EATONVILLE, Wash. — A tree farm in Eatonville is experimenting with a unique way to guard its younger trees against hungry deer and elk. They’re using trees to protect trees.

The Townsend family has farmed the 277 acre Coburg Tree Farm since 1954.

One way the family protects their young Douglas fir trees is a traditional method of setting up nets as a physical barrier. It’s a process that’s been around for a while, but it doesn’t always work well.

Sometimes the trees grow through the netting, which can cause choke holds on the trunks. 

“Part of the issue with the nets is that it's very, very time consuming," said Keith Townsend.

The oldest Townsend brothers are now testing a process called “pair planting” to protect the young trees. The technique involves planting Sitka spruce trees next to the Douglas fir trees to act as a babysitter or watchdog.

“The spruce has sharp needles on it. When the deer and elk try to browse on the tree, they'll get a poke in the snout,” Townsend explained.

Using the Sitka spruce trees to protect the Douglas firs is cheaper than using the nets as a physical barrier. Townsend said using the trees is half the cost, with far less labor and monitoring.

They believe it will take five years to see if the experiment works in favor of the spruce trees.