News

WSU closes the gates to demo forest

By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

The gates of the Washington State University Demonstration Forest closed May 16 and apparently will never open again.

At a Bonney Lake City Council workshop, Mel Taylor, executive director of real estate from WSU, told stunned council members, “Because of the extent of the disease in the trees, the university will not return to the forest programmatically and we will not be replanting trees.”

Taylor informed the council, when questioned, that the land is closed to public use and technically always has been.

Weyerhaeuser deeded the forest to WSU in 1941 for educational purposes. The university decided to give the forest back in 2004, although the legal transfer of the deed is not complete.

Residents have used the land unofficially for many years, but since a Feb.17 windstorm signs have been posted closing the land and warning about the danger of leaning trees.

Ken Russell, a tree pathologist from Olympia, was hired by WSU to assess the damage to the forest from the storm and the root rot problem.

Russell told the council there is significant laminated root rot in the Douglas firs and western hemlocks. He described the fungus disease as a common occurrence in Douglas fir forests causing the trees to blow down in windstorms. Once trees are infected with the disease there is no way to save them, he said.

“The forest right now is truly dangerous,” Russell said. “But it can be a very fine forest after harvesting.”

According to Russell, about 950 trees need to be cut down and about 250 trees have blown down and are in need of removal.

Russell said about 7 percent of the 15,000 trees in the forest are infected.

“The storm brought everything out so we could see what was happening to the forest,” Russell said. “But this is a beautiful forest. It's a jewel.”

Despite Russell's comments, the council was left wondering if the city's jewel was about to disappear.

Taylor told the council WSU will keep the deed on the forest until the city and Quadrant, a property development subsidiary of the Weyerhaeuser Company, come to an agreement on plans for the nearly 150-acre forest south of state Route 410 behind Albertsons.

“I was surprised,” Councilman Mark Hamilton said. “I was a bit disappointed with his (Taylor's) attitude. It didn't do his side much good. If they don't care about the city, why should the city care about them?”

Wally Costello, senior vice president of Quadrant, said WSU and Quadrant made an agreement allowing WSU to hold the deed on the forest while going through the approval process with the city.

Costello denied the deed agreement had to do with Weyerhaeuser paying taxes on the land.

“It reflects the goals of WSU and Weyerhaeuser for a sale of the property,' Costello said.

“I'm sure this is not what Mr. Weyerhaeuser intended when he gave this land to WSU,” Mayor Neil Johnson said.

Costello said a new proposal for development of the land will be presented to the council at an upcoming workshop.

According to Taylor, about 40 to 60 acres of forest are left in the plan.

The agreement between WSU and Weyerhaeuser involves developing the land and splitting the profits.

Taylor said the 4-H challenge program will be moved to another location in Pierce County.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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