City of Camas prepares for its first timber harvest

Jones Creek and Boulder Creek watershed forest management plan guides the city in efforts to protect water, improve forest health, generate revenue

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As early as this summer, the city of Camas could be embarking on its first of many forest harvesting efforts. It is one element of a management plan that has been developed for the city’s expansive watershed.

Located 10 miles northeast of Camas, near the southwest corner of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the Jones Creek and Boulder Creek watershed consists of nearly 1,700 acres of mature forest land, of which approximately 1,300 acres has been identified as suitable for harvesting,

The property, originally purchased by the city between 1923 and 1950, is currently used to collect water for municipal purposes via intake facilities on Boulder Creek and Jones Creek.

According to Public Works Director Eric Levison, it’s a seasonal source of water that is tapped into annually from Nov. 1 to May 15. During this time period, he said the city pumps approximately 2 million gallons a day from the watershed, which is just below the city’s daily use average during the winter.

In the past, the watershed’s fire suppression roads were routinely managed by the city, but those efforts faded in the early 1980s. With the exception of improvements and maintenance of the water intake facilities, the forest has been left largely unmanaged for more than 60 years.

“It was just let go,” Levison said.

In 2011, Camas entered into a contract with engineering firm CH2M Hill for a review of its surface water treatment alternatives. One aspect of that review included a preliminary analysis of the watershed’s timber value and how it could be managed.

The city then entered into a $30,000 contract with AKS Engineering & Forestry to create a complete forest management plan for the watershed.

Levison said that effort identified four goals: protect and maintain the area’s water quality, generate periodic income from the sale of wood products, provide a permanent access road network for maintenance and asset protection, and improve forest health.

Within the watershed, a 1,142-acre area has been divided into 39 sections that are part of a 50-year harvesting plan. Made up of primarily Douglas fir trees, the total value is estimated at $10.35 million. After costs, the city could see a total profit of $8.87 million.

Methods used during the harvesting process are expected to include clear cutting and thinning.

“There are 39 units that [could be] harvested over a 50-year period — but some of them may not be harvested. Our units are designed to make sure we are minimizing impacts to the watershed,” Levison said. “It’s very sustainable. There is a gap of two to three years between harvests and they move around so they are not adjacent to each other.”

Reforestation is another required component of the management plan. State mandates dictate that at least 190 trees per acre be replanted, although the AKS report recommends going beyond that to 300 to 430 per acre.

Through a separate $40,000 contract, AKS Engineering & Forestry is now working with the city to develop plans, specifications and bid documents in preparation for harvesting of the first unit later this year. The 34-acre parcel is located below the watershed’s water intake facilities and contains an estimated 1.1 million board feet of timber.

A Jan. 25 report from then-Camas City Administrator Lloyd Halverson indicated the city could potentially see an average annual profit of $150,000 to $200,000 from the timber harvest.

“There are arcane legal and policy questions about the ownership and use — city or water utility — of the net proceeds,” he said. “It is, however, an important, sustainable resource which can help the city.”

Levison said research into Washington state laws governing how timber profits can be used will need to be conducted. The question remains whether the proceeds could benefit the city’s general fund, or whether they are required to be used for purposes within the utility.

The watershed forest management plan has gone through the State Environmental Policy Act checklist process, and has been discussed and approved by City Council. As the time for actual harvesting activities draws closer, Levison said he isn’t sure whether there will be any reaction from the public.

“While I don’t expect it, it’s always a possibility,” he said. “We’ll deal with it if the issue is raised.”

Timber harvesting is not an uncommon sight in the areas surrounding the watershed.

“This area is zoned for and is actively managed forest,” he said. The Department of Natural Resources as well as Longview Timber and other timber companies harvest in the area.

Examples of other of Pacific Northwest municipalities that conduct logging activities within their watersheds can be found primarily in Oregon. They include Astoria, Forest Grove, Grants Pass, Lincoln City, Medford, Newport and Roseburg.

Levison said the city’s forest management plan provides a framework for maintaining water quality and improving forest health, with the added benefit of generating income.

“The way we are doing it allows us to progress over time,” he said. “As we learn more about how to do it, we can change our plan to make sure we are meeting our goals.”