The SMCF will be managed to achieve a variety of ecological, economic, cultural, and community benefits such as watershed health, ecological forestry jobs, fish and wildlife habitat, and recreational and cultural access. Here are some of the benefits the SMCF will bring to our community:
1. Watershed resilience to climate change
One of the primary goals of the community forest initiative is to enhance watershed health and recover the South Fork Nooksack River’s dwindling salmon populations. Climate change is already contributing to less snow and more rain, which means more extreme flooding during winter months and less water in the summer months. Late summer is exactly when farmers, salmon, and communities need water the most, but scientists predict water levels during summer months will only continue to diminish in the decades ahead.
In the past, the watershed supported tens of thousands of fish each year, including the endangered Spring Chinook and Bull Trout. These fish populations, and others, have plummeted due a combination of poor water quality, insufficient water quantity, and habitat degradation.
The Stewart Mountain Community Forest aims to restore the South Fork Nooksack River watershed by adopting an alternative approach to forest management. The SMCF hopes to increase summer streamflows and promote the climate resilience of the South Fork watershed by employing ecological forestry techniques such as:
- Limit harvest on steep slopes, near streams, in forested wetlands, and in headwater areas
- Restrict harvest on old-growth stands
- Selectively harvest over time, to increase stand complexity and biological diversity
The importance of this Community Forest project was recently affirmed by a report developed under the Water Resource Inventory Area 1 (WRIA 1) Regional Water Supply Phase I Planning process, which assessed a wide variety of proposed management actions that would increase stream flows through various means (RWSP Task 3, Water Supply and Management Solutions, 2021). Of the 32 projects considered, the proposal to improve forest management practices on Stewart Mountain was the highest ranked project, having the potential to significantly increase streamflow in the South Fork.
2. Forestry jobs and local control
The private land within the proposed boundaries of the SMCF has changed hands six times in the last 30 years, which has incentivized a “short-term” approach to forestry that entails clearcutting on increasingly short rotations. Today, most of what remains within the proposed boundaries of the community forest is uniform plantations under 30 years of age, which has limited local employment opportunities.
Sustaining living-wage jobs in the community will require innovative management strategies and long-range planning to re-establish a well-distributed age class of harvestable timber over time. By extending rotations and advancing uneven-aged forest management practices, the SMCF aims to provide a more economically sustainable timber base that can revitalize the local timber economy and support local jobs in perpetuity. The SMCF will utilize active management techniques to promote forest health and climate resilience, which require technical skill and knowledge.
3. Recreation and education
Another major benefit of the SMCF will be expanded public access to this special place. Improving recreational opportunities on the mountain is a major priority of the community forest effort. By developing and maintaining trails and improving public access points and amenities, local communities and visitors from elsewhere will be able to enjoy the natural beauty that Stewart Mountain has to offer. The SMCF will provide a wealth of opportunities for people of all ages to discover, study, and explore the unique habitats, and be a part of sustaining a healthy, diverse forest for generations to come.
Possible recreational opportunities within the proposed SMCF (which will be explored with the community) could include:
- mountain biking
- horseback riding
- bird watching
- mushroom gathering
- plant identification
- tours of local history and lore
- and more!