Sword ferns and Western Hemlock trees are dying in this rare old-growth urban forest. This is happening fast: we first detected the fern die-off in 2013. And the death rate of hemlocks exploded beyond normal background levels in just the last five years.
Both die-offs are now seen elsewhere throughout the region, but nowhere so dramatically, nor so easily studied, as here in this 500-year-old forest located smack dab in the middle of Seattle, a metropolitan area of 4 million people.
Neither of these rapid die-offs – not fern, not hemlock – has been the subject of academic or governmental study – probably because they have little or no direct economic value.
They do have ecological value. The sword fern is the dominant understory species of Pacific Northwest lowland forests. Distinguished forest ecologist Jerry Franklin testifies to this significance in the film, and to the importance of research for the benefit of regional forests. The Western Hemlock is not to be overlooked. It is the late-succession climax tree species in these same forests – and is the Washington state tree.
Based on these two die-offs, we suggest that Seward Park’s old-growth forest can serve as a canary in the coal mine – an early warning system for regional forest disease.
We take no pride in this possibility. But since these die-offs, as well as possible future diseases, are visible here – dramatic and conveniently studied – we figure that research into disease causes and mechanisms is our best response.
Please join us. Please consider contributing your time, your insight, and your financial resources so we can figure out these problems. We look for appropriate long-term responses, and maybe to discover some remedies. This forest has been robust and resilient here on this peninsula for 500 years. Help us find an informed yet minimalist approach, here in the Anthropocene, so that it may live for at least 500 more.