How Forests Work

What do you see when you enter a forest? Look up and you see the canopy, looking down you see the soil beneath your feet, and in between is the understory.

Path through forestBut what’s going on in each of these places? The cycle of life plays out, top down and bottom up. Mammals, birds, insects, plants, lichens, fungus and many more organisms are busy turning the old into new, over and over again.

Tiny mushrooms growing in moss at base of tree
Tiny mushrooms growing in moss at base of tree

Anything natural lying upon the ground is constantly being broken down, chewed up, digested and composted, enriching the soil each step of the way. Under the surface rodents and insects tunnel. Fungi spreads. This process creates the space and connections for the transfer of air, water and nutrients to root systems.

A Forest Is a Busy Place

One of the amazing things about forests only recently come to light is how they communicate through the tangled roots and fungi in the forest floor:

As trees fall, more sunlight filters through the canopy and helps to germinate the seeds scattered by animals and birds. Soon new plants fill out the understory. The branches of leaves and needles in the canopy feed trees through photosynthesis. They also shield shade-intolerant plants from direct sunlight, protecting everything below from the impact of raindrops, changing temperatures and wind.

path through a forestLive trees help mitigate climate change. Western Washington forests, like in Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park, are some of the best in the world at storing carbon! But the trees have to be allowed to mature for this to happen. The rate of carbon storage (sequestration) in our forests is at its highest when the trees are 40 to 100 years old.  

Later, as the maturing trees start to experience increased mortality, carbon is released back into the atmosphere, causing the net rate of sequestration to slow down. But new trees will emerge, doing their part to keep this carbon cycle going.Frosted fallen leaves

Catch the Action

Here in Kitsap County, a good place to see how forests work is at Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park (PGFHP). The park has a variety of forest sections with a range of features: old, young, evergreen, deciduous, dense, open, wet, dry, flat, sloped and so forth.

In an open, clearcut tract with very young, replanted trees, most plant growth is lower to the ground. This makes regrowth more vulnerable to being out-competed by robust, non-native and invasive species.

Step into a dense, even-aged section (typically of planted Douglas firs), and you don’t often see much of an understory, because much of the sunlight is blocked by the thick canopy.

fawn in the woods
fawn in the woods

In sections where nature has been able to run wild, without commercial harvests in decades, you’ll find a beautiful habitat mix of conifers and deciduous trees. Beneath, a glorious sea of green understory unfolds, thanks in part to filtered sunlight.

Open spaces, crumbling stumps and fallen trees sprout mini forests of their own – ideal habitat for plants and animals. In these areas, the cycle of ecological succession naturally creates new spaces for native wildlife.

Let’s Keep Our Headstart

Our Forest Fund wants to see PGFHP grow into healthy habitat sooner rather than later. That is why Our Forest Fund is raising money to purchase the timber rights at PGFHP.  We could keep about 1800 acres of trees standing instead of being clearcut over the next 21 years.

In time a new forest will emerge eventually despite the harvests. However, if we can save these trees now, our descendants will be able to experience healthy forest habitat much sooner. And many generations of wildlife will be able to thrive.

Time is of the essence. We must do our part now to reduce some of the impact of climate change by keeping mature trees standing. Please consider a contribution to help save the trees in Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park.