A working forest is a beautiful balance between man and nature. Picture dense fir forests near pristine lakes and streams. Living beside our workers who plant, tend, harvest and plant again are:

  • Large and small mammals like cougar, elk, deer, bear, chipmunk, squirrel, rabbit and raccoon.
  • Eagles, Steller's jays, woodpeckers, owls, wrens, sparrows and crows
  • Salmon, trout and various other fish
  • Reptiles, insects and amphibians like newt, salamander and frog
  • Tree species like Douglas-fir, pacific silver fir, noble fir, western hemlock and western red cedar
  • Fern, salal, huckleberry and hundreds of other plants

Following the eruption, there were two choices:

  1. Let nature take its course.
  2. Provide assistance to the forest.

In 1982, Congress let nature take its course and established the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The U.S. Forest Service manages it today for research, recreation and interpretation.

We chose to provide assistance to our forests. 

We did this through years of research on natural forests and their cycles. We’re continually learning about trees, soil, water and wildlife. Applying the principles of science, we helped the forest around Mount St. Helens rebound.


1. Salvage

Salvage and recovery plans began immediately. Much of the downed timber could be used, but was at great risk of insect damage and disease. Quick work was needed, but safely. After a government study to assess the hazards of working in ash finished, full-scale salvage began.

  • More than 1,000 people were involved in the salvage efforts.
  • Up to 600 truckloads of downed logs were removed each day.
  • Salvage work continued for nearly two years.

The efforts helped save 850 million board feet of timber, enough to build 85,000 three-bedroom homes.

2. Plant seedlings. Lots of them.

We needed seedlings to take root for workers digging through ash to plant 18 million seedlings by hand. We relied on scientific research dating back to 1941, when we started the first certified tree farm in North America. Our typical planting involves:

  • Site preparation: exposing mineral soil for seedling survival and growth.
  • Soil erosion protection and reduced forest fire risk.
  • Quality seedlings from years of scientific research.
  • Replanting quickly, within 12 months of harvest for almost every area.
  • Understanding species — use western red cedar, grand fir and hemlock in select locations,
  • Douglas-fir and red alder in lowlands, and noble fir at elevations above 2,800 feet.

3. Nurture young trees

After we plant seedlings, we plan for the long-term by maximizing our forestlands and meeting the needs of consumers by:

  • Fertilizing — In the Northwest, we fertilize some trees one to three times over their life cycle to help growth.  Fertilizer is only applied on acres where it will improve the nutrients.  We use only approved fertilizers and carefully apply them away from lakes and streams.
  • Thinning — By removing select trees from the forest we can help reduce competition for water, nutrients, and sunlight and increase tree size.  This is done when the trees are 12 to 30 years old.

4. Protect trees from harm

It might be impossible to protect forests from a volcanic eruption, but our methods help minimize risks from forest fires, insects, disease and animal damage. For example, we combat fires with aerial surveys, quick-response teams, tanker trucks and helicopters. We protect all parts of the forest ecosystem, including:

  • Wildlife — During harvest we leave snags, live trees and downed logs. It might look messy, but it provides food and cover for animals.
  • Fish — We design, build and maintain roads to protect spawning beds and keep streams clean. Roads can be 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 to assess the combined effects of land use on fish habitat and water quality. This leads to land management plans that protect natural resources.

5. Harvest mature trees

We harvest only 2 to 3 percent of our Northwest timberland each year. This percentage ensures we have a sustainable harvest in perpetuity while meeting our economic objectives. In harvesting the forest, we use a variety of forest management techniques, including clearcutting — where most trees in an area are harvested at the same time, much like the effect of a forest fire or volcanic eruption. This method is effective for trees on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range like Douglas fir, which doesn’t tolerate shade from a forest canopy.

Forest harvests are all about engineering and planning — long-term and short-term planning of a forest is a complex task. Investment in new geographic information systems and satellite-based programs have improved planting, stand selection, harvest tracking, road maintenance, and obtaining government permits and approvals.

6. Replant again

As we do on all our lands, we replant soon after harvest to ensure another healthy forest will grow and thrive again for future generations.