BI Parks thins trees to make forests healthier

Bainbridge Island Metro Parks and Recreation District is thinning trees to make the forests healthier.

Natural Resources manager Lydia Roush said at a recent meeting that she has been focusing on getting thinning operations going, working on hazard tree assessments and mitigation, and education.

For almost two years staff has been pushing material to the public about why parks is going to be thinning trees and why it is healthy. Education has consisted of social media campaigns, posting information on the website, educational talks, banners in parks, and a forestry education breakout session at the BI Environmental Conference.

Timber cruises have been completed at Strawberry Hill Park and Moritani Preserve by Silva Solutions. A logging bid has been prepared with the goal of having one logger for both the Strawberry Hill Park and the Moritani Preserve projects to create a volume that logging companies will be interested in. The plan is to have the logging complete this year.

Hazard tree removals have been completed at Hidden Cove Park and Grand Forest East. Trees have been snagged at Aaron Tot Lot and Pritchard Park. At Blakely Harbor Park there are trees of concern that staff would like to remove that will require shoreline permits.

Minutes from the parks meeting say snagging trees by cutting them to 20-50 feet and allowing them to rot naturally, is a great option for dead trees to fulfill an ecological purpose. Some of the issues seen in hazardous trees in parks include fungus, cankers and bacterial infections. Laminated root rot is a natural fungus that helps to cull over dense forests. Part of the way to reduce laminated root rot is by thinning forests to create healthier trees. It is not ideal to have to take down hazardous trees like the ones at Hidden Cove Park, however, the trees were milled locally and will be used to build boardwalks. The Suquamish Tribe also got several logs to use for cultural activities.

Weed work

Roush said staff was able to maintain weeds in 21 parks in 2023. The four types of controls for invasive species management are cultural, mechanical/physical, biological, and chemical.

Cultural controls include two new boot brush stations, planting native plants so invasive species cannot take hold and mulching to smother weeds and build up the soil. This year manual removal of invasive species was done by staff, Student Conservation Corps, Earth Corps and volunteers.

Mechanical removal was accomplished by mowing. Biological control was done utilizing goats at Blakely Harbor Park. Chemical applications occurred in 10 parks. Staff tried to bring in more organic products this year with mixed success.

Integrated pest management was performed in 21 parks and 16.15 gallons of herbicide and 251 imazapyr shells were used on 3.4 acres of parkland in 10 parks. That is less than .01% of parkland that was treated with herbicide. The imazapyr shells are contained and shot directly into the plant leaving no way for it to come into contact with park users or translocate.

Volunteers have donated over 2,000 hours to remove invasive species in parks, and there are 31 projects left until the end of the year. Roush said dandelions are very important to bees, so the park district does not spray them.

Roush said the 2024 integrated pest management proposal is to continue to expand the program to additional parks, to leverage staff, volunteer, and contractor resources, and to monitor for new populations and species. Staff is also focusing on weeds of concern, which are plants that act like invasive species but are technically not listed as such, an example is rocky mountain maples.

Grant attempt

Roush said BI Fire Department asked if parks would co-submit the Ready, Set, Go! Wildfire Grant with them. There is a $20,000 maximum, and the grant is asking for $18,600 to have Washington Conservation Corps spend three weeks doing fire mitigation projects in parks. There is a 25% match required, which BIFD said it would split with parks. The plan is for fuel reduction at high-use parking areas such as Grand Forest, Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve, Fort Ward Park and Ted Olson Nature Preserve.

The goal is not to clear out all the vegetative material but rather to mitigate the areas where there is the most contact with the public. Staff is creating buffers around every park by thinning things out to create some discontinuity between fuel materials.

Student Conservation Corps

Volunteer Program manager Morgan Houk said 2023 was the 13th season of hosting Student Conservation Corps and the largest SCC crew the park district has ever had. Over three sessions 40 teens were hired and three leadership staff. Each session consisted of 18 teens with 10 or more on the waitlist each session.

SCC spent 3,200 hours working in 10 parks over nine weeks. More than 175 yards of invasive species were removed, and more than 35 yards of mulch were spread.

Two new boot brush stations, which allow park users to remove dirt and invasive weed seeds from their shoes, were installed thanks to a grant from BI Parks & Trails Foundation. Boot brush stations prevent the spread of invasive species, which is the most cost-effective way to manage them.

Staff recently got word that the park district received a grant from the Recreation and Conservation Office to fund neurodiverse SCC in 2024. The grant includes funds for tools, a tool trailer and compensation for eight neurodiverse participants and eight peer mentors.