Forest Management

A rugged mountain slope in the OESF

An Innovative Approach

The Olympic Experimental State Forest (OESF) was designated in 1992 to test and learn from an innovative management approach to meeting revenue and ecological objectives. This approach is called “integrated management.” Rather than divide the OESF into a working forest and a nature preserve, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages the OESF as an integrated whole, with timber harvests interspersed with sensitive areas that are managed lightly or not at all. The goal is to create a mosaic of forest ages ranging from newly planted to old growth.
The integrated forest provides quality timber for harvest as well as habitat for native wildlife species, along with other benefits such as carbon storage, water and air filtration, and places to hike, hunt, camp, and enjoy the outdoors.

Meeting Revenue Objectives

In the OESF, DNR generates sustainable revenue for specific trust beneficiaries, primarily through timber harvest. On average, approximately one percent of the OESF is harvested each year. Timber harvested from this forest provides non-tax revenue for schools, universities, and essential county services such as fire departments. Learn more about timber sales on state trust lands, including sales that are currently proposed for auction. Use the product sales viewer to see a map of these sales.
After a harvest, DNR replants forests using seedlings from Webster Forest Nursery. DNR monitors the stand and performs various sivicultural activities, such as thinning and removal of competing vegetation, to keep the forest healthy as it grows.

Harvest Techniques

A variable density thinning in the OESF
Looking toward a gap in a variable density thinning in the OESF.
In the OESF, the primary harvest techniques are thinning and stand replacement harvest. In thinning, trees are removed in an irregular pattern, some gaps are introduced into the forest canopy to encourage development of an understory of young trees and shrubs, and other areas are left as they are to provide additional variation in forest stand structure. This technique is called "variable density thinning" (photo, above).
Variable retention harvest in the OESF
The irregular shaped opening created by a variable retention harvest. 
For stand replacement, DNR uses a technique called “variable retention harvest" (photo, above). With this technique, DNR retains at least eight standing, large, and small trees per acre that represent the pre-harvest stand. Snags are also retained when it is safe to do so. DNR also retains habitat for threatened and endangered species and forest in sensitive areas such as potentially unstable slopes, wetlands, and stream banks. The result is an irregularly shaped harvest opening. This technique is different than clear-cutting, in which all trees are removed.

Meeting Ecological Objectives

In managing the OESF for timber harvest, DNR also must meet specific ecological goals described in its State Trust Lands Habitat Conservation Plan and the Policy for Sustainable Forests. For example, DNR restores and maintains a percentage of the OESF as habitat for northern spotted owls; provides nesting habitat for marbled murrelets; protects special habitats like talus fields and wetlands; and restores and maintains streams for salmon and trout. DNR also has overarching goals to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem resilience. 

Riparian Forest Management

Riparian area in the OESF
When conducting upland harvest, DNR retains an area of riparian (streamside) forest along both sides of streams called a riparian buffer. The purpose of the buffer is to keep water cool, stabilize stream banks, and provide large pieces of wood that fall into the stream channel. This “in-stream wood” slows the water, traps sediment, releases nutrients into the water, and helps create pools and other structures in the stream that are important to salmon.  

Northern Spotted Owl Habitat Management

A northern spotted owl and its habitat
A northern spotted owl and its habitat.
The northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) is a federally listed threatened species that relies on older forests to roost, find food, and nest. To support these owls, DNR divided the OESF into 11 administrative areas called “landscapes.” and manages 40 percent of each landscape as northern spotted owl habitat. Over time, the location of northern spotted owl habitat may gradually shift within each landscape as new areas mature into habitat and other areas are harvested or are affected by natural disturbance such as wind, fire, or landslides.

Marbled Murrelet Habitat Management

A marbled murrelet and its nesting habitat
A marbled murrelet and its nesting habitat.
The marbled murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus) is a threatened species that feeds in the ocean and nests on the large branches of mature conifer trees. In 2019, DNR adopted a long-term conservation strategy for the marbled murrelet as an amendment to the State Trust Lands Habitat Conservation Plan. Under this strategy, DNR designates and protects forestlands that are important to murrelet conservation. 

Forest Land Plan

In 2016, DNR adopted a forest land plan for the OESF. The plan provides foresters and managers the practical guidance they need to implement DNR’s experimental, integrated management approach on a day-to-day basis and also describes the OESF Research Program and adaptive management process. During the planning process, DNR gathered information from local community members, tribes, recreation groups, environmental groups, timber industry organizations, local public officials, members of the scientific community and others. View the forest land plan and revised draft and final environmental impact statements.​