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Wildfires are complicated, and it's not just a matter of the fires breaking out and firefighters rushing in to put out the flames. Wildfire as a public policy issue is about much more than just the fire - were there fire prevention measures completed beforehand like thinning, to make the forests healthier and less suspectible to fire? Why or why not? How were the firefighting resources deployed around the state? These questions could be answered by a host of parties - the U.S. Forest Service, Congress, the Washington Department of Natural Resources and tribal and other local leaders.
It's no surprise that every wildfire season, as fires burn around the West, these policy questions push to the forefront.
Several U.S. senators from the Northwest say they are optimistic that legislation to end the practice of "fire borrowing" could finally be approved in Congress. The bill would end the U.S. Forest Service's practice of raiding other parts of its budget, including money set aside for wildfire prevention, to meet the rising cost of fighting wildfires each summer.
The reason for the new hope? It has something to do with baseball bats.
There is enormous promise in cross-laminated timber (CLT) for the Northwest timber industry. It seems like every week there is news of talll wood buildings being planned around the country, proposed legislation is in Congress to increase the use of CLT and more states are finding ways to build with cross-laminated timber.
One of the challenges, however, is that there are only two places in the U.S. that currently make CLT -- SmartLam in Whitefish, Mont., and DR Johnson in Riddle, Ore. While the number of CLT projects in Washington continues to rise, there will be limitations until CLT is being manufactured in Washington with Washington wood.
This is the case with what is a very encouraging set of school projects in Washington, including new school buildings in Sequim, on the Olympic Peninsula, according to the Peninsula Daily News.
Active forest management isn't just about providing much-needed jobs to rural communities - it's about keeping forests healthy. This is particularly relevant as Washington's forests continue to be overcrowded and fire- and insect-prone because of a lack of management that has lasted too many years.
Two recent opinion pieces, in the Seattle news site Crosscut and in the Eugene Register-Guard, illustrate the importance of the timber industry's continuing role in maintaining healthy forests.
Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center (and former employee at the Washington Department of Natural Resources) writes in Crosscut that active management must be prioritized, especially as Washington voters this fall decide who to choose as their next Commissioner of Public Lands.
Congratulations are in order for two University of Washington professors who published a report about the causes of the 2014 Oso landslide. Joseph Wartman, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and David Montgomery, professor of Earth and space sciences, were part of a 7-person team from the Geotechnical Extreme Events Reconnaissance Association (GEER) that just won the Geological Society of America's highest prize for engineering geology for their Oso study.
The GEER team, co-led by Wartman, arrived on the scene just days after the landslide and published their report a few months later. As we wrote at the time, the GEER study "found that one of the largest causes of the slide was extreme rainfall. Thirty inches of rain fell in the three weeks leading up to the slide; the state's average for the entire month of March is just six inches of rain. The landslide's area's history of previous slides played another key role."
The late environmental, tribal and civil rights leader Billy Frank Jr. has received many honors in the two years since he passed away. But for a man so great, there can never be enough honors.
In December 2015, Congress voted to name the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, near Olympia, for Frank. The wildlife preserve, so close to where Frank grew up as a member of the Nisqually Tribe, was thereafter known as the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. But the new signs hadn't gone up and most important, the refuge still hadn't been dedlicated under its new name.
Until this week. Hundreds of tribal, federal, state and local leaders came to the refuge on Tuesday to celebrate the renaming and tell stories about Frank and his legacy.
As wildfires continue to burn this summer, it's all the more critical to recognize the importance of forest fuel reduction and more active management of our forests. Even a U.S. senator, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., recently highlighted a video from the Spokane Tribe on the tribe's successful fuel reduction efforts.
The Nature Conservancy just held an open house on its land in Central Washington's Kittitas County, on which the environmental group is selectively logging 310 acres to reduce the threat of wildfire. The land is part of 46,000 acres the group owns in the area.
Momentum continues to grow for federal timber reform, as evidenced by multiple exchanges during a hearing last month in the U.S. Senate.
We've written before about the June 23 hearing in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but it's worth revisiting because it's so indicative of the consensus that is starting to build to end the practice of "fire borrowing" and to also find ways to spur more active management of our federal forests.
Federal officials aren't just talking in broad platitudes about the need for reform - they are showing passion for the poor health of our forests and urgency to make them healthier.
As wildfires rage in California, Arizona and Montana, Wenatchee World columnist Tracy Warner is wondering when the inevitable shoe will drop in Washington.
You might have noticed from the headlines we are entering our region’s wildfire-a-day phase, or very close to it. Early in the season, it’s clumsy accidents in the dry brush. Later we move up to stupid fireworks tricks, followed by lightning strikes in the brittle forest. We live with hope that we will avoid a third straight year of terrible conflagration, destruction and death. Cross your fingers.
Warner is right to be wary. Unfortunately our state's forests are in such poor health because of a lack of active management that a horrible wildfire season is nearly inevitable. At least our state's firefighters are ready.
State Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark testified in Congress last week in support of legislation that would end the U.S. Forest Service practice of "fire borrowing" -- raiding other parts of the agency's budget to pay for record wildfires. The bill also includes a "pine pilot," a pilot fire fuel reduction project. (We wrote earlier this month about the legislation.)
Lens, a new political and business news site in Washington, recently took a multi-tiered look at the state's poor forest health, the various reasons why federal forests here aren't actively managed and how more management would help.
The feds, for one, need to take a more active role, especially as Washington's federal forests increasingly become a tinderbox for wildfires, according to forestry leaders.
Private landowners are...hoping the Forest Service will take a more vigorous role in managing its forests so they have a “healthy neighbor,” said Cindy Mitchell. Mitchell is the senior director of public affairs for the Washington Forest Protection Association.
Absent a more active role, the Forest Service will be “creating a condition that results in a McMurray,” she said in reference to the ongoing Fort McMurray fire in Canada. The wildfire has burned 1,457,910 acres so far.
Cross-laminated timber has incredible promise in providing a environmentally sustainable building material and in turn, helping to maximize the use of harvested timber, said Thomas DeLuca, director of the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at University of Washington.
Randy and Linda Lawffer, whose family has owned its tree farm in Clark County for more than a century, have received the 2016 Washington Tree Farmer of the Year award from the Washington Tree Farm Program.
The award was announced today at the Washington Farm Forestry Association annual meeting in Olympia.
The 250-acre Lawffer Tree Farm, in northeast Clark County, near Amboy, has been in the Lawffer family since the early 1900s, when Randy Lawffer’s great-grandfather bought the property.
Randy Lawffer has been involved in timber his whole life, whether at home on the tree farm or at work as a log scaler. He took over management of the family property from his father nearly 40 years ago.
There is renewed promise for federal legislation that would end the practice of "fire borrowing," and editorial boards are calling for wildfire reform in Washington State as well.
We wrote a few months ago about the last-minute death of a U.S. bill that would have ended the Forest Service's practice of raiding other parts of its budget to pay for firefighting. Now a bipartisan group of senators have introduced the Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act, another piece of legislation that would end fire borrowing.
The Seattle Times and Vancouver Columbian both recently expressed support an end to fire borrowing.
(Washington Gov. Jay) Inslee and (State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter) Goldmark support a more direct way to deal with wildfires: Treat them in federal accounting the way hurricanes and floods are handled across the country.
They are all disasters that claim lives, destroy private property and put communities in jeopardy. Create the budget structures and cost thresholds used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others.
This approach has bipartisan support among Washington’s congressional delegation.
Failure to maintain forest health with thinning, and disease and pest control creates fire hazards that can cost vastly more to extinguish. Raiding the forest-health funds to pay for putting out fires only compounds the budgetary madness.
There are so many positive developments each week in the use of cross-laminated timber to construct tall buildings that they can be hard to track.
Just two weeks ago, the Timber Innovation Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill, with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) as one of the sponsors, would increase federal research and grants into the construction of tall wood buildings, extend the Tall Wood Building Prize for five more years and help implement a state-by-state education program for the use of CLT in tall buildings.
“This legislation will not only help reduce the environmental footprint of the built environment, it will help keep families, who own and care for a large portion of U.S. forests and supply a majority of the timber we use, on the land and help them keep their land in forest. In this respect, it is an incredibly powerful forest conservation strategy and we thank Senators Stabenow, Crapo, Klobuchar, Daines and Cantwell for leading the effort,” said Tom Martin, (American Forest Foundation) President and CEO.
Just in the last week, Bloomberg and National Public Radio have written stories about the rise of CLT in the Northwest.
It's not often enough in Washington that you hear stories about loggers near the urban Seattle area -- forestry is happening everywhere, not just in forests far from any kind of city.
Preston Drew has been logging for four decades, and his company, Drew Logging, is based in Carnation, on the outskirts of the Seattle metro area and in the same county as Seattle (King County). TimberWest Magazine, which covers the West Coast timber industry, profiled Drew in its most recent issue.
The secret to his success and preserverance? Flexibilty and durability over time, while also understanding exactly what works for him and his business.
Drew has worked a variety of jobs that include U.S. Forest Service timber sales (the first in 1973, the last in ’95) and land clearing work from 1994 until 2005 when the recession hit. He has even done production driven work for industrial timber owners. Yet what Drew kept returning to, and now defines as his niche, are thinning jobs for private, family landowners. He has worked exclusively with these property owners for the past 10 years.
“The nice thing about thinning is it pays well, though there is less production. It’s not so impacted by market shifts,” he explains. Drew prefers second thinning, large volume jobs with one MBF (thousand board-feet) or better, as these jobs have the high-value logs. This type of land also has the topography best suited to the mechanized ground-based logging that Drew employs.
...During his career, he has logged as far south as Eugene, Oregon, as far north as Mt. Vernon, Washington, and west to Westport and the Olympic Peninsula’s Port Angeles. Drew even recently worked a challenging job on Whidbey Island that had 12 loads taken off the island. He also stays busy by purchasing his own sales and as a result of word-of-mouth referrals.
Young people, quite simply, are the future of forestry. Some of them may learn about the industry through their parents or other relatives, some of them may already live in rural communities, while others may live in larger cities and have to discover the outdoors from the ground up.
Farmer Jack Gray and retired forester Dick Powell recently wrote an op-ed in the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard about the importance of outdoor education.
Getting outdoors — out of the classroom and immersed in how our natural world works — inspires kids and opens possibilities they never dreamed of before.
This is why Tillamook County, for example, whose economic base relies heavily on natural resources, is such a strong believer in outdoor education. The people of Tillamook understand that the link between outdoor education and economic impact is not at all a “bit of a stretch,” as Sen, Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, put it, because the next generation’s success as adults depends on having an appreciation and knowledge of natural resources.
Our society is increasingly urbanized and increasingly distanced from the natural world. If our children believe their cereal and milk come from Fred Meyer or that 2-by-4s come from Home Depot, when they grow up they are more likely to make uninformed decisions regarding their use and care of the natural world.
Plenty of positive forestry developments in the last week at the two largest colleges in Washington - University of Washington and Washington State University.
We already reported on the excellent talk at UW by London architect Andrew Waugh about the power of cross-laminated buildings. Russ Vaagen of Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, Wash., was there as well and described the experience on his blog.
Andrew and his team are the real deal. They have been urging their clients to use “Timber” (In the US we use either wood or lumber to describe the same thing) in their urban developments. This drive comes from their real desire to do what’s best for the environment. They don’t think it’s enough just to put some solar panels or a windmill on the top of your building and say, ‘Look, we care about the environment.’ He acknowledges that concrete and steel are necessary to build with, but not exclusively. He makes this point very eloquently when he shows a slide of his presentation that has an image of his hand with some seeds in the palm and says, “This is what it took to create the product for that building.”
Vaagen pointed out that Waugh is "one of the world leaders in designing and building with wood."
Andrew is full of great information. I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to him and look forward to working with him to advance the global use of Timber. It’s ideal for the rural communities where the product is made, beneficial for our cities and best of all it’s the best building material for the planet.
Architect Andrew Waugh is a true pioneer in the use of cross-laminated timber in large buildings. His London firm, Waugh Thistleton, built the first CLT building in the UK, and when its Murray Grove building opened in 2009, it was the largest modern wood building in the world. Waugh has been featured in the New York Times, Financial Times and Popular Science, among many others.
Waugh is so revered in the CLT building industry that he was one of the judges last year of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize (developments in Portland and New York were the winners).
So it was quite a pleasure to listen to Waugh speak this week at the University of Washington, thanks to the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, the Washington Department of Commerce, Forterra and the Washington Forest Protection Association.
When Waugh's firm first started building with CLT in 2003, it was very difficult to convince clients to use wood as the primary building material, Waugh said. The firm's first CLT project was very small, just 450 square feet, and Waugh was only able to build Murray Grove six years later because London had a shortage of steel and concete from construction of various projects for the 2012 London Olympics. It was only then that his client was willing to build with wood, even with the much lower cost, shorter construction schedule and ease of building.
This is a big election year, with not just a presidential race but all kinds of critical local and state races as well. Which is why the Northwest office of the Society of American Foresters decided to devote most of the latest issue of its paper, Western Forester, to the upcoming election.
Forestry professionals aren't consulted nearly as much as they should be on topics like wildfires, drought and forest health, wrote Travis Joseph, President and CEO of the American Forest Resource Council, in the new issue. But that lack of input could be short-lived, Joseph says.
The 2016 election cycle provides an extraordinary opportunity to change this dynamic—at every level of government. Now is the time for foresters and forestry professionals to raise public awareness about our issues, to educate and engage candidates and decision makers on forestry-related policies, and to establish forestry professionals as constructive, solutions-oriented partners.
In Washington State, forest landowners in the '90s realized they wanted predictability more than anything else in forestry regulations and that it made no sense to fight the timber wars of the past, wrote Cindy Mitchell, Senior Director of Public Affairs for the Washington Forest Protection Association, in another Western Forester story.
The debate between the two leading forest certification systems - the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - has been going on for many years. We have followed it closely, with a lot of posts and updates (here's an example). But the funny thing about the debate is, it really didn't need to be a debate at all.
SFI has always just wanted a level playing field. The leading green building standard in the world, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), had never recognized wood from SFI-certified forests, or really any other certification system other than FSC. FSC had a monoply, and SFI just wanted to be treated equally.
Now it's all finally changing. It was just announced that the U.S. Green Building Council, which administers LEED, will now give credit for wood from SFI and other certification systems besides FSC. This is a really big deal, because it means that the majority of sustainably managed forests in the U.S. will now be able to be part of the world's largest green building standard. That opens up a world of opportunity for American timber.
While federal wildfire reform died a last-minute death back in December, hope is not lost for meaningful legislation to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires.
As we wrote in January, the issue that Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that the feds must end the practice of "fire borrowing," where the Forest Service raids other parts of its budget to pay for firefighting.
The current momentum seems to be centered on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which was the more White House- and Democrat-favored bill last year to end fire borrowing. That said, Republicans seem willing to support it if it frees up more money for the Forest Service to prevent fires, not just fight them.
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, wrote this week that he’s still trying to get fire borrowing legislation passed. Crapo is one of the primary sponsors of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.
I recently had the opportunity to join fellow Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) in speaking on the Senate floor and offering a bipartisan amendment to draw attention to the need to permanently fix wildfire funding now and end the senseless practice of raiding fire prevention and other U.S. Forest Service accounts to fight this year’s fires.
We introduced an amendment to the energy bill being debated by the full Senate that would end fire borrowing for good, stop the erosion of the Forest Service budget and ramp up fire prevention projects, thereby reducing wildfire risks and fire suppression costs.