The Nisqually Indian Tribe is funding a fish habitat assessment of one of the first community-owned commercial forest in the state.

Last fall the non-profit Nisqually Community Forest organization bought 640 acres in the upper Nisqually River watershed. The tribe’s study will help the nonprofit understand the stream habitat on their new property and the effects forest management could have on threatened steelhead.

Partners in the community forest effort include the Nisqually River Foundation, the Nisqually Land Trust, Northwest Natural Resources Group, the Nisqually Tribe, Pierce County, and the Mount Rainier Visitor Association.

“From our perspective, local ownership means more responsible ownership,” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the tribe.

The Nisqually Community Forest was founded in 2011 with the aim of owning 25,000-plus acres of harvestable timberland centered on the upper Nisqually watershed.

Lately, absentee owners such as holding companies have begun buying commercial timberlands. More than 50 percent of the timberland in Pierce County is owned by out-of-state corporations.

“Our goal is to ensure that the benefits of the forest, like clean water, abundant fish, jobs, forest products, and recreational opportunities stay local,” said Justin Hall, executive director of the Nisqually River Foundation. “Any profits made from managing the forest will be put back into the forests, local communities, and the watershed.”

“As owners, we can show it’s not either fish or jobs, but that it is possibleto balance forestry jobs with protecting salmon habitat,” said Farron McCloud, chairman of the Nisqually Tribe. “Additionally, we have a long history of working with our neighbors to make sure they can continue to farm and cut timber and we can continue to fish.”

The habitat assessment will be conducted on an unnamed tributary to Busywild Creek — which bisects the community forest — by biologists from tribe and the Nisqually River Foundation. They will track the flow and velocity of the creek and catalog large woody debris.

“We’re going to take a look at what we have up there now so we can make sure we can protect it in the future,” Troutt said.

Many of the issues in this part of the Nisqually watershed resulted from poor past forest practices. “Logging too close to streams has meant that there is too much sediment lower down in the watershed, and that important habitat features like logjams aren’t forming,” Troutt said. “Responsible logging by a community-owned forestry outfit would mean that we won’t repeat those mistakes.”