WSU Extension Brings Flagship Forest Management Course to KP

A nine-week class to be held at the Crandall Center will be a first for Pierce County, but future funding is uncertain.


Forestry education is coming to the Key Peninsula.

Beginning April 4, Washington State University’s extension forestry service will offer its flagship nine-week forest stewardship course to local landowners. The course is broad-based, covering topics like tree biology, soil, wildlife, disease, thinning, safe harvest, invasive weeds and fire risk. It aims to introduce landowners to resources and research that are grounded in the particular challenges of managing Western Washington forests.

According to Kevin Zobrist, the WSU forestry professor who organizes the course, landowners with less than an acre to more than 500 acres will find value in the class — whether their objectives are related to ecosystem health, wildlife, natural beauty, harvest income, or privacy.

The course has been offered for years in other counties. This is its first offering in Pierce County.

“Part of the point of Extension is that we get university faculty and public education courses into the community,” Zobrist said.

While many people are aware of the relationship between a state university and agriculture, where local extension offices research new crops and pests according to local growers’ needs, it is a different model for forestry.

“For farmers, that’s their day job,” Zobrist said. “Forest owners, forestry isn’t their day job. They don’t have forestry background and expertise, and that’s where we come in.”

The course will be held on Thursday afternoons at The Mustard Seed Project’s Crandall Center in Key Center. It includes a weekend field trip and a digital library of how-to guides.

For each participant, the course culminates in a consultation site visit from a professional forester. “We give a lot of content in our classes,” Zobrist said. “People say it’s like drinking from the proverbial firehose.

“Then participants go and walk their property with a forester, and they can see how the course concepts apply to their specific property,” he said. “The forester can do assessments. This stand is overstocked and needs to be thinned. This stand is fine. You have root rot pocket over here; these are your options for dealing with it.” He said the course prepares landowners to ask good questions.

The course can also qualify a landowner to write a forestry plan, a requirement for an undeveloped parcel to be classified as designated forest land, a tax category with greatly reduced property taxes.

Martha Konicek of Longbranch took the course via Zoom in 2018. “Ongoing value can’t be overstated for this course,” she said. “It provided deep and evidence-based information on so many topics."

Konicek called the course a launchpad. Her 20-acre forest is now a certified tree farm, and she is involved with the Washington Farm Forest Association and Woodland Fish and Wildlife Group.

“One of the values of having a local course would be the networking of fellow forest stewards on the KP,” she said. “I personally would value knowing local forest owners, maybe create our own working group going forward.”

Ryan Barringer, manager of Silverbow Farm in Lakebay, also took an online version of the course. For someone who grew up in the woods, he said, with a rich family logging tradition, the course put words to many things he knew intuitively.

“For basic nuts and bolts, it would be tough to beat that course,” he said. “Their goal is just to educate you on what the problems are. What’s nice about it is it’s the collective whole of what they’re seeing in the Northwest.

“What the class drove home for me was the need to actually go in and thin.”

Barringer said it removed an aspectof guilt from cutting trees. The goal of his current work is long-term forest health. “Everybody has a different view of the forest, and that’s fair, but typically the people who see the forest just a few times a year and have a great love for it, they're the hardest people to convince."

He said the course laid out for him the science and data behind Douglas fir monocultures and how they are susceptible to a host of problems that are less of an issue in older mixed-species forests.

Zobrist said, “The question is, why do we need to do anything in the forest when forests took care of themselves for millennia? The answer is these aren’t the forests of yesterday. The forests of yesterday didn’t have to deal with the invasive vegetation. The forests of yesterday were diverse. That helped them self-manage density. We have uniform, dense stands. They need some help.”

“My hope for the class,” Barringer said, “would be for people to take it who would want to go in and just clearcut their property. Okay, property taxes are killing me, I can put my property into ag or forestry and rather than clearcut all of this, I can go in and do a little bit of thinning each year that would offset the property taxes and keep my farm going.”

Zobrist said, “We want to get to people before there is nothing but stumps left. There’s nothing wrong per se with growing a crop for harvest, but if you do it right, you can do it in a way that’s environmentally sensitive.”

Even if participants do not plan on cutting any of their own trees, Zobrist said, they will be trained in harvest techniques. They will be prepared to help neighbors who are considering having their properties logged to ask the right questions, avoid unscrupulous operators, and be paid fairly.

“Your trees have been growing for decades. A little bit of education so that you know what you’re doing is a reasonable investment.”

WSU Extension operates in all 39 Washington counties. It is jointly funded by the USDA, the state university and individual counties. In each county, the specific programs it offers — such as master gardeners, 4H, agriculture, and forestry — are determined by the funding decisions of county officials.

Zobrist says there is pent-up demand for the course, and it spreads primarily through word of mouth. “There is a ton of need in Pierce County, and it has just been unserved for years now.”

While other Puget Sound counties have long invested in WSU forestry programs, Pierce County leadership did not until a two-year pilot was approved in 2022. The extension worked out a deal with the county to extend funding into 2024, but continued funding is tenuous at best and depends on whether county leaders see forestry education as beneficial to their constituents.

For more information and to register for the class go to