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JULY 2019



I have worked all over the west side of the Cascade Range for more than 20 years as a consulting forester, and have become familiar with practically every forest type the maritime Northwest has to offer. I'm seeing more tree mortality now than ever before.

Although most of the mortality is occurring on well-draining soils (e.g. glacial till and south-facing hill slopes) and among trees that are susceptible to drought (western hemlock & western red cedar), I’m also seeing groups of Douglas-fir and grand fir dying on sites where they would normally prosper. It’s perfectly natural for trees to regenerate across a broad range of soil conditions, and then die off on sites they’re not suited to. Native soil-borne fungal pathogens also account for random occurrences of tree mortality in nearly every forest type and on all soil conditions. Further, current forest composition (species and stocking) are highly altered from historic norms—mostly overstocked—and this can account for stress-induced mortality. 

It’s the rate of mortality, however, that gives me cause for alarm, and leads me to wonder to what degree climate change is having an effect. Two indisputable changes to the NW’s climate since the 1970s are a two-degree increase in average temperatures, and higher precipitation during winter months coupled with longer and drier summers. Climate change models predict further increases to average temperatures, which will likely exacerbate the polarity between really wet winters and really dry summers. This is likely going to significantly increase stress on our forests―in the form of reduced soil moisture leading to reduced resistance to pathogens and insects. 

A lot of practices can help NW forests adapt to climate change. The two that I find most relevant and accessible to forest owners are: reduce stocking density to minimize competition for soil moisture, and favor the right trees on the right soils (e.g. drought-tolerant trees on droughty soils, moisture-preferring trees on lower and wetter soils). 

NNRG is currently conducting research on climate adaptation strategies for NW forests. We will release the results of these studies, as well as resources and educational materials, later this fall. In the meantime, I invite you to share your observations of changes in your forest, and strategies you’re contemplating for making your forest more resilient to climate change.

Kirk Hanson
Director of Forestry
(360) 316-9317


Stewarding Woodlands in a Changing Climate

Ben Deumling and his family steward Zena Forest, a member of NNRG's group FSC® certificate. The largest contiguous block of forest in the Eola Hills of the Willamette Valley, Zena Forest has not been immune to the impacts of climate change. Facing large-scale Douglas-fir die-off, Ben describes below how he and his family are experimenting with planting less-traditional tree species—ones more tolerant to a warming climate.

"I have been watching trees grow for 32 years in my family’s Zena Forest, nestled nearby in the Eola Hills. And I have gotten to know it well during that time. Over the last 10 years, I have noticed some significant changes in the trees and the forest as a whole, and not for the better. All forests are inherently dynamic. They are constantly changing as the ecosystem moves through a succession of cycles.

Since 2015, our local Zena Forest, the largest contiguous patch of woodland left in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, has lost nearly 10 percent of its Douglas fir. The composition of the forest is changing, whether we like it or not.

Good tree cover is essential to a healthy forest ecosystem. Keeping the ground shaded with a healthy complement of understory shrubs not only provides habitat for a wide range of important species, but serves to hold moisture in the soil well into our dry summers, slowly releasing water into our local streams. To this end, we have been experimenting with the planting of less traditional tree species to replace the fir we are losing."

Read the full article, originally published in the Yamhill Valley News Register, on NNRG's blog.

Upcoming workshop: Improving Forest Health and Fire Resistance in a Changing Climate


NNRG and partners are building on work we've been doing in the San Juan Islands for the past eight years. Through a series of workshops, educational materials, and site visits, we've been helping landowners in the San Juans understand the risks their forests face and how thinning and other activities can help them achieve multiple objectives for their forests.

In April and June 2019 we hosted workshops on Waldron Island and Shaw Island, respectively. The workshop topics included: funding programs to offset forest restoration costs, community-scale forest management, commercial timber sales and logging contracts, strategies for improving wildlife habitat, and converting forest slash to biochar.

The next workshop in this series will take place August 25th on Orcas Island. At this workshop, local and regional experts will introduce forest owners to simple, do-it-yourself strategies for thinning their forests, mitigating slash and creating value-added products.
Register for the workshop



The rise of wildfire-resilient communities. As fire seasons become longer and deadlier, Pacific Northwest cities are uniting to reduce wildlife risk through improved land-use planning.
Understanding wildfire risk in Western Washington. 
The history and effect of forest fires on west of the Cascades are different than patterns on the dry side of the mountains.
Drought Returns to Washington. Now What? Snow-free slopes in spring meant earlier recreation opportunities for many hikers this year. But this blog post from The Nature Conservancy cautions us against celebrating too soon—the negative side-effects of drought will outnumber the positive ones.
People who spend more time outdoors lead more fulfilling lives. It’s been established that people who spend more time in parks and other natural settings tend to report higher levels of health and happiness, but new research shows there’s actually a magic number for it.


Below are links to a few resources that can help you prepare your forest for drier times. Additional information on drought and your forest can be found here on our blog

NW Climate Hub -
USDA portal for science-based Northwest-specific information and technologies to assist with climate-informed decision making.

Seedlot Selection Tool -
Web-based mapping application that can be used to map current or future climates based on different climate change scenarios to inform the selection of seedlings for tree planting as part of reforestation and restoration efforts.

NW Climate Toolbox -
Suite of online tools to put a variety of climate data and information in reach of organizations and people for site specific locations – including: historical climate variability, temperature and precipitation normal, streamflow projections, climate projections, and data for Tribal Lands.

Adaptation Partners -
Researchers and resource managers provide scientific information on climate change effects and adaptation for specific regions in the Northwest and Intermountain West.

Climate Mapper
The Nature's Stage Climate Mapper allows users to explore the geoclimatic stability of HUC5 watersheds within the Pacific Northwest.

AdaptWest is a spatial database designed to help land management agencies and other organizations implement strategies that promote resilience, protect biodiversity, and conserve and enhance the adaptation potential of natural systems in the face of a changing climate.

Header image by Matt Freeman-Gleason
Copyright © 2019 Northwest Natural Resource Group, All rights reserved.

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