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Land | Environment

A Seattle First: Parks With Sustainable Urban Forests

Seattle has earned a distinction that no other metropolitan area can boast: forested parkland that meets the highest international standards in sustainable forest management.

The Forest Stewardship Council certification means the Seattle park system meets the gold standard in environmentally friendly forestry.

“The FSC certification helps ensure we are doing the right things to assure a healthy and sustainable forest for Seattle,” said Mark Mead, senior urban forester with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. Mead helps the parks manage their 2,500 acres of forestland, which covers 6 percent of the city’s entire land area.

The FSC standards were established nearly 20 years ago and represent the world’s strongest system for guiding forest management toward sustainable outcomes, but until recently it has largely been associated with “working forests,” or forests that are logged for timber.

“The FSC certification is for folks who want to be able to more directly support well-managed forests. You can vote with your dollar by spending it on FSC-certified wood products,” says Kirk Hanson, director of Northwest Certified Forestry, the group that conducted the independent review of Seattle’s forested parks.

For timber buyers, Hanson explained, the FSC label ensures that the timber that comes from the forests has been logged in a responsible manner.

Mark Mead, Seattle Sr. Urban Forester

But earning this certification doesn’t mean Seattle will suddenly begin logging its forested parklands.

“We want to be crystal clear that we don’t have a mandate to sell any timber,” Mead says. “Our mandate is to manage these forests for their ecosystem services —- sequestering carbon, keeping Lake Washington clean, providing habitat for wildlife, etc.”

But if a tree happens to fall in a Seattle park forest?

“The certification would allow us to sell it as FSC-certified timber, if we wanted to. But there’s infinitely more value in leaving a tree that falls,” says Michael Yadrick, a plant ecologist with Seattle Parks. “It does immense amount for the soil. It enhances the ecosystem.”

The fact that Seattle parks have earned this distinction represents a shift. No longer is the FSC certification only for timber-generating forests.

“It’s for forest owners that aspire to get public recognition for their forest stewardship,” Hanson says.

Michael Yadrick, Seattle Plant Ecologist

Mead said the certification is an endorsement of work of the Green Seattle Partnership, one of the largest public-private urban forest restoration programs in the country. It’s a joint effort between the city and the land conservation group Forterra to restore forested parklands by removing ivy and other invasive species which threaten Seattle’s urban forest.

Every forest, regardless of whether it’s logged for timber, must be cared for in order to stay healthy and productive, Yadrick explained.

“We’re doing this for the next generation,” Yadrick says. “Hopefully, our children and grandchildren will walk through these forests and see really healthy sustainable forests that are the epitome of the Pacific Northwest forests that we all love.”