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VIDEO: Public Gets to Weigh In on Kopachuck's Future

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission will be holding a public meeting une 22 to discuss ways to handle the Douglas fir/root rot issue at the Kopachuck State Park.

The Washington State Park officials are seeking input from the public as the fate of remains at a standstill.

State Park Ranger Tom Pew said the park is under an "elevated risk situation" as he pointed out some of the park's imminent issues during a recent guide, which included local officials and residents. 

In May the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission announced an emergency closure of Kopachuck's campground due to a widespread infestation of a tree pathogen, laminated root rot, in the forest. According to Natural Resources Stewardship Chief Dr. Robert Fimbel, one of the pathogen's primary hosts is the Douglas fir, which accounts for a large portion of the campground.

The trees at the park range anywhere from 100 to 200 years old, and like humans, the trees' immune systems begin to deteriorate as they age.

"We all carry various diseases on us, but it's such low levels that our immune system keep them suppressed," Fimbel said. "Here, these trees are weak, and they are succumbing at a very rapid pace. We have an epidemic."

Park officials said the pathogen spreads through the root system, and with the park's dense population of Douglas fir, they are finding an increasing number cases of infected trees. 

"We would look for signs and start digging into trees, and we found very few areas that we could not identify (as having) the presence of the pathogen," Fimbel said.

Fimbel said the agency is currently considering several options to tackle the issue; the most aggressive is cutting down all the Douglas fir in the park. The least invasive option is to shut down the park as a campground.

Steve Brand, the Southwest Region Director of State Parks, said having people stay at the park for extended periods of time puts them at a higher risk of damage if a tree was to fall.

Officials are taking precautionary steps in light of the Olalla woman who was killed in 2004 after branches of a dead pine tree in Lake Wenatchee fell on her and barely missed her 2-year-old daughter.

"There are a lot of risks to just continue business as usual," said Fimbel. He said the only way to terminate the pathogen is to take away its food source by removing the trees.

"We could cut all the trees down now, but it wouldn't be until the end of the summer before we have the park in a usable condition anyway. It would still be a mess," said Brand.

He said before the trees can be removed, the State Parks and Recreation Commission must make arrangements to sell the timber. If the felled trees were left in the park, they would attract bark beetles (which are already present at the park). The next commissioner's meeting is set for August in Wenatchee. 

While officials will wait until the public meeting on June 22 to make any decisions, Fimbel did acknowledge the importance of the trees for the community.

"People are attached to the aesthetics," he said. "These trees do create certain habitat, and by removing them, those are definite impacts people can see."

Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard), who knows about laminated root rot from her time as the Kitsap County Commissioner, said cutting down the trees may not be a bad idea in the long run.

"When we did take the trees out, it created a much healthier forest … and grows much faster because sunlight gets to them," she said.

However, Angel shared her concerns with the nearby businesses that rely on campers buying firewood, ice and groceries during the summer camping season.

"Our small businesses right around the park are suffering right now," she said. 

According to Brand, Kopachuck's camping revenue will not be the determining factor of the fate of the park. 

"I think our parks are going to be more important to our families," Angel said. "(Kopachuck) is a part of us. It's part of our community, and we want a healthy forest."

The agency will be hosting a public meeting on June 22 at Kopachuck Middle School from 6 p.m. If you have any questions, contact Lisa Lantz at 360-725-9777 or lisa.lantz@parks.wa.gov

Mary Ellen Knoop June 23, 2011 at 03:37 AM
During the question and answer time at Kopachuck, just prior to seeing trees affected with laminated root rot, Dr. Robert Fimbel explained that when a Douglas fir falls, the root ball is exposed to the air. He said that the tiny fungus that causes root rot then begins to die, which process is helped along by other pathogens which move in. Cutting down the trees does not destroy the fungus, because the stumps are left in the ground. The ground for this epidemic of root rot may have been laid down years ago, after the area was logged off. Subsequently it was replanted mostly with Doug fir, and it became part of our park system. If instead of the Doug fir monoculture, it had been replanted with a mix of trees, root rot may have felled a few scattered Doug firs in a storm, but then the fungus would have naturally died out over time, and there would have likely been no epidemic. Yes, there needs now to be made the best decision possible under these less than desirable circumstances. But is logging the trees going to address the root rot and its spread? Mary Ellen Knoop
Linda Griffith August 05, 2011 at 12:17 AM
DO NOT CLEAR CUT KOPACHUCK STATE PARK. Put these areas into local PUBLIC ENTITIES. AS PENROSE POINT STATE PARK AND JOEMMA BEACH STATE PARK ARE MANAGED. PenMet Parks. Such as County or Metropolitan parks that are willing to manage them with out clear cutting them, making a soccer field or destroying the people of Washington of States heritage. The Natural and unspoiled beauty of the trees, plants and shorelines of our Washington State PARKS. Thank You Linda Griffith 4104 68th Ave NW
Linda Griffith August 05, 2011 at 10:01 PM
I went to a Kopachuck State Park walk thru the park. On the walk thru we were told by your state forest conservationist that the pathogen present has always been present in the soil. It will always be present in the soil. It will never go away. It was present in the soil hundreds of years ago. The State of Washington is only planning to remove the Douglas fir. These Douglas firs would be sold and they are not counting on making enough money from the sell of these trees, in this depressed economy, to use for the replanting Kopachuck State Park. That is the reason they may not be able to replant or reforest the park. No more camping at the State Park. Day use only is the one choice that would not require clear cutting the Douglas Firs (for selling). I prefer Kopachuck State Park to be managed by a local public entity such as PenMet Parks who want to manage the park if the State of Washington does not have the budget to run it as a State Park. As Peninsula Metropolitan District now manages Penrose Point State Park and Joemma Beach State Park with the same pathogen in the soil without clear cutting. Only a small percentage of the Douglas Firs have laminated root rot and need to be removed. Clear cutting a State Park and the selling of its timber is illegal by state law.
Mark Spikes April 01, 2012 at 03:45 AM
If you cut all the Doug Firs down what kind of camping experience will be had? Is Laminated Root Rot just confined to Kopachuck State Park? I think probably not. So, if not, why aren't a plethora of trees falling on homes? Why aren't insurance companies raising insurance rates due to the gross topple over factor of Doug Firs? Why are't Doug Firs being cut down that line our highways and school yards? How come even in the very high winds we have here I have yet seen a Doug Fir topple over? Was it only government scientists that determined the need for logging? Were any outside environmentalist arborist scientist hired with outside money? Odd, the state is in all kind of debt and they need to (sell) logs?
Paul Thorpe April 01, 2012 at 06:08 AM
Mark, I have seen entire stands of Douglas Fir laid down by high winds. Remember the Columbus Day hurricane in the late 50's - maybe not, but I was there an wondered why that particular stand fell, when others did not. I think now I know. Fortunately, not all stands are infected.

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