In 1972, a young writer from Connecticut fell in love with the landscapes of the Olympic Peninsula. He settled in the foothills above Sequim, hiked and explored the rivers and forests, and tried to evoke them in his poems and essays. Soon he was also immersed in efforts to protect what remains of this vast wilderness.
On July 29 at the Van Zandt Community Hall, Tim McNulty will reflect on his half-century of love and labor for the wild Olympics. He joins Whatcom County poets in a “Seeing the Forest for the Trees” reading and fundraiser for the Center for Responsible Forestry.
Climbing over carnage
In an interview on July 24, he recalled that in order to stay amid the “incredible diversity and beauty” of the peninsula, and to respond to it in poetry, he also had to figure out how to make a living. He joined a collective of tree planters who were dispatched to reintroduce seedlings to logged-over old growth. These hillsides were “more brutalized,” he said, than the alpine trails up to famous vistas. “It was the old-growth logging that probably struck us the most. You climb over the carnage of all these operations and plant trees.” It seemed like “a half step on the positive side of a disastrous program.”
So he joined with fellow planters and other friends to take bigger steps, lobbying Congress for federal protection of more of the Olympics. An early victory, wilderness designation for Shi Shi Beach in 1976, “charged me up,” he said.
McNulty’s poems, published in three collections and several chapbooks, are clear and often plain, evoking logging slash and soggy tents as often as magnificent views. One short piece ends:
“My lover has tunneled down
into her sleeping bag and won’t come out
a tiny tree frog hops up beneath the rain fly
— from In Blue Mountain Dusk, 1992
Tools for preservation
McNulty has never worked professionally as an environmentalist — making his living instead with tree planting, trail building and increasingly, writing. But his activism and his influence have been considerable. He said in his early days on the peninsula he was “reeled in by old-school conservationists” from Olympic Park Advocates, a nonprofit founded in 1948. “There weren’t professional environmentalists back then.” He is currently the group’s vice president, involved in the long-running campaign to secure Wild and Scenic River designation for rivers on the peninsula.
His books — more than 20 so far — and essays have become tools for both local and federal action. Natural histories of Olympic and Rainier national parks remind readers of what is at stake in environmental battles. Essays such as “The Elwha: A River and a Vision Restored” celebrate accomplishments. He said that the dam removal on the Elwha River, completed in 2014 after decades of activism and community negotiations, and the subsequent return of salmon runs there are among the achievements that “cheer me up immensely. It’s slow but steady but that’s going to be the way out of this.”
The newest book project, a major work of photos and essays for which McNulty is the lead writer, is scheduled for publication this October by the Braided Rivers imprint of Mountaineers Books in Seattle. “Salmon, Cedar, Rock and Rain: Washington’s Olympic Peninsula” includes an introduction by Seattle-area author David Guterson and a foreword by Fawn Sharp, vice president of the Quinault Indian Nation and current president of the National Congress of American Indians. Besides McNulty’s main essay on conservation and restoration, it features several pieces on the peninsula from a variety of tribal perspectives.
A local focus
Logging and forestry on the peninsula and elsewhere have been reshaped by a number of federal actions during McNulty’s time, most notably the Northwest Forest Plan of 1994, which sets policies for more than 24 million acres from Washington south into northwest California. A panel will be reviewing the plan and recommending to agencies how the 30-year-old plan can be updated to specifically address the effects of climate change.
As part of efforts to address climate change, some conservationists are shifting focus to the fate of individual timber parcels under state control. Among them is the Center for Responsible Forestry (CRF), the sponsor and beneficiary of Saturday’s event (July 29). Its mission is “to achieve the permanent protection of the last remaining legacy forests in Western Washington by working with impacted local communities and state policymakers.”
CRF concentrates on the 77,000-plus acres of “legacy forests,” acreage that has regrown naturally after logging or fires, recreating much of the carbon density and ecological richness of old growth. It also advocates for creation of more of these environments by changing forest management policies for new timber growth and harvest.
Campaigns to prevent logging on these smaller parcels are a more local and more time-sensitive process. The state Department of Natural Resources puts sections of its trust land up for auction as part of its mandate to manage them for the benefit of local communities and school districts. Wilderness supporters rally to oppose the sales and suggest alternative management for these forests. These locally focused campaigns can be more specific and more nimble than the traditional methods of protection through state and federal legislation.
Accelerating impacts of climate change add to the feeling of urgency for preservation advocates. Legacy forests are not just nice for hikers and wildlife. They are better at carbon capture, better at water conservation and more adaptable to climate variation than the tree plantations that replace them when they are logged. (Read more: “Can trees save the Nooksack River?” Salish Current, Aug. 5, 2022.)
Supporters of the policy shifts include some beneficiaries of the DNR sales’ revenue. The Bellingham City Council has asked the state to cancel sales of timberland in the Lake Whatcom watershed, in order to protect the city’s water supply. The Whatcom County Council in June asked DNR to pause its plans to sell the Brokedown Palace parcel along the Middle Fork of the Nooksack River.
CRF’s website enables citizens to track individual timber sales so that they can contact relevant officials. CRF also provides educational programs, some of them by Brel Froebe, a South Fork Nooksack native whose parents, Jill Froebe and Elizabeth Kerwin, are organizers of the July 29 fundraiser. Like CRF’s work, the fundraiser features local people supporting local projects.
McNulty will be joined by Whatcom County poets including Luther Allen, Judy Kleinberg, Bill Baroch, Lois Holub and Kevin Murphy. The all-ages event includes light refreshments and time to talk. Advance registration is encouraged and attendees are asked to consider a donation of at least $30. No one will be turned away for lack of funds. Works by the participating poets will also be on sale.
Van Zandt Community Hall is at 4106 Valley Highway (Highway 9) in Van Zandt. Hosts remind attendees that construction on the Mount Baker Highway will increase travel time.
— Reported by Lane Morgan