Located in the foothills of Mt Rainier, the Coburg Tree Farm began with the multi-generational dream of Robert Wise, grandfather of Steve, Dave, Carl, and Keith Townsend, to provide an opportunity for his family to manage a forest in perpetuity utilizing the skills and energy of current and future generations of the family. This dream began when he purchased 280 acres of land in 1954 and 1955 and named it the Coburg Tree Farm after the town his grandfather emigrated from, Coburg Germany. By putting the tree farm in the name of his grandsons' name, and naming the tree farm after the town that his grandfather emigrated from, on day one he epitomized the multi-generational aspect of tree farming.
Those grandsons and their families have been recognized by the Washington Tree Farm Program as Washington State Tree Farmers of the Year for 2023. Click here to view a video about their tree farm.
The goals he established for the tree farm are to manage the forest sustainably utilizing the future generations of family members to assure forest sustainability over the long-term, to enhance forestry education, and to protect the wildlife and water on the property. Today his dream continues to live on with the Townsend family on the Coburg Tree Farm. This tree farm is the 9th oldest continuously certified tree farm in the Washington Tree Farm Program.
The goal of sustainable timber management is being met by dividing the property into 13 timber management units of approximately 20 acres each. The units are managed independently and are planned to be harvested and replanted about 5 to 7 years apart, depending on factors on the ground and the timber markets. By creating a staggered distribution of tree ages, there will be income from a timber harvest every 5 to 7 years to fund operations until the next harvest. This can be continued forever.
The Townsends tree farm is close to the Elbe State Forest whichsupports a large elk herd. As such, the Townsends need robust protection from elk browsing. Traditionally they have used Vexar rigid seedling protection tubes, but in 2019, 10-acres of Douglas-fir were pair-planted with Sitka Spruce. Some tree farmers have used Sitka Spruce to protect western red cedar, but this is the first known large experiment of using Sitka Spruce to protect Douglas-fir. Washington State University plans to document and publish the experiment when the trees are above the elk. Early results are very encouraging. Using Sitka Spruce to protect the Douglas-fir appears to be cheaper and requires far less maintenance. This just may become a new normal for seedling protection in high-browse areas.
The goals for wildlife include being environmentally aware and prudent on the land. There is a large diversity of wildlife on the tree farm including deer and elk; beaver, salamanders and frogs in the creek and ditches; and small birds high in the fir tree canopy. And not let’s not forget Edgar, the resident raven! He usually puts in an appearance when the Townsend’s are working there just to check out what’s going on. Other birds include bald eagle, robins, downy woodpeckers, and Pacific Wrens (and their beautiful melodic song).
The recreational and educational ties are many. The Townsend’s have hosted a family salmon picnic for over 50 years. The salmon is baked over alder coals in true style of the Indigenous people of the Northwest. All of the next generation of Townsends have ridden their bicycles on the access trails, built hideouts, and competed in wilderness scavenger hunts. Sitting by the campfire after a long day of tree farm work, sharing family stories, and roasting marshmallows for s’mores is a family favorite. The Townsends have hosted the local Boy Scout troop many times for campouts, merit badges, and fundraising. They have donated pre-commercially thinned trees to the Eatonville Food Bank to be used as Christmas trees, and they have hosted tours for WFFA, the local conservation districts, and the Puyallup Watershed Initiative. Dave Townsend was President of the Pierce County Chapter of WFFA for 10 years, and Steve and Kay are board members. Steve was also volunteered on the Puyallup Watershed Initiative group.
Each family member has a favorite thing or place. Carl loves the cabin and the fire pit, and having a cool drink at the end of the day with the family. Keith loves the cabin and the tall trees in the forest. Lane loves the shamrocks by the creek, especially the four-leaf ones. She calls the area her leprechaun spot. Ivan engineered and built the cabin and the suspension bridge over the creek along with the waterwheel. Spring’s favorite spot is her wedding venue at the tree farm. Yvonne’s likes the view from the top of the Centennial Plantation; from there you can really see the landscape and the lay of the land. You can see the big trees of the second growth forest and the smaller trees of three different management units like a patchwork quilt. While each unit is uniform within itself, over the entire tree farm there is significant diversity. The outdoor logging railroad museum is a special spot on a historical logging railroad grade and commemorates the 1918 steam train logging on the property and in and around Eatonville.
Protection of Krone’s Creek has included the replacement of a fish-blocking culvert through the Family Washington State’s Forest Fish Passage Program (FFFPP) and the establishment of a 3-acre conservation easement through the Washington State’s Forest Riparian Easement Program (FREP). F. Krone was the first known settler along the creek in the area; he/she appears on an 1893 land survey. The Townsend’s follow all the logging rules as they apply to riparian zones.
Grampa Wise was originally from Iowa and had not seen a large tree until he visited an uncle in Yakima area in 1921. He took the train to Seattle over the Cascade Mountains and could not believe the mountains and the trees and the waterfalls. And “Look at those trees!” He immediately fell in love with the Northwest, attended the University of Washington, and never lived in Iowa again.
The four Townsend brothers are now the third generation tree farmers of the property. When Steve and Dave were 11 and 9 years old, Grampa paid Steve 50¢ per day to girdle the alder and Dave got 25¢ if he didn’t get hurt.
For the Townsend’s tree farming was just a way of life. Work ethics were instilled in each generation. They were always planting trees, protecting the trees from browsing and competition, thinning the management units, and making sure the creek water was clean – after all, it was their drinking water too! They learned how to sit still in the forest and watch the elk and how to play cards and games in front of the fire at the end of the day.
To some kids “Spring Break” meant going on vacation to Hawaii or Cancun. To the Townsend’s it meant planting trees, or straightening rigid seedling protection nets in a young stand. It was a great way to grow up and they think (and hope) the fourth and fifth generations will agree. The Townsend’s don’t just grow trees; they grow families.