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Seattle City Light hopes new forest better prepared for climate change

A new forest near Carnation includes trees native to Oregon and California in hopes they will better withstand a potentially hotter, drier climate in the future.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — Seattle City Light is imagining what western Washington’s forests of the future might look like with the effects of climate change.

It’s planting thousands of trees on a plot of land near Carnation in East King County. Some of those trees are more familiar to western Washington, and some are from southwest Oregon and northern California. These out-of-state trees are better adapted to hotter, drier climates – one they believe will be more present in Washington by the time the trees reach maturity.

“It’s both a restoration project and an experiment,” said Evan Romasco-Kelly, volunteer program associate for the Washington Service Corps, working with Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

Friday, he was part of a team of people gathering baseline data on the planted trees to chart their growth in this pilot project.

“They come from all over the Northwest, and that’s the experiment side of things,” he said. “We’re thinking and looking forward as the climate changes in the Northwest, which it will. What trees and what climates will it most resemble? And how does that affect our restoration work, and how does that affect the forest that will be here in the future?”

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The project is a partnership – SCL owns the land, but Seattle Public Utilities, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust and the Northwest Natural Resources Group are involved too. The group received a $140,000 grant from the Wildlife Conservation Society to reforest parts of the Stossel Creek area in the Tolt watershed.

Over 14,000 seedlings from seven tree species will be planted to augment surrounding forest.

“We’re trying to ensure that this forest is less vulnerable to the impacts of climate change,” said Ronda Strauch, strategic advisor on climate, environment, land and licensing with City Light.

She said the reforestation sequesters carbon, helps wildlife and improves streams in the area for fish. And the diversity they’re creating will help the forest itself too.

“It is changing,” she said. “And we need to create more resilience in our forest to help it survive into the future.”

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But trees grow slowly, so the fruits of their labors will be years off. Though Romasco-Kelly is excited to see what happens.

“Learning to adapt is a big part of it,” he said.