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Digital Forests

This article was published by the University of Washington in "The Research University and the Future of Our State", Annual Report 2002.

Bob Playfair, President of the WFFA and eastern Washington family forest owner Bob Playfair and his sister grew up on their small family tree farm in Stevens County. Three creeks run through the property. When salmon, steelhead, and bulltrout were put on the endangered-species list and the state developed its new Forests and Fish regulations, the Playfairs faced a dilemma. Along their creeks, timberland carefully nurtured by two generations was now off limits for harvest. The economic loss would be significant. But Bob Playfair also worried about unintended environmental consequences. His long knowledge of Eastern Washington forests, chronically threatened by fire, insects, and disease, told him that the creekside woods needed a partial "regeneration cut", now illegal.

Small private landowners like Playfair, together with tribal owners, hold more than a quarter of Washington's forestland. The state, recognizing the hardships the new rules might cause for small operations, included a provision for "alternate plans" that could bend the rules a bit if they achieved the desired ecological ends. But such plans require a level of analysis and documentation beyond the means of many owners like Playfair.
So a consortium of small private and tribal forest owners from around the state approached the UW and WSU for help. The owners knew there were cutting-edge technologies that could turn their holdings into "virtual forests" and help them explore and project a whole range of management options, together with their environmental and economic consequences. But such technology had not yet made it to their world of small, rural woodlands.

Now it's on its way. The Rural Technology Initiative (RTI) is a federally funded pilot program established in 2000 by the UW College of Forest Resources and the WSU Department of Natural Resource Science. RTI runs training programs for small forest owners in the Landscape Management System (free software), Global Positioning Systems, Geographic Information Systems, and other new technologies.

RTI also funds research by graduate students, including case studies that measure the impact of Forests and Fish rules on individual landowners. The Playfair tree farm is the subject of one such study by UW forestry student Elaine Oneil. The Playfairs hope to use the technical tools provided by RTI to show that an alternate management plan for their creekland is biologically sound.

Ponderosa pines in Eastern Washington
UW CFR student, Elaine Oneil For many small forest owners, the real "alternate plan" is selling out to developers. Says Elaine, "That would be the worst environmental outcome. We're trying to provide tools to keep these lands in forestry."

School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
USDA Forest Service State & Private Forestry
WSU Cooperative Extension
The Rural Technology Home Page is provided by the College of Forest Resources. For more information, please contact the Rural Technology Initiative, University of Washington Box 352100 Seattle, WA 98195, (206) 543-0827. © 2000-2004, University of Washington, Rural Technology Initiative, including all photographs and images unless otherwise noted. To view the privacy policy, click here.
Last Updated 10/13/2022 12:34:34 PM