Life on a Tree Farm Never Slows Down…. or So It Seems

75 Years and Counting!

As part of Snohomish Conservation District’s 75th anniversary this year, we are highlighting some projects and people who have helped us become one of the most successful Districts in Washington State. We begin with Duane Weston, a local forester, who served on the District Board of Supervisors for many years and is now an Associate Board Member. Duane served as Chairman of the Board when the District first made efforts to gain stable funding through an annual assessment. The District now has two assessments, one for Camano Island (through Island County government), and one for most of Snohomish County. 

Duane Weston

Stilly View Forest

One thing you hear a lot when you take a walk in the woods with local forester Duane Weston is his to-do list. He frequently mentions where he needs to fill in with new trees, clear a fallen log, clean up one of many trails, add more wildlife habitat, or thin an older stand of trees. There seems to be a never-ending list of work on a 40-plus acre tree farm, but you can tell Duane relishes the opportunity to work on it and make on-going improvements.

Duane and his late wife, Anna Marie, purchased 52 acres north of Arlington in 1977. They named it Stilly View Forest and later sold four adjoining acres to son Howard. With a degree in forestry from the University of Washington, and hands-on experience as manager of the 15,000-acre Pilchuck Tree Farm nearby (until he retired in 2001), Duane and Anna Marie set about creating their own tree farm. 

Creating a Tree Farm

A tree shows signs of lightning that swirled down its trunk during a recent storm.

In 1978 the Weston’s logged their first stand of second growth Douglas fir to help pay off the property. The couple’s two sons, Howard and Rob, as well as Duane’s brother Alvin (aka Al or Lee), were a big help planting the logged areas during those early years. Ten-year-old Howard walked beside the two-wheeled planter handing Duane Douglas firs seedlings in bunches of 20, while seven-year-old Rob’s job was to ride along and tell his dad when to plant by watching a rope tied to the tractor wheel. When it reached top center he would yell “plant”, which happened about every eight feet, unless the tractor wheels started spinning (so there is an errant tree or two still standing today). They planted 4,300 seedlings that day in seven hours. Thirty-eight growing seasons later, the dominant trees they planted are now more than 90 feet tall and the boys have fond memories of those days to share with their kids. These trees are a testament to the family’s efforts to be a truly family-run operation.

As we walk through the Weston’s tree farm, which sits on a hillside looking over a pretty valley of farmland and streams, Duane points to a tree that was recently struck by lightning. It’s evident how the lightning spiraled down the tree, almost but not quite reaching the ground. Duane said had it reached the ground, it would have started a fire in the brush below. “Holy Smokes that was a loud explosion”, he said. Even his neighbors heard it and thought it was closer than it was. We passed more than one tree that had been branded by lightning. 

To avoid a monoculture of Douglas fir, one of the most marketable trees, Duane also plants hemlock and cedars. He’s added a few yew trees over the years, and allows a few Bigleaf maples to grow, which add lovely fall colors against the evergreens. The ground is covered with sword fern, salal, salmonberry and other low-growing native shrubs. Along the hillside above a small canyon, where a tributary to Harvey Creek flows, he has let large trees stand. These provide wildlife habitat, shade the water and provide large pieces of woody debris to the stream. All this helps salmon, as it creates pools that are cool resting areas during their migration. 

Providing for Wildlife

Duane cut this small niche in a stump for small mammals to hide and get cover.

Duane is keenly aware of the wildlife that have made the tree farm their home. He leaves a few snags (tall dead trees) for ants and woodpeckers (as long as the snags aren’t near roads or power lines). He can point to several trees that offer deer shelter from the rain. Occasionally he makes angled cuts in a stump (see photo) that critters can take cover in and he often leaves a hollow tree or brush pile in place to shelter small animals from weather and predators. 

Supporting the Forest Industry

Duane’s interests haven’t been limited to his job as Forestry Manager at Pilchuck Tree Farm or as a small forest landowner. The Weston’s have been quite supportive of the forestry industry statewide, offering their tree farm as an educational site, serving on a multitude of boards, and helping new owners learn how to create and manage a successful tree farm. Besides serving on the Snohomish Conservation District Board, Duane is currently on the Washington Forest Protection Board, the WACD Plant Material Center Board and the Stillaguamish Watershed Council. 

Duane demonstrates his newest machine, a log splitter, which helps him split wood much faster. No more sore muscles!

Duane and the Weston family continue to actively manage their small tree farm. Two years ago, Duane harvested and shipped 14 truckloads of marketable timber to local log processing facilities. Recently, the family culled and thinned some small diameter trees which he shipped to Okanogan-area ranchers to use for fencing projects. Besides providing the fence posts, Duane also traveled there to help install more than five miles of fence for a rancher who lost fences during last summer’s intense wildfires. 

What Spare Time?

In his spare time, Duane remains very active. He works with his own specialized fleet of equipment — some as old as the tree farm itself — including machinery he has adapted to better fit his needs. He uses some equipment to cut, split and haul firewood; other machines help keep three miles of trail open as a firebreak and keep all areas of the tree farm accessible.

Duane also builds bird houses, feeding platforms and other wildlife enhancements. Additionally, Duane spends quality time in the kitchen. He learned to cook during Anna Marie’s illness and has become quite a pie baker. The grandchildren love his pies so much that they gave him a “Pie Baking Grandpa” apron.

We appreciate the many dedicated years of passion and service Duane and Anna Marie provided to the Snohomish Conservation District and the forest industry, and the support he has given our staff, supervisors and forest landowners near and far. 

Without Duane, we (and many others) wouldn’t know quite so much about what it takes to run a successful, sustainable small-scale tree farm. 

Article by Lois Ruskell, Public Relations Coordinator

Photos by Kailyn Wentz, Design & Media Specialist