News

Speak for the Trees

Baker Lake Trail recognized as 
old-growth forest

Attend

What: Baker Lake Trail Dedication and Hike

When: 11:00 am Sun., Sep. 26

Where: Trailhead at the northern end of Baker Lake Highway/Forest Service Road 11

Info: http://www.oldgrowthforest.net

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The rains have arrived and the thirsty forests are brimming with autumn. Among them, stunning yet accessible, is the Baker Lake Trail, a gentle walk through an old Douglas Fir forest around the long eastern shore of its eponymous lake in the North Cascades. What it lacks in elevation gain and loss, the trail makes up for with scenic peeks and rushing creeks that occasionally break the mossy stillness of the ancient forest.

This trail area at the edge of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest complex is being recognized as Whatcom County’s representative in a national network of protected, publicly-accessible old-growth forests. The forest will be the first in Washington to be added to the network that includes 25 states. Other old forests in the state may soon join the list.

That list is developed and maintained by the Old-Growth Forest Network (OGFN), a national organization with local volunteers and a mission to connect people with nature by creating a national network of protected, mature, publicly accessible, native forests. The organization’s goal is to preserve at least one forest in every county in the United States that can sustain a forest, which the organization estimates to be 2,370 out of a total of 3,140 counties. OGFN works to identify forests for the Network, ensure their protection from logging, and inform people of the forest locations.

By identifying these areas, OGFN builds stewardship.

In our neck of the woods, that candidate happens to be this old assembly, dominated by Douglas Firs and Western red cedars. Many in the Baker Trail stand are more than 120 years old—some older than the 1843 eruption of nearby Komo Kulshan, the White Watcher.

Despite their age and status and durability, these trees are threatened. A report released in 2019 by the Washington State Dept. of Natural Resources details extensive diebacks of Western red cedars from a variety of causes—most linked to increased human activity and climate change.

“When we look at a forest, very little appears to change from year to year, but change is happening slowly. Forests, like humans, can be classified as young, mature or old. Because of past disturbances, old forests are the rarest,” OGFN Executive Director Joan Maloof explained in the organization’s mission statement. A former professor at Salisbury University in Maryland, Maloof founded the network to preserve, protect and promote the country’s few remaining stands of old-growth forest.

“Sometimes the disturbance has come in the form of a tornado, an insect, or an intense fire; but most often the disturbance has been from logging,” Maloof said. “The amount of old-growth forest has declined every year since European settlement on this continent. As a result, old-growth forests have important ecological and cultural attributes that are not being fulfilled as they should be. We need a clear vision and a strong resolve to reverse the decline. If we are able to accomplish this we will be the first generation to have done so.”

The phrase “old-growth forest” itself is young, coined by ecologists in the 1970s, though the habitats can also be called “primary” or “virgin” forests. The terms describe woodlands that have been undisturbed for more than a century, resulting in a complex ecosystem that’s more diverse than younger second-growth forests. Yet many of these places are threatened rather than protected.

In Washington, many of these forests were preserved only because they were remote, with rugged terrain difficult to log. The Baker Lake Trail offers a rare glimpse of an old growth forest that is also walkable.

“The forests in the Old-Growth Forest Network are chosen because they are among the oldest known forests in their county,” noted Judith Akins, OGFN’s coordinator for Whatcom County. “They have formal protection in place that ensures that their trees and ecosystems are protected from commercial logging. All Network forests are open to the public so that everyone can experience them for recreation and personal well-being.”

Atkins agrees the Baker Lake Trail is the most exceptional forest in the county for the public to experience a piece of protected old-growth forest.

Other forests will soon be recognized as the first set in the state’s protection network, including Olympic forests in Clallam and Jefferson counties, the Rhododendron Preserve in Kitsap County, and the Nork Fork Sauk Trail in Snohomish County.

“We are thrilled to recognize remaining old-growth forest and its stewards in Washington,” OGFN’s Network Manager Sarah Horsley said. “We depend on volunteers in each county to help us identify candidate forests. In addition to creating a network of forests, we are also creating a network of people who care about forests.”

Interested volunteers are welcome to contact OGFN through the organization’s website at http://www.oldgrowthforest.net.

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