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Spokane Spokesman-Review profiles Duane Vaagen

2017-06-23 Ashley Bach

The Spokane Spokesman Review has a great feature story this week on Duane Vaagen and his family business Vaagen Brothers Lumber. The company in Colville in Northeast Washington has roots going back to the 1930s, with the company formally starting in the 1950s.

The Vaagen family is not just a leading timber company, but is a leader in the timber issues of the day. For instance, one of Duane's sons, Russ, has a blog that we have cited before.

(Duane's) two sons, Russ and Curtis, and daughter, Emily, work in the business with ownership going back to his father and grandfather.

They operate one of the few remaining family-owned sawmills in the West, where at one time many small towns in the mountains were anchored by at least one. But they plan to be the last one standing by making changes.

His son Russ is 40 and already has 20 years in the business. He graduated from Washington State University. He determined years ago that environmentalists didn’t want to put him out of business. Rather, he searched for common interests such as protecting the streams and wildlife as well as local jobs.


New Wash. lands commissioner reaches out to rural communities

2017-06-16 Ashley Bach

Newly elected Washington Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz just announced the Rural Communities Partnership Initiative, a new program that will partner the Department of Natural Resources with rural communities on development projects. 

The initiative focuses on stimulating local economies in sustainable, clean ways. From innovative farming methods to forest restoration to recreation to clean energy, no prospective project is too small for consideration. Suggestions and inquiries for those interested in the program can be made at dnr.wa.gov/rcpi.

...“The Department of Natural Resources plays a significant role in economies and communities around the state, yet we have the capacity to do considerably more. We bring a significant amount knowledge, expertise, assets and the ability to convene many groups – local, state, federal, tribal and private. This initiative will push for innovation and opportunity. We think it’s time to explore what’s possible in Washington State and we aren’t afraid to try and on occasion, fail. The will to try new things and our commitment to the communities we live in is what sets our work apart,” says Commissioner Franz.

Franz accompanied the announcement with a two-day tour last week visiting five rural communities: Colville, Prosser, Willapa Bay, Port Angeles and Darrington. (Click on the cities to see media coverage from each of the stops.) Each of the commissioner's meetings received lots of local attention and interest.  


Central Washington forest collaborative is thriving

2017-06-09 Ashley Bach

It's always good to see a spirit of collaboration in the forest. The Yakima Herald-Republic this week wrote about a new project from the Tapash Sustainable Forest Collaborative, a partnership of the state Department of Natural Resources, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Forest Service, the Yakama Nation and The Nature Conservancy.

The Herald-Republic wrote a news story about the project and then a few days later, an editorial praising the collaborative for its commitment to improving forest health.


Clearing fish passage barriers started with collaboration

2017-06-02 Ashley Bach

Recognition continues to grow for the critical role that Washington forest landowners play in helping improve salmon migration.

This spring the Washington Legislature unanimously approved a bill that eases the permitting process for forest owners to clear fish passage barriers and help salmon. Then last month, the Washington state departments of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, and Natural Resources honored 43 large forest landowners for their commitment over the last 15 years to improving forest roads and clearing fish passage barriers to help salmon and improve water quality.

Don Brunell, whose column appears in newspapers around Washington, then wrote about the state's honor of the 43 forest landowners as "a milestone in collaboration and a remarkable turnaround from nearly a half-century ago when regulators, fishermen and loggers were at each other’s throats."

Brunell said the road to collaboration was paved by "two visionary leaders," beginning in the 1970s.


Mark Doumit honored by AgForestry leadership program

2017-05-24 Ashley Bach

AgForestry Press Release -- Mark Doumit was honored as the recipient of the 2017 Stu Bledsoe Leadership Award by members of Leadership Class 38 of the Washington Agriculture and Forestry Education Foundation Leadership Program (AgForestry) at their graduation ceremony in Spokane on April 28, 2017.

The Stu Bledsoe Leadership Award is presented annually to an individual who has made significant contributions to natural resource industries in Washington State. The award, voted on by the members of the graduating leadership class, is given in honor of the late Stu Bledsoe, who served as the Washington State Director of Agriculture, Speaker of the Washington State House of Representatives, and Executive Director of the Washington Forest Protection Association.

Leadership Class 38 believed that the long-term, positive effects of Mark’s trailblazing on behalf of agriculture, forestry and the natural resources of Washington State deserved the honor of the award.


Bear feeding program has 3 decades of success

2017-05-23 Ashley Bach

In 1985, the Washington Forest Protection Association, in cooperation with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, founded what has gone on to become one of the most innovative and effective programs in the world to prevent black bears from damaging healthy trees. The program is compliant with all laws and regulations and is a partnership with the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Read more below about the state’s Supplemental Bear Feeding Program.

Why was there a need for the program?

There have long been problems with bears, porcupines, beavers, deer and elk damaging trees while they forage for food. And black bears, by far, do the most damage. A single foraging bear can peel bark from as many as 70 young trees a day trying to reach the sweet layer of a tree trunk behind the bark. With its bark stripped away, a young tree of 15 to 25 years old becomes susceptible to insects, windbreak and disease, and often dies. The bears, if left to their own devices, cause millions of dollars of damage a year to tree stands, particularly in western Washington.  


Take a 'Walk in the Woods' for forestry

2017-05-20 Ashley Bach

The forestry industry has launched a new effort to promote forests and the people who work in them. Walk in the Woods includes a detailed website, a series of videos and social media channels. 

Colin Moseley, chairman of Seattle's Green Diamond Resources, was one of the leaders of the effort as chairman of the North American Forest Partnership.

Members of the North American Forest Partnership, a diverse group of individuals, companies, state agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, non-profits and professional organizations committed to the management of sustainable, healthy forests, recently launched a first-of-its-kind communications effort – Walk in the Woods. The effort tells the stories of the men and women who work in the forest sector in the U.S. and Canada and opens a dialogue about the important work they do as caretakers of precious forest resources.


Forestry bills succeed in Legislature

2017-05-12 Ashley Bach

We've written a couple times about a bill in the Legislature this year that will make it easier for forest owners to help salmon, and that's because it's a critical piece of legislation.

And now the bill is state law. Gov. Inslee signed the bill on Monday. The legislation streamlines the regulatory process for Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans (RMAP) for landowners. To date, forest landowners have spent more than $300 million in private investment opening more than 700 river miles for potential salmon habitat by removing or replacing culverts and other stream-crossing structures.

Just two days after Inslee's bill signing, the Washington state departments of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, and Natural Resources honored 43 large forest landowners for their commitment over the last 15 years to improving forest roads and clearing fish passage barriers to help salmon and improve water quality.


CLT classrooms in Sequim are sign of things to come

2017-05-06 Ashley Bach

One of the Washington Legislature's finest moves last year was to allocate $5.5 million for the construction of new classrooms around the state using cross-laminated timber. The 20 classrooms for kindergarten though third grade will be built in the Sequim, Seattle, Mount Vernon, Wapato and Toppenish public school districts. 

Installation of the CLT began recently on one of those pilot projects - in Sequim. What's critical about the Sequim project is the wood used to make the CLT was harvested locally, on the Olympic Peninsula, according to Forterra.

“The kids are excited for the new classrooms, and we know they’ll feel more settled in a permanent space made from wood from their virtual back yard.” said Sequim school district Superintendent Gary Neal.

The CLT panels used at Greywolf Elementary were created from locally-sourced timber from the Olympic Peninsula. From the forests of the peninsula to classrooms in Sequim, these classrooms are an example of growing interest nationally in the “Forest to Frame” model—where sustainably-harvested local timber meets demand for local growth, and can spur local economies.


Bill will make it easier for forest owners to help salmon

2017-04-19 Ashley Bach

It was just a few weeks ago that we were talking to Jason Callahan, WFPA’s Director of Governmental Relations, about a bill moving through the Legislature that would streamline the regulatory process for Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans (RMAP) for landowners.

Now that legislation is approved by the Legislature (with unanimous votes in both the House and Senate) and is headed to Gov. Inslee to sign into law.

From the Aberdeen Daily World:

State law requires forest landowners to remove or replace culverts and other stream-crossing structures, located on their land, which can block fish from reaching their spawning grounds and young salmon from reaching the ocean. To date, forest landowners have spent more than $300 million in private investment opening more than 700 river miles for potential salmon habitat.


Nature Conservancy thins forests in Cascades

2017-04-14 Ashley Bach

We have seen growing recognition in recent years of the importance of thinning forests and active forest management. We wrote last fall about thinning projects from the Confederated Colville Tribes in Eastern Washington and the U.S. Forest Service in Southeast Washington. Now The Nature Conservancy is getting attention for an ongoing thinning project on land near Cle Elum it bought from Plum Creek Timber.

From the Associated Press:

On a cold winter day, a small local crew hired by The Nature Conservancy used a yarder, a large piece of logging equipment that relies on a cable system, to haul freshly cut trees, some about 100 feet in length, up a steep hill to the snow-covered road.

For much of the past winter, the crew has been thinning about 100 acres of dense forestland high above Cle Elum Lake.


Vaagen Brothers announces mass timber company

2017-04-07 Ashley Bach

One of the takeways from last week's second annual Mass Timber Conference (and a smaller accompanying event, the Mass Timber Summit) in Portland was that more local manufacturers of cross-laminated timber and other mass timber products will be needed to really jumpstart the industry in the Northwest.

As if on cue, just before the conference, Freres Lumber of Western Oregon announced it was building a production facility to create veneer-based panels 12 feet wide by 48 feet long by up to 24 inches thick. Freres is calling the product the Mass Plywood Panel. 

During the Mass TImber Conference, Vaagen Brothers Lumber of Northwest Washington also had a major announcement of its own. The Colville firm is creating a state-of-the-art mass timber manufacturing company. The firm, starting in 2018, will produce CLT and Glulam beams.


Talking the Washington Legislature with Jason Callahan

2017-03-30 Ashley Bach

We sat down recently with Jason Callahan, WFPA’s new Director of Governmental Relations. Before joining WFPA, Jason spent nearly 16 years as Senior Counsel for the Washington House of Representatives Office of Program Research. There he served as the House’s nonpartisan senior legal counsel, providing legal analysis and advice; conducting legal and programmatic research; drafting bills, amendments, correspondences and other legislative documents; mediating stakeholder discussions; educating elected representatives on topics within his area of expertise; and presenting material at public hearings. His areas of focus were natural resources, environmental and agricultural issues.

Below are highlights of the conversation.

What has been your experience so far in the new job as WFPA's Director of Governmental Relations?

I’ve really enjoyed myself this session. It's been a natural progression of my career to use the skills I learned on the legislative staff in a new way and yet still be familiar with everything I'm doing. I feel like I've been well received on the State Capitol campus. People are open to WFPA. I also get an opportunity to put my spin on the job, which is fun.


See wood's trip from the forest to the marketplace

2017-03-24 Ashley Bach

We write about Vaagen Brothers Lumber a lot because the company is such an innovator in forest collaboration and in communicating what it does. Russ Vaagen, vice president of the Colville, Wash., company, wrote on his blog recently about a video in which he appeared, talking about Vaagen Brothers' commitment to active forest management. 

The video is part of "Era of Megafires," a multimedia presentation that is currently touring the Northwest. The presentation is by Dr. Paul Hessburg, researcher at the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Wenatchee and professor at University of Washington, and Wenatchee film company North 40 Productions.

Vaagen posted a 3-minute excerpt of the video, which has some great footage of Vaagen Brothers treating overcrowded forests in Northeast Washington and making them less suspectible to wildfire. From there, you see where the wood goes. 


Congress introduces bill to promote CLT across the country

2017-03-16 Ashley Bach

Great news to see a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers reintroduce legislation to increase the use of innovative wood products, particularly cross-laminated timber, in construction projects.

According to the Aberdeen Daily World, the Timber Innovation Act will "accelerate the research and development of wood for use in construction projects, such as cross-laminated timber, focusing on the construction of buildings more than 85 feet in height — like the 12-story cross-laminated timber building currently in development in the Pearl District of Portland, Ore."

“Devastating fires across the Washington state have cost billions to fight. Innovative timber products and long term timber contracts could help us achieve better forest health while bolstering local economies,” said (Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.). “This is something the forest products industry has shown us time and again: new innovations and technologies can create new markets for wood and assist us in maintaining healthy working forests.”


Tom Westergreen wins ATFS National Outstanding Inspector of the Year

2017-03-09 Ashley Bach

We are happy to report that the American Tree Farm System has given its 2017 National Outstanding Inspector of the Year award to a Washington forestry leader: Tom Westergreen.

From the ATFS press release:

Westergreen has a life-long passion for tree farming and ATFS. He was raised on and currently manages his family tree farm (in Whatcom County), land that has been sustainably managed by his family since 1888. It is one of the oldest Tree Farms in Washington, having been recognized by ATFS for decades. He became an ATFS Inspector in the early 1980’s and currently serves as a Region Inspection Coordinator in Washington.

Westergreen is an active member of the forestry community in Washington. For example, he has testified at state legislative committee hearings on topics and issues that are important to Washington’s landowners and forests. He is also responsible for developing and overseeing the Whatcom Women in Timber “Woods Tour,” an annual event that for more than 30 years has taken the public out to the woods to see sustainable forestry management first-hand. Westergreen was nominated by the Washington Tree Farm Program.


Pacific Education Institute testifies for natural resource jobs

2017-03-05 Ashley Bach

We last wrote about the Pacific Education Institute (PEI) in December, when it awarded ten $5,000 grants to Washington programs that support student exploration of natural resource management, agricultural science, and environmental science careers.

Since then, PEI has hired a new executive director, Kathryn Kurtz, and Kurtz just testified to the Senate Ways and Means Committee in favor of legislation that would encourage young people to take jobs in the natural resources, like forestry and agriculture. 

Kurtz's testimony was right in line with the mission of the Olympia-based PEI, which teaches children across the state, from kindergarten to 12th grade, about science in real-world, outdoor settings. In the group’s primary curriculum, called FieldSTEM, students observe, report and learn how every part of an ecosystem interacts with each other, with an emphasis on critical thinking and field analysis.


Statewide effort to clear fish barriers takes shape

2017-02-24 Ashley Bach

As we've noted before, forest landowners have been the state leader in clearing fish passage barriers in Washington over the past two decades. Since 1999, with the passage of the historic Forests & Fish Law, state officials estimate that 6,000 barriers have been removed, and about 6,000 miles of habitat have been opened up, with forest landowners responsible for up to 75 percent of the work.

State leaders want to broaden the effort with legislative funding and a multi-agency approach. There are still 40,000 fish passage barriers across Washington, so the state is taking a long-term approach. In 2014, the Legislature created the Fish Passage Barrier Removal Board, and the board spent the next two years talking to 54 cities, counties, tribes and other groups about how to maximize investments in salmon recovery. The Board’s funding proposal to the Legislature for the 2017-19 biennium includes 79 fish barrier projects, 154 miles of habitat opened and an investment of $51.4 million.  

The Board’s priorities are removing downstream barriers first, working with regional salmon recovery organizations to identify priority watersheds, working with cities and counties to remove barriers next to other recently completed fish passage projects and maximizing coordination with groups already removing fish barriers. 

While the state is taking the effort to clear the fish barriers seriously, one of the challenges is making the problem of the fish barriers real and urgent to the average person, and most importantly, to state lawmakers. This is where visuals, storytelling and media attention help. 


Forestry issues get attention in Olympia

2017-02-18 Ashley Bach

It's heartening to see some focus at the Washington State Capitol during this year's legislative session on issues of forest health, active forest management and better fighting wildfires. We're seeing the momentum around the same time that the forestry and pulp and paper industries held their Forest Products Advocacy Day in Olympia.

Gov. Jay Inslee has called for more forest management, and the state Department of Natural Resources wants more projects to thin forests.

This year, DNR is asking lawmakers for $14 million to thin 30,000 acres over the next two years.

“We’re continuing to see an overall deterioration in the health of our forests, and it’s evident by the number of wildfires,” DNR forest health policy adviser Loren Torgenson said.

Another proposal would make it easier for DNR to sell fire-damaged timber, according to the Lens news site.


Legislature could increase prescribed burns and private fire contractors

2017-02-09 Ashley Bach

The Washington Legislature last year considered several reforms to the way the state fights wildfires, and it approved a pilot project to increase the use of prescribed burns to make forests more resilient to fire. That spirit of change is continuing in this year's legislative session, with state lawmakers considering more ways to increase prescribed burns and legislation that would make it easier for the private sector to fight fires. 

Testimony and comments from lawmakers at recent House committee meetings suggest the Legislature is considering whether last year's pilot project on prescribed burns is enough. The state's air quality rules may also need to be changed.

From the news site Lens

Healthy forests need prescribed burns to reduce fuel loads and allow fire-resilient trees to grow again, (testified Dr. Paul Hessburg, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Research Lab), citing other regions in the U.S. where controlled burns are permitted by “social license” or community consensus, even if technically prohibited by rules.