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Changes in Washington’s Forests Leave Them Vulnerable to Fire, Bugs

First-of-its-kind scientific paper sets context for long-term forest restoration and management

Forests Map

Explore a map from the paper that depicts "ecological departure."

August 07, 2012

The forests of central and eastern Washington are vastly different than they were 100 years ago, and those differences make them more susceptible to catastrophic fires and insect outbreaks, and limit the forests’ ability to provide the ecological services society values, such as clean air, clean water, forest products, recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat.

That’s the gist of a new paper by Conservancy scientists Liane Davis, Ryan Haugo and Darren Kavanagh. Haugo will present the paper, “An Ecological Context for ‘Whole System’ Conservation of Eastern Washington Forests,” at the Ecological Society of America’s 97th Annual Meeting Tuesday morning in Portland, Ore. About 4,000 people are expected to attend the meeting, titled “Life on Earth: Preserving, Utilizing and Sustaining our Ecosystems.” The meeting, the largest gathering of ecologists in the United States, is taking place at the Oregon Convention Center all week. 

The paper, the first study of its kind for Washington’s forests, sets the context for long-term restoration and management in those forests. The team is now working on another study that will develop more specific recommendations about what can be done to restore these forests to functional health.
Washington Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark issued a forest health hazard warning in July for four counties affected by major outbreaks of spruce budworm and pine bark beetle. He was acting on recommendations of a technical advisory committee, which reviewed the Davis-Haugo-Kavanaugh study in concert with analyzing the conditions of the forest, said the Conservancy’s Reese Lolley, who served on the committee. 

For more information about the ESA annual meeting, go to


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