Ten Years of Achievements by HRT

Ten Years of Achievements by HRT

The Hoh River Trust (HRT) is a Washington state non profit organization located on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, in Jefferson County. We own about 7000 acres of timberland and river bottom located along the Hoh River, connecting the interior portion of Olympic National Park with the coast.

Our parent organizations, the Western Rivers Conservancy and the Wild Salmon Center began purchasing land in 2002 to begin a landscape scale habitat restoration project in what has been identified (by the Nature Conservancy and others) as one of the last, best rivers in the U.S. for wild salmon. HRT was formed in 2005 as the local land manager/owner. HRT now owns a nearly contiguous corridor about 29 miles long and ½ mile wide.

Our goal is to develop a species rich and age diverse, natural forest with healthy riparian habitat for the benefit of salmon, wildlife, both rare and common, along with the people that live near and love the Hoh. It has been my personal goal to do this as quickly as possible, since time is limited both for endangered species and much  public funding.

HRT uses donations and public grants for projects with some timber income for operating expenses.  We are a nonprofit 501.c.3 corporation.  We own our land outright. We function primarily as a wildlife refuge that allows compatible recreation.  Our mission complements that of the DNR Olympic Experimental Forest and the Federal Northwest Forest Plan. Land ownership was financed by Section 6 Endangered Species Act funds and by many private donations.

HRT also operates under a DNR Conservation Easement which ensures that these lands will be protected from development in perpetuity.

While HRT is not an advocacy organization, it is actively involved in Washington Coast Region and WRIA 20 salmon recovery planning. We have three  Olympic Peninsula Board members and employees in both Forks and Port Angeles.

I have been working on forest and fish habitat restoration in the Hoh valley since 2005 and can see results. There are coho and steelhead redds in streams that have not had salmon in them since the 1940's. There is notable height growth in thinned plantations.  Huckleberry and sword fern are developing under formerly dark stands with ground bare of any deer or elk forage.

One of our goals in 2005 was to reopen every blocked side stream under our control, for juvenile salmon passage, for the benefit of both sport and Tribal fisheries. We achieved this in Fall of 2013.

How does one restore a forest which functions as much like an “old growth” forest as possible- in a human time frame? The project is well underway and takes advantage of the west side of the Olympic Peninsula’s tremendous productivity, its nearly intact species baseline and a minimum of unrepairable human disruption.

Our plan is to accelerate growth in our many wild and plantation stands using normal silvicultural methods.

Our most common tree species are all capable of fast growth when given optimal light, water and nutrients: Sitka spruce, Western red cedar, Douglas fir and Black Cottonwood. Sitka Spruce is capable of producing suitable Marbled Murrelet habitat in 80 years, when it's open grown and develops nesting platforms.  Western hemlock, when infected with brooms of dwarf mistletoe, will do this in the 90 year range as well.

Coastal Olympic Peninsula may become the refuge for both wild salmon and listed birds while restoration elsewhere in the state catches up.

We have pre-commercially thinned about 3300 acres to date and under more protective rules than DNR uses, are beginning to commercially thin overcrowded older stands that need diversification.  We work under an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that allows us to manage stands to the age of 60, after which we will intervene only to make sure there are enough snags, down wood and cavity nesting bird habitat. We are generally permitted to thin from below (IE: harvesting the smaller trees while leaving the largest), leave 60 to 80% of the trees, and can do this either uniformly or using skips and gaps. We make a stand look like it has had scattered wind damage (blowdown).

After thinning one can easily see increased light on the forest floor for new trees and brush to grow while retaining the feel of a mature forest.  We've finished working through a set of overstocked 65-67 year old hemlock and spruce stands. We'll then be in a much longer period of thinning much younger forest stands. Since we don't clear cut, harvest expenses are relatively high; usually 45-50% of the stand value.

Big game projects include producing small openings (½ to 1.5 acres) in conifer plantations for elk pasture and edge dependent species.  All HRT lands are open for walk-in hunting and most gates are opened in season.

As a forest landowner, we are required by DNR to maintain good drainage on our system roads and to close and restore old obsolete roads. We are near to completion on road abandonment, with most becoming trails Some will be “put to bed” and then reused for the next harvest. The plan identified roads needed for recreational access. These are kept open and are in frequent use. We've decommissioned over 10 miles of unneeded road and removed our 22 worst culverts. We constructed a major bridge on forest haul road and were partners in replacing four more bridges on County roads. Depending on funds, there are several more to go.