Expert say on everyday issues

What I’m about to say may raise a few eyebrows at first. It may even sound a bit politically incorrect. However, before you book yourself on the next flight to the Pacific Northwest and chain yourself to one of our trees, please hear me out.

Every winter at Avalon Golf Links we take down anywhere from 50 to 100 mature trees. Hang on now, you said you’d hear me out!

The trees in question are almost entirely alders.Dying alders.

Avalon Golf Links was built on a 240-acre forest about 25 years ago. Construction started in 1989, and the course opened in 1991. The Robert Muir Graves design left thousands of trees (mainly alder, birch, cottonwood, fir and cedar) clustered between fairways. To say the 27-hole course was a tight layout would have been an understatement.

Over the last couple of decades, Avalon has transformed itself. They needed to open up the golf course, not only for sunlight purposes, but also for playability sake. Simply finding an errant golf ball was a next-to-impossible task.

When they started clearing wooded areas between holes about 18 years ago, it wasn’t a wholesale clearing. Trees were left scattered about. All fir, cedar and birch trees were saved. It was mainly a clearing of alder. But not all the alder. Better specimens were left standing (although some would argue a “better specimen” of alder does not exist).

At least they were better specimens at the time.

When I took over as golf course superintendent about 12 years ago, I noticed that in these previously cleared areas the mature alders were slowly dying. Not all at once. The tipping (the trees dying from the tops down) was age-dependent. It was random and scattered.

Alnus glutinosa, the common alder, is a fast-growing tree, to put it mildly. I’ve seen saplings turn into 15-foot trees in three years. The average annual growth rate of the tree in its first 20 years of life is anywhere from 24 to 30 inches. Because of this fast growth, they tend to have a short life span. They live hard and die young.

About 10 years ago, we slowly started removing the fast-dying specimens between the holes. At first it was only about 20 or so a year. But over the years that number has increased. The youngest alders that survived the clearing many years ago are now approaching the end of their life. The alder is on the endangered species list at Avalon.

I should clarify that many wooded areas still exist on the golf course. In fact, the entire border of the course is still wooded. The alders are alive and well in these areas, as they keep repopulating themselves.

But on the golf course itself we were slowly turning from a course that had too many trees into one that maybe, someday, wouldn’t have enough.

What we did to counter this effect was not to stop removing the dying trees, but to replace them. For every mature alder we remove, we try and plant two new trees (of a more hardy and attractive species) to replace it. Avalon now plants between 100 and 200 young trees every winter. In the 12 years I’ve been at the golf course I estimate we’ve planted about 1,300 trees.

It’s not an entirely sad story for the alders of Avalon. As they near the end of their happy lives they get the privilege of getting lovingly chopped down by a caring and professional Avalon crew member (well, chain-sawed down), cut into 16-inch lengths, and then split into beautiful quarters of great-burning firewood. They’ve kept many western Washingtonians warm and cozy over the last decade.

Sometime in the future that day may come when the last alder is removed from the golf course (not counting the woods surrounding the course). I estimate this day to be a good 20 years away still. Until then, the chain saws will keep cutting, the stump grinders grinding, the tree planters planting, and wonderful smelling alder smoke will continue to drift enchantingly above the homes of western Washington.

The circle of life.