The greening of Mount St. Helens

  • Returning to normal: Mount St. Helens from Johnston Ridge

    Jim Quiring photo/USFS
  Dick Ford didn't think it possible. Weyerhaeuser Co." s timber lands near Mount St. Helens, the volcano that erupted in Washington state 17 years ago, are turning green.

"I remember thinking that it would never be a normal forest," says Ford, who managed Weyerhaeuser's replanting operations around the volcano through the 1980s. In the months following the blast, the company planted some 18 million Douglas and noble fir seedlings on 45,000 acres.

Now, many of those have become trees 40 feet tall and a foot thick. In 10 years they'll be ready for thinning, Ford predicts.

Some places still remain bare because the ash was too deep or hot easterly winds withered seedlings. Overall, though, Douglas and noble fir are thriving because ash suppressed competing vegetation by sealing in moisture. "It was like early weed control," Ford says. The key to helping the new forest survive was planting trees in soil below the ash.

Meanwhile, though logging is years away, environmental groups are watching Weyerhaeuser's work. Charlie Raines, a Sierra Club activist in Seattle, points out that logging prior to the eruption caused serious soil erosion. Future logging, he says, will have to be done very carefully.

* Andre Stepankowsky

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