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Last stand standing

"Don't expect to see log-cabin nature centers or other features common to park lands when a development plan for the Kitsap Forest Natural Area Preserve is approved.I really want to get the message out that the area is a preserve, and designated so for scientific research and education, said Kelly Heintz, the state Department of Natural Resources' area manager for the forest. It's not a place to go and walk your dog.The 645-acre area is managed by DNR to protect one of the only extensive virgin mature and old growth forests in the Puget Sound basin, according to DNR spokeswoman Jane Chavey. The site was identified in the early 1990s by ecologists from the state's Natural Heritage program as having the largest, highest quality stands remaining of the Douglas fir-western hemlock-evergreen huckleberry community, with some trees as old as 400 years, Chavey said. This particular combination is found only in the Puget Sound lowlands, and nowhere else in the world, she noted.The area, located off of Stavis Bay Road south of Scenic Beach State Park near Seabeck, is also habitat to animals such as bear, cougar and bobcat, as well as beavers, muskrat and martens.Heinzt said about 40-50 people attended an October meeting about the process to develop a management plan for the preserve.I went really well, said Heintz. They broke into groups and listed questions, and we listened to what people had to say, their ideas and questions, and special local knowledge.Some of the things the neighbors have noticed is more beaver activity lately in the streams, and more beaver tracks, Heintz said.There weren't any beavers to be seen during a recent walk-through of the preserve. But there were plenty of spindly Douglas fir and hemlock, and western white pine.What makes this particular stand of trees so special is the soil that created them. Because of the condition of the site the trees don't get as big as on the coast, where you have more soil and more rain, said forester Andy Card, who oversees the site.The shallow, gravelly soil is the result of the Vashon Glacier that created the area 15,000 years ago, Card said. As it receded it left a hard pan as the soil developed. Most of the soil is only 4-6 feet deep, so the roots grow out near the top, he said.The soil condition also caused the trees to grow up very tall, spindly and deeply grooved.With trees as old as they are, people get the idea they're big around ... (but) the deeper grooves in the trees indicate their age, said Card.Some of the giants reached more than 100 feet in the air, their branches competing for space in the sunlight that creates their necessary food.The hemlocks are shade tolerant, and can grow, with the red cedar, below the canopy of the Douglas fir trees, Card said.He pointed out a couple of the oldest fir trees, one estimated to be about 300 years old, covered with velvety green moss.That and the older trees are believed to be survivors from a wildfire about 130 years ago, said Card.Like most conifers (they have a long) mortality. They can grow for 1,000 years if they're not disturbed or destroyed, said Card.Some of the trees from the forest also probably contributed to the growth of San Francisco, both before and after the earthquake and fire.Seabeck had a mill about 1840-1850, that lasted until about 1870 when it burned down. It was never rebuilt. But a lot of San Francisco was built from Douglas fir from the Northwest, Card said.The area should remain a preserve, set apart from any kind of management activity, Card said, so we can study it and find out how a forest structures itself.It's a good area for years to come for people to come and research, see how stands grow, to measure the trees. ... I've often wondered myself why one tree (in a forest) becomes dominant instead of another, Card said.But Card and Heintz stressed that minimal human impact is critical to whatever plan is developed.That's why they're looking for volunteers to be stewards, our eyes and ears, Heintz said.Stewards will make sure nobody is dumping garbage, trees aren't being illegally cut, no one is making trails where they're not supposed to be, she said. Heintz said they hope to have a draft plan and make it available for public review before setting another public meeting date. "

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