The Astoria City Council on Tuesday approved thinning two overly dense swaths of the Bear Creek watershed.

The 3,700-acre watershed provides the city's drinking water. In 2015, the city agreed to limit logging in exchange for banking carbon sequestration credits sold to industrial polluters to offset their environmental impact.

Thinned forest

The Astoria City Council approved thinning two overly dense swaths in the 3,700-acre Bear Creek watershed.

The City Council approved taking bids on a 43-acre thinning in the northwest corner of the watershed this summer that would mimic historic forests and could earn the city $250,000.

Known as a variable retention harvest, the thinning would leave 30% to 50% of existing trees, mimicking the spacing of old growth forests. Benjamin Hayes, the city forester, said the project would also increase the species diversity of a stand dominated by hemlocks.

“When we replant, for instance, we’re putting in cedar, but we’re also retaining all of the spruce and cedar — some alder – and increasing the species diversity across the whole northwest portion of the watershed,” Hayes said.

The city did not have a harvest in 2020, when it sold $837,500 worth of carbon sequestration credits. With the city unable to make profitable timber sales some years, city staff is looking at how to supplement capital improvement funds with carbon sequestration credits.

The City Council also approved taking bids on a 70-acre thinning of new forest just west of the main Bear Creek Reservoir planted after a windstorm in 2007. The 14-year-old forest has grown to around 1,000 trees per acre, too dense for healthy growth and too small to have any commercial value. The thinning project would reduce the density to around 300 trees per acre and cost the city between $20,000 and $30,000.

Hayes has pointed to such thinning projects as a primary method of forest stewardship in the Bear Creek watershed, along with road maintenance to improve water quality.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.