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The New Forest

Weyerhaeuser decided to rapidly salvage and reforest eruption-damaged land because every acre plays an important part in supplying the forest products we all use every day. But reforestation is only the beginning of the story about the new forest.

Our philosophy of forest management is based on knowledge of the natural forest and its cycles. We are continuously learning about and improving our understanding of trees, soil, water and life within the forest. Applying the principles of science, we protect natural resources, improve productivity and maintain an indispensable, renewable resource from which we all benefit. Here is what we have done to rebuild the Mount St. Helens forests under our stewardship.

Benefitting from the Forest

People need trees. They give us fresh air and clean water. They provide homes for hundreds of wildlife species. They inspire us and enrich us with their beauty. And when carefully managed, trees are a renewable, recyclable and reusable resource.

  • We all use wood. We use wood and products made from wood every day—in homes, other buildings, paper products, furnishings and tools. Ice cream, cosmetics and more than 5,000 other products contain ingredients from trees. Half of the wood used around the world is burned for cooking and heating.
  • Wood is good for communities. Well-managed forests provide family-wage jobs and tax revenue for many communities. Forest products are the second-largest manufacturing industry in the Pacific Northwest. In 2000 the industry employed more than 100,000 people in Washington and Oregon.
  • Wood is a great insulator. Wood insulates better than either steel or aluminum. In addition, it requires much less energy to manufacture wood products than non-renewable resources. For example, steel studs for wall construction require nine times the production energy of wood. Concrete floors take 21 times more energy than wood.

Forest Facts

  • Weyerhaeuser's orchards in Washington and Oregon produce seeds for 30 million Douglas fir trees annually. We also grow noble fir, western red cedar, grand fir, hemlock and red alder trees.
  • About 80% of all harvesting today in the Northwest is done on private land.
  • One fourth of Washington's forests are preserved in Wildernesses and National Parks and will never be harvested.
  • Another quarter of our forests are managed for multiple use by the U.S. Forest Service and currently have very little harvesting activity.
  • On average, North Americans use wood and paper products equivalent to one 100-foot tall tree each year.
  • In 60 years of growing, an average tree accumulates 5,250 pounds of organic material through the miraculous use of sun, soil, water and air.
  • A tree exhales 6,000 pounds of oxygen in its life, or about 120 pounds per year, assuming a 50-year life.
  • Each person needs one pound of oxygen to breathe per day, 365 pounds per year.
  • Each person uses the amount of oxygen given off by three trees.
  • One second-growth Douglas fir takes up about 60 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.
  • Burning one gallon of gasoline produces 19 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Harvesting Mature Trees

Weyerhaeuser harvests only 2 to 3 percent of its Northwest timberland each year, generally when trees are 40 to 60 years old. These levels provide the income needed for future investments, stability to communities, and diverse forest habitat for diverse plant and wildlife populations.

  • Clearcutting—Most of the trees in an area are harvested at the same time. The area is replanted immediately, fertilized, and sometimes landscaped for appearance. Clearcutting is especially effective for trees growing west of the Cascade Mountains such as Douglas fir, which does not tolerate shade and cannot thrive under a forest canopy. By law clearcuts are smaller today than in the past.
  • Selective cutting—The periodic harvest of single trees or groups of trees creates gaps in the forest, providing space for seedlings that don't need full sunlight. Selective cutting looks better than clearcutting, and is well-suited to trees that like shade, including pine species on the arid east side of the Cascades.
  • Engineering and planning—Long-term and short-term planning for a forest can be a complex task. New technology like computer information systems, satellites and data collection has increased the accuracy of information. Forest engineering often includes tracking forestry activities, selecting stands for harvest, maintaining roads, determining regeneration requirements and obtaining governmental permits and approvals.
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To watch reflections of foresters, click the play button above.

Nurturing Young Trees

We take good care of young trees after they are planted.

  • Pruning—Trimming lower limbs when a tree is still small helps produce high-quality, knot-free wood. This "clear" wood is used where appearance counts — in furniture, molding and lumber. Cut limbs are left to decay and enrich the soil.
  • Thinning—Removing selected trees from the forest reduces competition for water, nutrients and sunlight. We thin some trees between 25 and 40 years old, when they are large enough to produce lumber and wood chips. This generates some income during the forest's growth cycle.
  • Fertilizing—In the Northwest, we fertilize most trees three times over a 40- to 60-year period to enhance growth and improve health. Other plants that provide diversity and wildlife habitat also benefit. We are careful to keep fertilizers out of streams and other bodies of water.

Planting Seedlings

Weyerhaeuser began in 1900 and has since become a world leader in forest management. In 1941, the company started the first certified tree farm in North America. Here are the important steps to successfully reforesting Mount St. Helens.

  • Prepare the site—by exposing mineral soil needed for seedling production, survival and growth; protecting the soil from erosion; and reducing the possibility of wildfire.
  • Select the best seedlings—from superior-quality trees for improved production.
  • Plant by hand—between 300 and 600 seedlings per acre, one by one, between January and June; survival proved to be more than 90 percent for Douglas fir, 80 percent for noble fir and 95 percent for red alder.
  • Plant quickly—targeting almost every harvested area within 12 months of harvest.
  • Choose species wisely—use Douglas fir and red alder in lowlands, noble fir at elevations above 2,800 feet, and western red cedar, grand fir and hemlock in selected locations.

Replanting the forest makes good business sense, since it assures that forests will be available for human use in the future. In addition, laws in Washington and Oregon have required regeneration of harvested areas on both state and private land since the early 1970s. Most forest owners began replanting logged areas long before required by law, and today most exceed legal standards.

Protecting from Harm

Effective forest management includes protecting forests from fire, insects, disease and excessive animal damage. We combat fires with aerial surveys, quick-response teams and equipment such as tanker trucks and helicopters. Managing forests requires being prepared for natural events beyond our control, including wildfires, windstorms, floods and (of course) volcanic eruptions.

Besides trees, we protect all parts of the forest ecosystem. We also work closely with tribal groups and governmental agencies to preserve cultural, historic, scenic and recreation areas.

  • Wildlife—When harvesting, we leave a specified number of snags, live trees and downed logs. This may look messy. But it provides food and cover for forest creatures.
  • Fish—To protect spawning beds and keep streams clean we now design, build and maintain roads to very high standards. Some roads are closed or relocated to reduce impacts on streams. We leave forested buffer zones to protect rivers, lakes, streams, springs and ponds where fish can spawn.
  • Watersheds—We analyze entire watersheds in cooperation with other landowners to assess the combined effects of land uses on fish habitat and water quality. This helps us develop land management plans to protect natural resources.

Renewing the Forest

There are two main approaches to managing a devastated forest area like Mount St. Helens. Each has its own goals, results and importance to society.

View additional devastation and regeneration images in our Photo Gallery.

1. Create a "biological laboratory," and let nature take its course. The U.S. Congress established a National Volcanic Monument on federal land around the mountain, to be managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Click here to learn more.
2. Assist nature to regenerate the forest by planting new seedlings, and work hard to restore the area to pre-blast conditions. Weyerhaeuser chose this approach, drawing on science and decades of forest management experience. Click here to learn more.

Volcanic Monument

In 1982, Congress established the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It includes 110,000 acres of devastated land, unique caves and old growth forests. The U.S. Forest Service manages the land for research, recreation and interpretation.

Scientists have learned important lessons from the "biological laboratory" at Mount St. Helens. They have discovered that nature rarely destroys everything. It leaves behind a legacy with remains of the old forest. Examples include snags that provide homes for birds, or young trees that survived because they were protected under snow.

Also, the forest succession was not what textbooks predicted. Instead of a natural order with some species following others, everything came back at once and is now competing for space. This is changing the way we think about forest succession after large-scale disasters.

Restoring the Area

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  • The goal is to bring the damaged areas back to pre-blast conditions and restore a healthy, productive forest.
  • Cost is very high—$9 million for reforestation alone.
  • Since mineral-rich soil is exposed during salvage, a large volume of plants returned naturally.
  • More plants provide food and habitat for wildlife.

Wildlife Viewer

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These are but a few of the hundreds of species that have returned to our forests around Mt. St. Helens.

Last updated July 3, 2013