Trails Cleared after Storm Creates Sizable Tasks

Author: Jessica | 01/22/21
       

Douglas fir root ball image

Brittany, our stewardship assistant, stands before a massive root ball of a fallen tree at Admiralty Inlet Preserve on January 14, 2021.

When Brittany, our stewardship assistant, listened to howling winds pound her Central Whidbey Island home in the early morning hours of January 13, she figured she’d be in store for a busy day in the field tending to Land Trust preserves.

She arrived at nearby Admiralty Inlet Preserve after sunrise and immediately got her answer.

“There were seven downed trees blocking access to the trail around the prairie and two large branches that had come down also blocking the trail,” Brittany said. “Once I saw the full extent of it, I thought, ‘Wow, I’m going to need some help.’”

Strong winds and soaking rains are all part of winter here in the Pacific Northwest. With those forces come the inevitable result – trees fall over. The windstorm that struck this region earlier this month was particularly powerful, with wind speeds hitting 48 miles per hour and gusts up to 64 miles per hour. And these forces toppled numerous trees down across trail systems at Land Trust preserves, hitting Admiralty Inlet Preserve and Trillium Community Forest the hardest.

In general, fallen trees mean good things for the Land Trust. Downed trees provide valuable habitat for wildlife and as they decompose and add nutrients to the forest soils. Standing dead trees, or snags, also make new homes for birds and insects.

Fallen tree at Admiralty Inlet Preserve

Volunteer Steve Holmberg cuts fallen branches next to a tree that tipped over at Admiralty Inlet Preserve following this month’s powerful windstorm.

When a big storm like this one passes through, the Land Trust relies heavily on our volunteers to help our stewardship staff make sure that our trails are cleared. With preserves located across the islands and dozens of miles of trail, many hands to make lighter work.

Clearing trees from the trail is important for the safety of our visitors, but we also want to retain the ecological benefits. Trees are cut up and left along the side of the trail or in the woods nearby. That way, they can decompose, becoming nurse logs, as well as become homes for wildlife. When the tops or parts of trees come down, we try to leave the rest of the dead tree standing because these standing snags are great for wildlife.

Heavy rains also mean higher likelihood of landslides and we are watching several of our sites with feeder bluffs at this time of year. Landslides are natural events that add important sediments onto the beaches. But be cautious when on any beach or bluff sites this time of year as slides are much more likely.

Thanks to the help of our awesome volunteers, trails at Land Trust preserves hit the hardest by the storm were back in good shape in a matter of days. Steve Holmberg, a longtime volunteer, worked with Brittany at Admiralty Inlet Preserve, where uprooted trees damaged portions of the trail. One root ball was nearly twice the height of Brittany. She said the Douglas fir root ball was about 15 feet at its widest point.

“I could talk about trees all day,” she said.

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