Trust Lands HCP Riparian and Wetland Strategy
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Trust Lands HCP Riparian and Wetland Strategy 


State Trust Lands Habitat Conservation Plan
Riparian and wetland Habitats

The Trust Lands HCP Riparian Strategy specifies management in and around streams, wetlands and other surface waters (like seeps and springs) throughout Trust Lands in western Washington. The goals of the strategy are to maintain or restore freshwater habitat for salmon on Trust lands, and to support the conservation of other aquatic and riparian obligate species such as amphibians. Riparian obligate species are those that must live in or near streams for all or part of their lives.

To meet these goals, all fish-bearing and larger non-fish-bearing streams (Type 4 streams) and wetlands are protected by continuous forested buffers. DNR manages these forest areas around streams and wetlands to maintain shade, detritus (fallen leaves, twigs, etc.) and undisturbed forest floors. These forest buffers help ensure that waters are cool, clean, well oxygenated and with few suspended sediments. Management of riparian forests is critical to support in-stream food supply, and structural diversity within the stream channel (provided by large diameter fallen trees) for fish and wildlife habitat.  Protection of riparian and wetland habitats plays a major role in supporting healthy wildlife populations, as most of western Washington’s wildlife species depend on riparian or wetland areas either seasonally or for part of their life cycle.  In total, protection for aquatic habitats specifies the management on about a third of State Trust lands.

Riparian Forest Restoration Strategy (Excludes the Olmpic Experimental State Forest)
Riparian management on forested trust lands outside of the Olympic Experimental State Forest planning unit (OESF) is specified by the 2006 Riparian Forest Restoration Strategy (RFRS). This strategy grew out of DNR’s HCP adaptive management process, and defines the process to achieve a long-term vision of restoring historic structure to riparian areas. The strategy updated several aspects of riparian management. High priorities for restoration management are those commercially managed young stands that are missing adequate habitat elements such as large trees, snags and fallen trees. 

In some places, historic management has created streamside forests that no longer provide large trees for in-stream structure, shade, and detritus to fuel the riparian food web.  Such forests also often lack ground vegetation to support biodiversity. In such areas, management focuses on restoring these habitat elements over time. All riparian management is tailored specifically to the site, and care is given to the protection of existing habitat features such as snags and down wood. The restoration strategy uses a process to determine whether thinning of a particular riparian forest would help stand development to improve habitat. If thinning is warranted, the strategy provides a process for designing management that is appropriate to the individual site.

Once riparian forests begin to resemble older forests in structure, restoration activities are limited to the creation of snags and in-stream wood.  The Riparian Forest Restoration Strategy also allows the opportunity in rare instances to convert riparian hardwood stands back to naturally existing conifer communities. Conifers provide important habitat elements such as long-lasting down woody debris. Because of environmental risk and cost, hardwood conversions are rarely conducted on Trust lands.

Conservation of Headwater streams

Most of the stream length on state lands occurs as small, non-fish-bearing streams known as Type 5 streams (in the state lands stream typing system). When the HCP was written there was insufficient data to support development of a comprehensive headwaters conservation strategy. At that time, through the HCP, DNR committed to develop protection of headwater streams and associated sensitive sites such as springs, seeps and wetlands, as research and scientific literature yielded the necessary information. In the interim, headwater streams are protected near unstable slopes and elsewhere, as needed, to safeguard sensitive sites and downstream water quality. A new Headwaters Conservation Strategy has been developed, and is currently in review. The strategy is designed to support biodiversity of the headwater system and also to support the highest quality downstream fish habitat. Development of the new strategy was informed by scientific literature, operational experience and by ecological research conducted on DNR-managed land. A large-scale study, called the Riparian Ecosystem Management Study, was done with a host of cooperators including the University of Washington, the USDA Forest Service, and the Washington State Department of Ecology, among others. This research investigated harvesting impacts to water temperature, water flow, litter fall, and amphibian, aquatic insect and mammal populations among other subjects.

Type 5 Stream and Wetland Literature Review

Wetland protection

Wetlands in forested settings provide a host of ecological functions—both locally and for downstream aquatic ecosystems—that are irreplaceable on the landscape. Wetlands are important to water quality, local and downstream hydrology and habitat. They act as sponges to regulate peak storm flows and filter sediments. They cycle nutrients that are important to downstream aquatic food webs. Wetlands also provide habitat for the majority of Washington’s wildlife species, either perennially, seasonally or for some portion of their life cycles.  Wetlands on forested state trust lands in the five HCP planning units are protected from timber harvesting impacts. These protections are in place regardless of wetland type, size, whether isolated or associated with a stream, or whether the wetland is of natural origin or results from past management activities such as road-building.

Wetland Field Guides


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Allen Estep
Forest Resources Assistant Division Manager; HCP and Scientific Consultation Section


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 Related Links

State Trust Lands Forest Management