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Discovery of Rare Plant Communities in the Tahuya Headwaters Legacy Forest

Updated: Feb 12

The Tahuya Headwaters Legacy Forest Complex, located in the headwaters at the Tahuya River in Green Mountain State Forest, hosts the largest network of unprotected legacy forests remaining in Kitsap County. The upcoming “Breaking Bud" and “Firvana” timber sale would further fragment these legacy forests, and degrade the salmon bearing streams that originate from them, including Tin Mine and Gold Creeks, which currently have the lowest summer stream temperatures in the entire river system. 


Looking over Gold Creek toward Green Mountain, the forest in the bottom of the image is part of the "Firvana" timber sale and the forests on the slopes of Green Mountain are part of the "Tree Louises" timber sale.

The legacy forests of the Tahuya Headwaters originated between the 1920s and 1940s making them some of the oldest forests on the Kitsap Peninsula. These legacy forests are not only beloved sites for hikers, but their wetlands are home to a thriving population of beaver.  These forests, some of which are over 1700 feet in elevation, provide a rare ecological niche for species that are indigenous to the Kitsap Peninsula. These higher-elevation forests also provide a cool summer refuge to the species that inhabit them. The forests of Green Mountain are the only place in the Puget lowlands where balds and rocky cliffs occur. These rocky balds can provide important nesting, roosting, and hibernation sites for species like peregrine falcons, cliff swallows, and golden eagles, and are found nowhere else on the Kitsap Peninsula.

 

Planned timber sales, including “Breaking Bud,” “Firvana” and “Trees Louise," would destroy almost all of the remaining legacy forests on Green Mountain over the next three years. Breaking Bud, which was last selectively logged in the 1940s, was originally scheduled to be auctioned in March 2024. Thanks to the efforts of the Kitsap Environmental Coalition, and a letter of opposition sent by the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners to DNR, this sale has been indefinitely delayed. Unfortunately, DNR still seems to be proceeding with site preparation for the Firvana timber sale, which is scheduled for auction in November.


Massive cedar tree in Unit 2 of the "Trees Louise" timber sale.

Both of these timber sales contain an “Element Occurrence" of a globally imperiled (G2) plant community, that consists of a combination of Douglas fir and Western Hemlock trees with Pacific Rhododendron, Evergreen Huckleberry, and Salal in the understory. DNR has obligations under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative to protect these rare plant communities.

 

Our discovery of this globally imperiled plant community in the Breaking Bud timber sale last November spurred DNR’s Natural Heritage Program to conduct a site visit to determine the extent and quality of this community. We received the WNHP's report on Tuesday and we were pleased to learn that DNR agrees that this association is present in both timber sales. Given this, DNR policy indicates that they will need to reconfigure both Breaking Bud and Firvana before taking them to auction. Two of the four units of the Firvana timber sale and Unit 1 of the Breaking Bud timber sale all contain a large amount of this forest type meaning that this discovery will likely save approximately 70 acres of naturally regenerated and legacy forests that were scheduled to be auctioned this year. Interestingly, WNHP's report also found that the entirety of Unit 2 of the Breaking Bud timber sale contained an entirely different rare plant community, meaning that this whole unit will also likely be removed from the timber sale. A third timber sale that we have little information about called “Green FY 22” which is home to a gorgeous section of the popular Beaver Trail was also identified as containing a large amount of this rare forest type.


Douglas fir / Western Hemlock / Pacific Rhododendron / Evergreen Huckleberry / Salal forest in Unit 2 of the "Firvana" Timber Sale.

In total, the DNR identified new element occurrences of rare plant communities across over 257 acres in Green Mountain State Forest, nearly all of these acres are areas that we identified as in need of protection as naturally regenerated and/or structurally complex forests. This fact highlights why genetically distinct, structurally complex, and naturally regenerated forests are so important: because they carry the genetic, botanical, and structural legacies of the old growth ecosystems that preceded them. 

 

We have no ironclad guarantee that DNR will protect these newly discovered element occurrences, however according to DNR’s own policies these forests are supposed to be protected. So far, we are grateful that the DNR has taken this discovery seriously, a discovery that brings much-needed hope to the forests of Green Mountain. 

 

This find, exciting as it is, also brings up an issue. This is the fourth time that our staff have documented these globally imperiled plant communities in DNR timber sales in the South Puget Sound and Olympic regions. DNR’s consistent failure to document these plant communities represents a stunning pattern of negligence. 

 

In the coming months, we will be working with the Kitsap County Commissioners to develop a long-term management proposal for Green Mountain State Forest that will require the protection of about 1,200 acres of these rare naturally regenerated and legacy forests. 


Map of Naturally Regenerated and Legacy Forests in Green Mountain State Forest.

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