In our latest Backstory series, Seattleite Lou Maxon recounts the thrills and trials of ditching the suburbs, buying property, and designing and building a modern house with Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects. Week 11: Forestry 101.
Managing a 21+ acre heavily wooded site posed great challenges in terms of forestry management, site preparation, and short and long-term planning. After taking ownership of our site, it quickly became apparent that some immediate healing was required in order to restore the forest to its optimum health. In addition to taking over an existing forest management plan and evolving the program for the site, we reached out to a King County forest project manager who has both guided and educated us throughout the entire process. As part of our plan we designated a number of acres under forest management, meaning that the land cannot be developed and that the owners maintain and manage those acres according to a prescribed ten-year plan.
We also worked with our forest project manager to determine the alloted acreage we'd set aside for actual development of our residence. This entire process required a lot of patience, as there are multiple jurisdictions within the county monitoring forest practices. Our site presented some challenges due to existing road access, a steep slope, and specific setbacks required by the county. As such, we ended up hiring various forestry experts and contractors to help regulate and supervise any clearing, thinning or limbing of trees.
Maxon consults with International Forestry's Matt Rourke prior to the thinning operation on site.
Early on we had a site audit by a non-profit group called Northwest Natural Resource Group. Their mission is to promote innovative forest management strategies that improve the health of a forest and freshwater ecosystems while increasing economic development in rural communities. NNRG assisted with our on-site forest management consulting and helped us achieve Forest Stewardship Council certification so that we we were able to offset some of the costs of thinning and clearing by selling FSC certified timber to local mills that would be able to reuse for paper and wood products. Click here for a video of the FSC Certified paper mill where timber from our site went.
As part of the forest practices activity we were required to fill out applications and permits to designate the areas we'd be thinning and clearing as part of our forest plan. Detailed maps outlining specific zones were then shared with the contractors and supervisors managing the work, and the site was flagged with timber harvest ribbons to set aside non-developable areas.
Heavy site work within forest practices areas had to be scheduled during dry months—which for the Northwest is a very limited window of opportunity. Fire safety equipment was also required to be on hand as a precautionary measure. Our initial work included thinning the allotted acreage to open up the forest and allow for healthy trees to prosper while getting rid of unhealthy trees. Thinning allows for particular stands of trees to reach their maximum health. The work has to be done with somewhat surgical precision and requires a mix of construction vehicles. The fallen timber is then staged in a specific area near the road so that a picker can come and load the timber onto a truck to haul the wood out.
The site is roped off and flagged, and the proper setbacks are marked. Separate permits and applications are required for the building site, which is under the review of separate officials.
Trees are pre-tagged with metallic markers and designated with specific numbers that are recorded on an authorized site survey. The markers designate the areas within and outside the forest management area. The survey was a completed shortly after hiring the architect, and was a useful tool in developing the site plan and designating the setbacks required by the county.
The trees that have been cut within the building envelope are designated with a yellow highlighter. We also designate the trees that will remain standing. The document becomes a visual record to guide the owners (us), the architects, and the county to regulate and monitor the clearing rules. The clearing permit is posted on site for the contractors.
Cut timber and logs are staged in preparation for either the wood chipper or for the picker to haul off site. Luckily for us there was a operation in town that would take our cut timber and convert it into either mulch and landscape products or biomass, a renewable energy source used to generate electricity or produce heat.
As the architectural plans evolve so does the site map, used to designate the setbacks and buffers and detail out the opportunities on site in terms of flow and pattern of site access and placement of trees and roads. Here the sight lines from the residence are designated and the existing forest service road mapped. The trees are also included on the site map.
Contractors' cutting equipment sits in preparation for work. In the background, the permit is posted to the tree. On this particular day the weather is cooperating and a layer of rock has been spread down the forest access road to minimize the impact from heavy machinery.
The forestry consultants map out the protected area and designate forest practices with pink timber harvest markers.
Site work is not pretty until its completely wrapped up. Here, a glimpse of the site in progress.
When it's all done right and you give it time and patience, the results are simply stunning. Here, a long day on the site thinning and limbing results in a stunning Spring sunset over the valley.