree density was left after harvest at between 140 TPA in the most-heavily thinned quadrant, up to 220 TPA in the least-heavily thinned quadrant. The two other quadrants were thinned to 170 TPA (all density figures are approximate, verified by one cruise but not double-checked). The inventoried plots taken after the wind storm included two within the 170 TPA zone and one within the 140 TPA zone.
In other words, average loss across the property is approximately between 45% and 65% of the total inventory, within the sampled areas. Assuming the same 80-90 TPA loss exists in the 220 TPA zone, losses in that area could be as low as 35%. These figures are based on the first management area within the forest, of three. The property is extremely difficult to traverse at the moment, due to all of the downed trees, and I was unable to reach either of the other two management areas. They had not been thinned, and one of the two areas includes a large stand of alders that was already decimated in an ice storm a few years ago.
As is the case in almost every situation, there is bad news and good news. The bad news, beside the obvious, is that the forest needs to be cleaned up. This much wood on the ground presents a fire, disease, and pest hazard to the remaining live trees. It would be preferable to salvage the wood for sale to lumber mills, but doing so isn't as simple as it sounds. On the one hand, the trees can't sit for too long before they are no longer marketable (maybe a month or two? I'm not actually sure). On the other hand, the ground is so wet right now that harvesting the downed wood could unacceptably compact the forest soil. One solution might be to use a cable system to harvest, but that will likely be more expensive to do, even as the timber prices might be depressed (assuming a large enough number of forest owners put their salvaged wood on the market at the same time).
The good news is that in spite of the personal difficulties and disappointment that this represents, this may wind up being a net positive benefit for the forest. There are still a considerable number of trees left, and it's likely that most of the new growth of trees will be something other than the Douglas Fir that is practically the only species represented currently. The improvement in species diversity should improve the overall health of the forest. Also, assuming that this sort of wind storm doesn't become a regular occurrence, the remaining trees have less competition and so may wind up being able to grow more robustly, improving the health of individual trees. Finally, you'll note in the pictures below that in spite of the virtual complete coverage of the forest floor with downed trees, not one single tree hit our gate. It's not a great gate, but it's ours, paid for and still standing after all of this drama.
One note on the photos: each panorama is a series of individual photos "stitched" together digitally. This results in minor artifacts, the most notable being that some horizontal lines (e.g. a downed tree) may appear bent, even though in reality the object is basically straight. Rest assured, the trees are not rubber tree plants. :)
Approximately 110 degree field-of-view, from entrance to property Approximately 150 degree field-of-view, from about a third in on the driveway 360 degree field-of-view, from the inventory plot taken in the NE harvest area
Bigger (2115x450, 646KB) or Biggest (4230x900, 2.27MB)
Bigger (2591x450, 759KB) or Biggest (5181x900, 2.01MB)
Bigger (4473x450, 987KB) or Biggest (8945x900, 4.65MB)
Approximately 150 degree field-of-view, from about a third in on the driveway 360 degree field-of-view, from the inventory plot taken in the NE harvest area
360 degree field-of-view, from the inventory plot taken in the NE harvest area