From Cornfields to Forests–Private Lands Restoration

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By Neva Knott

Sasquatch Farm sits on the bank of Wynoochee River near Montesano, Washington. The brother-sister team of Garry and Nancy Dale purchased the land in 2001 as a family project, something that could bring them together for a shared purpose. The farm has indeed created an epicenter for family gatherings. Garry resides in Atlanta, Georgia and Nancy works in Seattle. Beverly, their mom, lives just two miles away and manages the daily operations. The farm is a labor of love, through which the family intends to bring the land back to a natural state of health.

The Dales are converting this former 60-acre corn farm into a diverse mosaic of native forest.  They have restored the riparian buffer zone along the river and planted high value trees in groves and along the property lines. They grow garlic and tend a garden of medicinal herbs, Wynoochee apples, wine grapes, and vegetables. Their long-term plan is to construct an ecosystem that is equally useful to humans, animals, birds, and fish.

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Their plan is working. They regularly see fox, coyote, and bald eagles. The river boasts a year-round steelehead fishery. Just days before I visited Sasquatch Farm, an elk herd had moved onto the farm, enchanting the Dales with their presence.

Repairing a depleted landscape is a big job. In 2008, seeking guidance, the Dales joined Northwest Certified Forestry (NCF). NCF Director Kirk Hanson suggested they apply for an Environmental Quality Incentives Program grant (EQIP) from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. EQIP is a federally funded cost share program that provides rural landowners with technical and financial assistance to enhance the ecological values of their land. The Dales have been awarded EQIP funds to work with Hanson to develop an overarching conservation plan for the property, and to implement the various conservation practices Hanson recommended.

On an overcast February day that had a hint of spring in the air, the Dales gathered at the farm to execute this year’s EQIP-funded planting. In four days, they created two groves with 2800 native shrubs and trees. The shrubs will provide berries for wildlife, and also serve as pollinators. The rose varieties will also be used to create a hedgerow, or living fence. The trees will fill in gaps created by voles in tree stands from previous plantings.Image

With this year’s planting completed, Baldhip rose, blue elderberry, Douglas spirea, Indian plum, red flowering currant, serviceberry, sweet gale, thimbleberry, and other varieties dot the surface of the land. Douglas fir, red alder, black hawthorn, and Alaska yellow cedar fill in the perimeter of the property.  Beverly proudly explains that trees grow two times the usual rate at Sasquatch Farm, because of the quality of the soil in the Wynoochee’s flood plain. To illustrate the significance of this point she tells me, “When we bought the place, you could just look at the soil and tell it was depleted. Now, the soil looks like chocolate.” Indeed it does.

When I asked Garry if he would recommend the EQIP program, he said, “Oh, yeah.” Also through their work with Hanson the Dales have achieved Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification of their land, which will allow them to eventually sell forest products with the FSC label.

The Dales are committed to working the land at Sasquatch for conservation values, maybe even more so than they are to making money from the farm. Even so, as the ecological value of the land increases, the Dales are creating opportunities for multiple income streams from the farm. Garry is interested in marketable uses of non-forest products, such as the medicinal herbs from the garden. The timber from thinning projects is sold as firewood, and the garlic is a commodity, though most of it is given away to friends.

None of the family members live there—yet. Nancy explains her long-range vision to me, with excitement, “In seven years or so, yes, I do want to live here. Give permaculture workshops, have a restaurant that serves food we grow here.” Beverly chimes in, “I’m just glad we’re doing some good.”

The work the Dales have done provides many ecosystem services. The trees and shrubs store carbon, thus less of it is released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. The riparian buffer zone staves off riverbank erosion, and improves water quality by keeping silt and debris out of the river. These sorts of ecosystems benefits are not possible from land use like the mono-crop corn farming that used to happen there.

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2 thoughts on “From Cornfields to Forests–Private Lands Restoration

  1. What a great article! Stories like this leave me feeling inspired and hopeful. Thank you for posting. – Susie P. @ Friends of Trees

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