A new report released by Seattle Urban Nature finds that conifer forests are a vanishing resource in the Puget Sound region. Conifer trees are not regenerating in sufficient numbers to perpetuate healthy forests into the future. Instead, these forests are becoming dominated by English holly, sweet cherry, English ivy and other invasive species that are suppressing the growth of native plants. With less than 300 acres of conifer forests remaining on the 8000 acres of public lands within the City of Seattle, these forests urgently need our care and protection.
Seattle Urban Nature, a science focused non-profit organization dedicated to healthy urban forests, released this new report on the “State of Seattle’s Conifer Forests” as part of SUN’s on-going Seattle Citywide Habitat Assessment (CHA). This report provides a comprehensive independent analysis of the existing condition of conifer forested habitat in Seattle’s parks and open spaces, and can be applicable to other cities in Puget Sound region.
Less than 200 years ago, majestic conifer forests dominated the landscape of the Puget Sound region. As our region has grown in the past 100 years, Seattle’s forests have declined due to impacts from activities such as logging and urbanization. Conifer trees can live for more than a thousand years and are iconic symbols of the Pacific Northwest. Conifer forests provide people with important ecosystem services year-round. They improve our water and air quality, stabilize soils, slow and absorb storm-water and rain water, sequester large amounts of carbon, and provide beautiful places for urban residents to enjoy. They also provide vital habitat for native wildlife and birds.
According to Mark Mead, Senior Urban Forester with Seattle Parks, “The remaining coniferous forests of Seattle are under threat from invasive species and lack of direct action over the past 100 years. We (parks) appreciate SUN’s efforts to research this problem and provide more direct, applicable science to this effort. Through the Green Seattle Partnership (GSP), the City of Seattle is partnering with citizens and major non-profit organizations to take on the challenge of restoring over 2500 acres of forested areas to near native-like conditions in Seattle’s park lands. The GSP is focusing on the re-establishment of the native coniferous forests of the city.”
Unless we begin to actively manage these forests to reduce the impact of habitat loss, invasive species and other urban pressures, we stand to lose an incredibly valuable cultural and ecological resource. Seattle’s remaining conifer forests are in decline and places like Lincoln Park, Seward Park and Schmitz Park will no longer be the treasures that they are today. It’s up to the community at large to reverse these trends, and efforts like the GSP are helping. This information will help city managers, forest stewards and the general public to better understand our urban forests and support a sustained effort to restore and preserve these locally rare habitats.
Background and Methodology
In 2005, SUN launched a citywide forest monitoring program known as the Citywide Habitat Assessment (CHA) to monitor declines or improvements in the state of Seattle urban forests. This assessment builds on data collected during SUN’s 1999-2000 Seattle Public Lands Habitat Survey, which provided vegetation information for 8,000 acres of public lands throughout Seattle. Two previous reports from this effort have been published: Conifer/Deciduous Mixed Forests in Seattle, and The State of Seattle’s Madrone Forests, which are available on our website. Three additional habitat types, riparian, wetland and deciduous forests, still remain to be surveyed.
During 2008, SUN staff established 16 permanent monitoring plots in conifer forests throughout Seattle. These 1/10th acre plots were randomly chosen from all conifer forests on public lands identified during SUN’s 1999-2000 Seattle Public Lands Habitat Survey. Information gathered on the permanent plots included the species, diameter, height and density for all trees, including all non-native, invasive, tree-like shrubs such as English holly (Ilex aquifolium) and cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus). In addition, percent cover data for shrubs, vines and herbaceous species were recorded. Collected data were analyzed to gain an understanding of forest structure and composition as well as to identify threats to the health of these urban forests.
Funding for this project came from the Washington Department of Natural Resources Community Forestry Grant, the Bullitt Foundation, and individual donors.
Note: The above is copied from a press release by Sharon London of Seattle Urban Nature and is posted with their permission here to help publicize their efforts. I saw no reason to try to rewrite what they put together so well. They are doing a tremendous service to Seattle by making this information available to the public. Their efforts deserve our attention and support. Steve Zemke