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Friends of Seward Park Forest Health Project

For a decade, the Friends of Seward Park’s volunteer forest stewards and scientists have worked to understand the massive sword fern die-off in the old-growth Magnificent Forest. Now we seek funding to support professional scientific research into the die-off and forest health.

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Project Description

Since 2013, volunteer forest stewards and scientists with the Friends of Seward Park have monitored and researched the massive sword fern die-off in Seward Park’s old-growth Magnificent Forest. We have gathered evidence that supports an unknown pathogen as the cause, and not herbivory, drought, or climate change, at least directly. We have investigated how to promote recovery under the dense forest canopy. Similar fern die-offs have since been observed at scattered locations around the Puget Lowland, suggesting a regional problem. The Magnificent Forest also has dying hemlocks, and faces other urban challenges such as invasive species, overuse, and climate change.

Volunteers can only do so much, and we feel professional scientific research is needed to understand and promote forest health. Seward Park is conveniently located to universities and forestry programs that could help research solutions, and serve as a model of citizen-initiated forest science. Our detailed documentation of the natural and human history of the Magnificent Forest and its decline can serve as a baseline for future studies. We hope to raise funds to support graduate or post-doctoral research into the die-off and forest health.

Project Resources

  • Ferns at 'Ground Zero' circa 2011 (left) and 2021 (right).

  • Ferns along the Hatchery Trail, 2011 and 2017.

  • Recovery is difficult in the shade of the forest canopy, but we work to restore these areas.

  • In 2019 we received funding from 100 Women Who Care to support our research into potential pathogens.

  • Working with at-risk youth from Choose 180, we taught interns to monitor tree health 2021-2022.

  • Our interns mapped dead and dying hemlocks in the Magnificent Forest.

Dr. Jerry Franklin, the dean of PNW forestry and "guru of old-growth" argues for the importance of sword fern research at Seward Park.

Project News

WSU Puyallup Sword fern die-off page

Dr. Marianne Elliott of WSU Puyallup has summarized the problem ad provided a list of additional resources

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Chronolog helps monitor the die-off

Recently we installed a chronolog, a station where park visitors can take photos over time and upload them to monitor the progression at an active die-off zone.

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Are extreme temperatures contributing to the Seward Park sword fern die-off?

Dr. Joe Zagrodnik from UW Atmospherc Sciences discusses climate and temperature in relation to the sword fern die-off.

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