Clark County plans selective thinning at Camp Bonneville

Effort aimed at promoting health, reducing fire danger

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

Published:

 
photoClark County’s forestry management plan for Camp Bonneville includes selective thinning to reduce fire dangers, such as in this overcrowded stand near the western border of the former military training site.
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Clark County has a new plan for the expansive, overcrowded forested land at Camp Bonneville, which has been largely unmanaged for three decades.

The plan involves selective thinning to create a healthier environment and reduce fire danger, the latter a concern expressed by Proebstel residents who live next to the 3,840-acre former military training site.

At Camp Bonneville last week, county forester Jim Vandling said a management plan for an initial 1,100 acres has been certified by two organizations, meaning the wood can be marketed as sustainably harvested timber.

“There is a higher market rate for sustainably forested timber, and we wanted to access this market,” said Kevin Gray, director of Clark County Environmental Services.

The county will put the work out for bid to companies that want to harvest and sell the wood. Revenue will be used to pay for associated costs at the site such as making improvements to logging roads and bridges and managing vegetation.

If the bids that came in Friday are an indication, the county’s revenue estimates have been conservative.

Gray said the county received two bids to thin the first section identified by Vandling.

Gray said he was estimating the bids would come in at $400,000, but they are closer to $500,000.

In that 187-acre section, Vandling said the fiber in the trees hasn’t started to deteriorate and the timber could be used to make utility poles.

If left untouched for another 10 years, he said, the trees will only be worthy of being firewood.

Two other sections identified by Vandling better illustrate the county’s plans.

On 340 acres in the northwest portion of the site, there are Douglas fir that were planted in 1968 at 300 trees an acre. Forty trees an acre have died and fallen over, he said.

“The stand naturally thinned itself,” he said.

He’d like to have an additional 100 trees an acre removed to maximize forest health.

The section should be growing at a rate of 6 percent, he said. Instead, it’s at 0.7 percent.

“You can’t sustain a forest at those growth rates,” Vandling said. The trees aren’t as big in diameter as they should be, or as tall.

Still, the timber could be used to make sustainably harvested two-by-fours, which are desired by people who want Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified buildings.

Smaller trees can be chipped and sold for pulp.

In a western section of Camp Bonneville, there are trees that were planted in 1968 at 350 an acre. One-third of the trees have died.

“This stand is a fire hazard, without a doubt,” he said

History of fires

The forested land at Camp Bonneville is not considered old-growth.

In 1902, nearly the entire forest at the site -- more than 230,000 acres in three counties -- was destroyed by the Yacolt Burn. Vandling pointed to stumps of cedar trees from the 1902 fire.

“They don’t break down very fast,” he said.

Mount Livingston fires in 1938 and 1951 burned 1,220 acres and 1,400 acres, respectively, at Camp Bonneville. A smaller fire in 1970 destroyed 160 acres.

According to forest management records, mechanical slashing was done from 1978-80 and the last thinning was done in the mid-1980s.

Under Clark County’s plan, there will be no clear-cutting, Gray said.

“That’s not even an option for us,” he said.

He said the thinning approach should reassure neighbors who’ve expressed concern about fire dangers.

In addition to thinning, the plan focuses on improving wildlife habitat by diversifying the types of trees -- right now, Douglas fir dominates -- as well as restoring the buffer areas along Lacamas, Buck and David creeks and controlling noxious non-native plants.

Both the Forest Stewardship Council and American Tree Farm System’s Sustainable Forest Initiative have signed off on the county’s plan.

Gray said the management plan for Camp Bonneville, the largest section of forested land owned by the county, will be a template for other properties such as Green Mountain.

He said the county will use crews from Larch Corrections Center to do some pre-commercial thinning work at Camp Bonneville.

Cleanup continues

The U.S. Army, which used the site as an artillery range and training area from 1909 until 1995, turned it over to Clark County in 2006.

While the county moves forward with the forestry plan, there’s still plenty of work to do before the dream of turning Camp Bonneville into a regional park can be realized.

The cleanup of the site has crawled along and been marked by cost overruns and funding disputes.

The county’s former contractor found and removed hundreds of unexploded munitions, but also discovered that the Army had greatly underestimated how much work had to be done.

Last summer, the Army agreed to a $20 million contract to continue the cleanup over the next 10 years.

The $20 million will “provide for the cleanup of the central valley floor, a portion of the western slopes and the removal of stockpiles of contaminated soil,” according to a staff report. “It also provides funding for the county’s oversight and management of the property and project.”

Bronson Potter, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor who negotiated the agreement with the Army, said last year that seven of nine firing ranges have been cleaned up, but lead has been more pervasive than predicted.

One range has lead four feet underground, he said.

County commissioners are expected to award a new contract within the next few months to continue the cleanup, said Jeff Mize, spokesman for the county’s public works department.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.