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Wildfires shed light on lack of state wildfire funding

2015-08-27 Ashley Bach

As Washington faces one of its worst wildfire seasons ever, including the largest fire in state history, attention is turning back to the wildfire budget requests made earlier this year by Washington Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.

Goldmark asked the Legislature for $20 million for forest thinning and other wildfire prevention measures. Lawmakers gave him $10 million.

Goldmark asked the Legislature for $4.5 million to actually fight the wildfires as they happen. Lawmakers gave him $1.2 million.

In an interview with the Seattle Times this week, Goldmark said he's upset that the Legislature didn't give him his full request, especially in light of the massive wildfires that came to pass.

“I’m disappointed in their lack of understanding that public safety is a big issue,” Goldmark, a Democratic statewide elected official who runs the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said in an interview. “We’re doing our best with the scarce resources.”

State lawmakers say their practice is to go back and fund the firefighting from the previous summer in a supplemental budget, which is what happened this year for the 2014 wildfires. And Gov. Jay Inslee says the lack of funding never limits how the state fights wildfires (since the firefighting is always eventually paid for). 

But is this smart budgeting? And regardless, it doesn't explain the relative lack of funding for forest thinning and wildfire prevention.

(READ MORE)

Washington, Oregon put out call for aid in wildfires

2015-08-19 Ashley Bach

The wildfire season is busy enough this summer that in both Washington and Oregon, many communities need help to fight the fires.

For the first time in state history, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources is asking for volunteers to fight wildfires. The state needs volunteers to coordinate at centers in Omak, in north-central Washington, and Colville, in Northeast Washington.

If they can't show up in person, volunteers should not call DNR - the state has already been deluged with responses. They should first fill out this online survey providing the state with their information.

Every volunteer should also have wildland firefighting qualifications, which means "an Incident Qualification Card (commonly called a Red Card), a “Blue Card,” or a letter of certification from a local or rural firefighting agency stating that you have met appropriate physical fitness, experience and training standards for serving on wildfire incidents."

Volunteers can also go directly to the coordination centers in Omak and Colville. More information about the centers can be found here.

(READ MORE)

Support continues in D.C. to fix wildfire funding

2015-08-15 Ashley Bach

We wrote last week about how there seems to be wide support in D.C. to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires. Leaders from both parties agree that the U.S. Forest Service should not have to raid its own budget to fight massive wildfires, a practice known as "fire borrowing." Instead, the Forest Service should be able to use money set aside for natural disasters. 

But that's where the agreement stops. The Obama administration and many Democrats want a bill called the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would focus only on getting rid of fire borrowing. For many Republicans and timber leaders, however, this bill doesn't go nearly far enough. They support a bill passed by the U.S. House last month called the Resilient Federal Forests Act. The bill would get rid of fire borrowing but also increase active management of our federal forests and help restore our rural economies. 

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, wrote an op-ed this month in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin in support of the Resilient Federal Forests Act.

The federal government made a promise to actively manage America’s forests for the benefit of those who call this land home — and to preserve it for their livelihood. Clearly, the government has faltered in this commitment. Decades of burdensome regulations and frivolous lawsuits have hindered forest management.

...This summer, I voted for H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015. This bipartisan legislation incorporates the best combined ideas from my bill, which calls for the Forest Service, local leaders and private companies to work together to expedite environmental review.

This bill will modernize the contract approval process so the Forest Service has the tools they need to quickly remove dead trees and to effectively manage forests in Eastern Washington and across the country.

(READ MORE)

Wildfire funding reform heats up in Congress

2015-08-06 Ashley Bach

As fires continue to burn in forests around the West, most people seem to agree that we need to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires. The Forest Service is now spending most of its budget on firefighting, and that leaves little room for fire prevention, including forest thinning.

From a report this week:

In a new report released Wednesday, the (U.S. Forest Service) says that while it spent 16 percent of its total budget on preparing for and fighting fires in 1995, it will spend more than half its budget this year on the same task — and a projected 67 percent or more by 2025 under current funding arrangements.

By ten years from now, the agency’s expenditures for fighting wildfires as they flare up — dubbed fire suppression — are projected to increase from just under $1.1 billion in 2014 to nearly $1.8 billion. And that’s just one of a number of fire related costs; there is also an annual, fixed fire “preparedness” budget that exceeds $1 billion each year.

The Forest Service report says the agency’s very mission is “threatened” by this trend of increased fires, which is having a “debilitating impact” on other Forest Service responsibilities due to a phenomenon where funds for other priorities get shifted towards immediate wildfire emergencies.

The rub lies, however, in the fact that the Obama administration and many Democrats differ from many Republicans on how to fix the problem. Both sides agree that the Forest Service needs to change the way it funds the firefighting, but Republicans also want much more active management of federal forests - in order to keep the forests healthy and to prevent the wildfires before they start.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (whose department oversees the Forest Service) has been making a full-court press this week in support of legislation that he says would solve the firefighting funding problem. He's done several interviews (including with the Yakima Herald-Republic), authored an op-ed in the Seattle Times, and the Forest Service released the report mentioned above.

The legislation that Obama and Vilsack are supporting is similar to a wildfire funding proposal pushed by the President last year, a proposal we wrote about then.

(READ MORE)

Barred owl killing plan continues but with uncertain results

2015-07-31 Ashley Bach

While the federal government considers revamping the Northwest Forest Plan and uplisting the spotted owl from threatened to endangered, there was another development recently in the spotted owl saga.

Say what you will about the feds' plan to kill the competing barred owl, but it's at least an acknowledgement that the real threat to the spotted owl is its larger and more aggressive cousin, which over the last few decades has moved west into the spotted owl's territory. The spotted owls are dying off because they can't compete for food, and in some cases, the barred owls are even killing the spotted owls directly

Last year two animal rights groups sued to stop the federal plan to kill the barred owls in sites in California, Oregon and Washington. That lawsuit was just rejected by a U.S. District Court judge.

Friends of Animals and Predator Defense, two animal rights groups, filed a complaint last year accusing the agency of violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to evaluate alternatives to lethal removal of barred owls.

They also claimed the Fish and Wildlife Service’s study is contrary to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, under which the U.S. and other countries agreed to protect migratory birds.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken has rejected these arguments, finding that the agency wasn’t obligated to undertake other “recovery actions” for the spotted owl that didn’t call for removal of barred owls.

The agency took a sufficiently “hard look” at the study’s effects, including the possibility that it may disrupt an “equilibrium” between the two owl species in some areas, Aiken said.

The experiment also falls within an exception to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which permits birds to be killed for “scientific research or educational purposes,” she said.

(READ MORE)

Washington's raging wildfires are a cause for reform

2015-07-23 Ashley Bach

Washington state officials recently confirmed what many people suspected: this is the worst drought in the state's modern history.

“We have never experienced a drought like this,”  said Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology. “It is remarkably worse than the drought of 2005 or 2001... and there is no end in sight.”

The Methow Valley News put the misery in bullet points:

-Almost 99 percent of the state is classified as being in a “severe drought.”
-Eighty sturgeon, from 5 to 7 feet long — including breeding females — have been found dead along the Columbia River.
-Typically wet forests on the Olympic Peninsula are burning, with the largest fire on record in Olympic National Park this summer.
-Every county in the state is predicted to qualify for federal disaster relief.
-At least 30 irrigators have been ordered to shut their diversions.

And the wildfires, as we noted earlier this month, are already off to the races.

“Wildfire season started early and energetically,” said Mary Verner, deputy supervisor of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). As of July 17, there had been 747 fires that burned almost 74,000 acres. This week brush fires near Quincy and Monroe have increased the total.

The 74,000 acres is more than twice the area burned by mid-July last year (not counting the Carlton Complex Fire, which had just started), said Verner.

(READ MORE)

Cross-laminated timber advances in the Northwest

2015-07-16 Ashley Bach

The cross-laminated timber (CLT) industry in the Pacific Northwest received a couple huge boosts this month. First the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it will help Washington and Oregon become a center for the manufacturing of CLT and its use in the construction of tall wood buildings. 

While there isn't any money yet attached to the federal government's announcement, the new designation of a manufacturing zone for CLT and other cutting-edge wood products is still a breakthrough development.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, applauded the designation.

"This announcement is great news for Southwest Washington families and businesses as we all work to develop and grow our economy, and create jobs for local workers," Murray said in a statement."

...The Commerce Department is considering a 16-county swath from southern Oregon to Vancouver, Washington, a manufacturing zone (and) will dedicate federal resources -- including a liaison and promotion to domestic and foreign investors -- to help grow the fledgling industry.

"Never before have we had the opportunity to collaborate as closely with such a broad range of partners to strengthen opportunities for manufacturing job creation. We are thrilled to receive this designation," said Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council (in Vancouver).

Here's what else is planned:

-Special certification program for wood product manufacturing
-Training for young people who want a path other than traditional education systems
-Repurposing old lumber mills in rural areas to adapt to new technology, rather than building new mills
-Washington officials plan to update land designations to align with Oregon's study of industrial land that can accommodate manufacturing industries.

The federal designation will cover three Washington counties: Clark, Klickitat and Skamania.

Washington wildfire season is off to a blistering start

2015-07-08 Ashley Bach

The forest fire season in Washington has got off to such a terrible, destructive start that even a rain forest is burning. Before July had even begun, the Sleepy Hollow fire burned down 29 homes near Wenatchee. Several other wildfires still burn across Central and Eastern Washington, scorching hundreds of acres of forests. 

The Los Angeles Times commented that the spate of wildfires so early in the summer is making Washington look like perpetually dry Southern California.

The flames sent a terrifying message: Normally soggy Washington — nicknamed the Evergreen State for good reason and home to the wettest town in the Lower 48 — has never been hotter or drier at this point in the year, officials say, and the fire season has never begun so early or so fiercely.

"It's more reminiscent of Southern California and the brush fires fed by the Santa Ana winds," said Peter Goldmark, head of the state Department of Natural Resources. "Now it's up here in the state of Washington, where this kind of behavior is unseen. It's heralding a radical change in the kinds of fires we're going to see."

The 1,200-acre fire in the Olympic National Park's Queets rain forest proves that Western Washington is no longer immune from large fires either.

This year, even the Queets rain forest, a place that typically receives more than 200 inches of rain annually, is burning.

The fire started after a warm winter prevented most of the snowpack from forming, followed by an exceedingly hot, dry spring that primed the forest for ignition. The result of this unusual alignment is what now ranks as the largest fire since the park was established, and might burn through the summer.

...The fire is a reminder that even these ancient forests in one of the wettest places in North America have a burn cycle, although it’s measured in hundreds of years.

The worry is so great that in King County (Seattle and its suburbs), officials are now asking residents to perform the same brush-clearing and other fire prevention measures asked of forest homeowners in fire-prone Eastern Washington. 

Exploring the nuances of forest collaboration

2015-06-26 Ashley Bach

Jim Petersen, the co-founder of the Evergreen Foundation, is a longtime and respected advocate for Northwest rural communities, forest landowners and timber professionals. His opinions have appeared on this blog several times before (here, here and here), and his Evergreen Magazine is still an invaluable resource for timber leaders after nearly three decades.

Collaboration has also been a popular concept in forestry circles for many years, and it's something this blog has written about many times over because it's one of the only ways that economically viable timber harvests are happening on a local level, without the threat of lawsuits. Timber leaders, environmental groups and local and federal officials have the potential to work together.

Petersen agrees - so much so that a few months ago he started a project to explore forestry collaboration in the Northwest. About once a week he's been posting an interview and so far the subjects are timber leaders, local county officials and representatives from the U.S. Forest Service.

As Petersen says in his opening essay, he's conducting the interviews because he feels that collaboration is one of the only ways forward.

This is the first in a series of essays I am writing that I suspect will surprise many who know me. I am embracing Forest Collaboration, a process that many battle-scarred veterans of the fabled timber wars view as “Sleeping with the enemy,” the enemy here being the slew of environmental litigants that killed the federal timber sale program and thus the economies of the West’s rural timber communities.

...Together (through the interviews and essays), we’ll learn what works, what doesn’t work, and why. We’ll also dig into the factors that seem to limit success, or at least threaten collaboration’s long-term sustainability. There are some that demand our attention.

In Petersen's most recent interview, he talks to Duane Vaagen of Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, a small town in Northeast Washington. Vaagen Brothers helped create the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, which U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called “a model for timber communities nationwide." 

Washington leaders tackle fish passage barriers

2015-06-19 Ashley Bach

Fish passages - those culverts you see underneath roads - are critical in allowing Washington fish to migrate both up and downstream. But what a lot of people don't realize is that tens of thousands of these passages around the state don't work correctly. Perhaps the culvert was built too small, too shallow, too high off the surface of the waterway or built to move the water through too quickly.

Since 1999, with the passage of the historic Forests & Fish Law, forest landowners have been the state leader in clearing these fish passage barriers. 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.

Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans (RMAPs) for forest landowners have led to the clearance of most of the forest fish passage barriers, as well as a smaller program, the Family Forest Fish Passage Program.

In a recent meeting of the state Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee, David Price of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lauded the Forests & Fish Law for its positive impact on the health of the state's fish, allowing so many steelhead and salmon to migrate freely.

"It's a very successul program, something (forest landowners) should be very proud of," Price said.

According to the state, it's now time to push the clearance of fish passage barriers to the next level. While forest landowners have led the way so far, there are still as many as 40,000 fish passage barriers across Washington. The Legislature last year created the Fish Passage Barrier Removal Board, though lawmakers still haven't approved any money for the board to actually clear any passage barriers. (The board held its first meeting this week.)

Mill closures impact Washington rural communites

2015-06-12 Ashley Bach

The closure of sawmills and paper mills is always impactful to the small, often rural, communities in which many of them are located. As we saw with the final closure two years ago of the Harbor Paper mill in Grays Harbor County, Wash., the effect on people's jobs and livelihoods is deep and wide-ranging.  

The closures put at least a temporary halt to what was for many families generations of employment, going back several decades. The closures also create a large hole in rural economies where the unemployment rate is already very high and the promise of new jobs and industries is low.

This was on display this week with the announcement that the last lumber mill on the West End of Washington's Olympic Peninsula will close next month. Meanwhile, just one day later, the last log was cut at the Shelton, Wash., mill owned by Simpson Lumber Co., which has operated in Shelton for 90 years.

According to the Olympian, the mill's last log was "processed by double-cut sawyer Rick Glaser, who spent 44 years working for Simpson."

Glaser joined the company at 18 and leaves it as a 62-year-old man.

The 18-foot Douglas fir log took all of five minutes to cut, he said.

“It was sad and real emotional,” said Glaser, who added that his daughter, Amanda, also works at Simpson, and watched her father complete his job one last time.

Glaser plans to retire, but his daughter, 34, will have to find work, he said.

Glaser and his daughter are among about 270 employees who lost their jobs after Simpson announced that it had sold its waterfront mill and one in Dayton, near Shelton, to Sierra Pacific Industries, a wood products company based in Northern California.

In Shelton, the closure is not the end of the timber business. Timber will continue to be processed locally, and Sierra Pacific and Simpson will continue to have a strong presence in the area.

Alaska Airlines to complete flight powered by biomass

2015-06-06 Ashley Bach

It was just a few years ago that a coalition of aviation companies and other stakeholders were banding together to figure out a way to fly jetliners on fuel made from woody biomass generated by Northwest forests. And it was also a few years ago that Washington State Forester Aaron Everett said at the annual meeting of the Washington Forest Protection Association that the state Department of Natural Resources is bullish on the potential of creating jet fuel from timber slash.

This would be a combination of two great state industries: aerospace and forestry, according to (Aaron) Everett of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. "Our view of (jet fuel and biomass) is wild optimism and great opportunity."

That wild optimism and great opportunity was on display this week with the announcement by Washington State University that a coalition, including WSU, University of Washington, Weyerhaeuser, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several other colleges, was leading the charge on a long, possibly cross-country, airline flight using 1,000 gallons of jet fuel made from Northwest woody biomass.

The coalition, called Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), is helping to make the fuel for Alaska Airlines, which will complete the flight.

(NARA co-director Michael Wolcott) said biomass is ideal because one of the goals of the project is to “not use food-based materials so there’s no competition between food and fuels. In this case, we’re using the residue of the forestry industry. We’re using materials that can’t be used in pulp and lumber ... and we use a portion of that to be produced into fuels.”

NARA is a five-year project supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It’s made up of 22 member organizations ranging from industry and academia to government laboratories. Its mission is to facilitate development of biojet and bioproduct industries in the Pacific Northwest while also evaluating the economic, environmental and societal benefits of the project.

“Developing alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals represents a significant economic challenge with considerable sustainability benefits,” Wolcott said in a statement. “While the price of oil fluctuates, the carbon footprint of fossil fuels remains constant. NARA efforts to engage stakeholders from forest managers to potential fuel users like Alaska Airlines to lay the foundations for a bio-based, renewable fuel economy is exciting work that we believe will benefit society in the years ahead.”

Power of Washington wood buildings moves into spotlight

2015-05-29 Ashley Bach

Wood is a powerful and versatile material, and sometimes it feels like the range of its uses is practically limitless. Just this week, a new study came out showing that computer chips are now being made of wood. Computer chips! 

Wood's wide application was also on display with a long story in this month's issue of Seattle Business Magazine. The article is one of the most in-depth stories we've seen on the rise of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in the construction of tall buildings. And best yet: it's written from a Washington State and Pacific Northwest perspective.

The article is definitely a must-read for anyone with an interest in the future of Northwest forestry. From its very first paragraph, the story pulls you in. 

Before aerospace, software and coffee defined the Pacific Northwest, timber was the industry that fueled our economy. Now, a radical new approach toward sustainable construction — building high-rises from wood — could bring timber back into the spotlight, stimulating rural economies and promoting forest health in a way that architects, conservation groups and timber companies can get behind. 

The potential reach of CLT is unprecedented.

What makes CLT so compelling is that it can be manufactured using “junk” trees with diameters as small as 4 inches, including many dead trees. National forests on either side of the Cascades are filled with “dog-hair thickets” of Western hemlock, Douglas fir and other trees that are conducive to wildfires and pest outbreaks. Thin trees are uneconomical to harvest today because they have so little value, yet federal and state forest managers don’t have the budget to clear them. When incorporated into CLT panels, that wood could provide the raw material to build many of the mid-rise buildings popping up in Seattle and other urban centers across the country. 

“Everybody sees it coming,” says Timothy Punke, senior vice president of corporate affairs and public policy at Plum Creek Timber Company, which owns vast forestlands in Washington state. “It’s a huge opportunity to build environmentally friendly cities while helping rural economies that depend on timber and creating incentives for more people to plant more acres as trees.”

Studies show how timber lawsuits hurt local communities

2015-05-16 Ashley Bach

We've long known that lawsuits from environmental groups challenging timber projects can be damaging to rural communities and forest health, but now there is more evidence to quantify it. 

The University of Montana this month released a study showing that lawsuits in Montana have cost local communities and the U.S. Forest Service tens of millions of dollars. And this week experts testified at a U.S. House hearing about the damage from lawsuits challenging timber projects.

The Montana study showed the Forest Service region including Montana, North Dakota and parts of South Dakota and Idaho had the most timber projects in the country challenged from 2008 through 2013, with 73 projects and 40-50 percent of the planned timber harvest litigated.

The researchers also used as a case study the Spotted Bear River project, which was designed to "cut trees on 1,193 acres, perform prescribed burns on 1,346 acres and thin 660 acres of saplings, producing 7.3 million board feet of timber with an estimated market value of $729,000."   

That timber project, however, was delayed for years by a lawsuit and the Forest Service didn't win its legal fight until earlier this year. 

(The University of Montana study) states there were more than $95,000 in costs to the federal agency from the estimated 1,883 hours of work that Flathead National Forest personnel spent defending against the (Spotted Bear River) litigation. It states that dealing with the suit consumed more than 25 percent of the forest’s 2013 timber program budget. Region-wide, litigation cost the agency’s timber budget $9.8 million in 2013 and $6.8 million in 2014.

Had the project been canceled altogether, the authors estimated the loss of 136 jobs and more than $10 million, based on the direct and indirect impacts from labor income, resultant spending, tax revenue and other ripple effects.

Pacific County couple wins Washington Tree Farmer of the Year

2015-05-08 Ashley Bach

When some people think of forestry of Washington they think about large timber companies, but in fact small forest landowners are a critical and overlooked part of the industry. Nonindustrial private forest landowners make up about 19 percent of forestland in the state. The smallest of this class, the family operations, can own anywhere from one to 3,000 acres. Many of these landowners maintain their tree farms on their own time and with their own sweat equity. And without their commitment to sustainable forestry and keeping their land as working forests, sadly there would be a lot more asphalt and concrete paving over our state's forests. 

This is why it's so important to honor some of the best tree farmers in Washington every year. Not only does their hard work help support their families, often for many decades, but they play such a key role in keeping the state green and forested.

The Washington Farm Forestry Association and the Washington Forest Protection Association hand out the Washington Tree Farmer of the Year award every year. In 2013, a couple with a tree farm in Grays Harbor and Thurston counties won the award. In 2014, it was a couple who bought their Mason County tree farm in 1969.

The winners this year are Greg and Sue Pattillo, who own a 700-acre tree farm in Pacific County, near Raymond on the Washington coast. According to the announcement of their May 1 award, "numerous commercial thinnings and final harvests have provided (the Pattillos) their income for the last 26 years and have been (American Tree Farm System)-certified for 33 years. Both have been actively involved in forestry activities for many years. Greg, a retired forester, has been active in the Society of American Foresters and as an American Tree Farm Inspector. Together they have provided leadership for the Pacific County Chapter of Washington Farm Forestry Association for many years."

Vaagen Brothers becomes national model for collaboration

2015-04-30 Ashley Bach

Vaagen Brothers Lumber is located in the small town of Colville in Northeast Washington, but its profile in the forestry industry now reaches far and wide. Vaagen Brothers was instrumental in spurring a spirit of collaboration between parties that don't always get along, both timber companies and environmental groups, along with federal, state and local leaders.

Vaagen helped bring all the disparate groups together to form the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, which U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called “a model for timber communities nationwide." More than just about anything, the partnership helped increase the timber harvest without costly litigation because all the groups were at the table from the beginning.

The collaboration helped pave the way for Vaagen Brothers to ink a 10-year contract to harvest timber on 55,000 acres of the Colville National Forest in a pilot project that U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said is "designed to restore the forest, reduce the risk of forest fires and strengthen our rural economy."

The innovation led to Vaagen Brothers deservedly being honored this week by the Forest Resources Association (FRC), a Washington, D.C., trade group., with the 2015 National Outstanding Forestry Activist Award

The Colville company's commitment to working with other interest groups was a notable success, according to the FRC:

Vaagen’s unwavering support for the (Northeast Washington Forestry) Coalition — in funds, personnel, travel, and participation in meetings with local, state and federal public officials — and collaboration with all Coalition members has resulted in the annual harvest on the Colville’s rising from 18 million board feet to 60 million. Vaagen Brothers has demonstrated the potential of “restoration forestry” on federal lands to stakeholders outside of the Coalition to showcase sound forestry practices and management, reduced wildfire risk, and increased wildlife habitat for Rocky Mountain elk, among other species. The result is, no stewardship projects were litigated or appealed to the point of stopping much-need forestry work since the Coalition’s inception.

Washington State Senate honors Billy Frank Jr.

2015-04-24 Ashley Bach

The legacy of Billy Frank Jr. endures. The environmental, tribal and civil rights leader, truly a giant in U.S. and Washington state history, died in May 2014 at the age of 83. He is being remembered today in a resolution before Washington State's Senate.

Just in the last couple months, a Salmon Totem Pole was built in his honor on the Nisqually reservation, near Olympia. He was mentioned prominently, along with Marlon Brando, in a new song by Native American hip hop artist and author Gyasi Ross.

And those honors are just the tip of the iceberg. This week the Washington State Senate passed a resolution commemorating Frank and his impressive legacy.  Several Senators stood in support of the resolution, and relayed personal experiences with Billy, reflecting on how committed he was to working together for sustainable working forests and healthy fish runs.  His leadership will very much be missed.

Here is the full text:

WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. of the Nisqually Tribe was an unflinching advocate for environmental protections in Washington and human rights for Native Americans, and he firmly believed in honoring and preserving the earth; and

WHEREAS, During the Fish Wars of the 60s and 70s, Indian Tribes were fighting for their right to fish in their own historical territories, a right that was guaranteed to them in the 19th century by the federal government; and

WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. was arrested over 50 times for standing up for Native American treaty rights; and

WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr.'s unwavering actions helped lead to the Boldt Decision, which established Indian Tribes in Washington as comanagers of the salmon resource and reaffirmed tribal rights to harvestable salmon; and

WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. shaped Washington State as it is known today in not only advancing cooperative management over natural resources between tribes and the state, but also in the fight for equality for all people; and

WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. supported Indian Tribes in Washington for over 30 years as chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which gave tribes a powerful voice to express their concerns to Washington, D.C.; and

WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. was dignified with numerous humanitarian awards for his service, including the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, Washington State Environmental Excellence Award, and American Indian Distinguished Service Award, along with countless others; and

WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. passed away on May 5, 2014, at the age of 83, and he was on that day, as on most days, on his way to a meeting about fish and tribal treaty rights; and

WHEREAS, Washington must continue to remember Billy Frank Jr.'s legacy, his passion, and the strides he made to defend and protect his tribe, his country, and our earth; and

WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. stressed the importance of both the spiritual and cultural ties of salmon to indigenous people throughout Washington and the nation; and

WHEREAS, Through his lifetime of kinship with the natural world, Billy Frank Jr. helped create a healthy environment that can sustain salmon, achieved change, and brought diverse and divergent communities together around shared desires through nonviolent means; and

WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. spent his entire life bringing together those with diverse ideologies and backgrounds around a shared passion for sustainability

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Washington State Senate honor Billy Frank Jr. and the impact he had on tribes, the state, the nation, and the earth, and now let him inspire all of us to carry on his legacy.

Lands Commissioner makes push for Wash. forest thinning

2015-04-17 Ashley Bach

Peter Goldmark isn't happy with the state of affairs when it comes to Washington wildfire funding. The state Public Lands Commissioner requested from the Legislature $20 million over two years to thin forests and other wildfire protection, but so far, state lawmakers are balking. The House proposed biennial budget includes just $5 million for forest thinning, while the Senate budget has no money for thinning. 

Goldmark is also asking for an additional $4.5 million to fight the wildfires when they happen, but the House is proposing just $2.5 million and the Senate nothing.

This is disappointing, especially given that just this week Gov. Jay Inslee expanded the state emergency drought declaration from a handful of counties to almost half the state. The state's snowpack is just 22 percent of normal, which is a record for April. The drier the ground, the easier wildfires start.   

It's no surprise, then, that Goldmark is working hard to make sure the state understands the dire consequences if firefighting crews don't have enough money to fight fires, or state-owned forests aren't actively managed to make them less suspectible to fire. In the last few weeks, he's done interviews with KING 5, KIRO 7 and the Vancouver Columbian. Earlier in the year, the Tacoma News Tribune editorial board came out in favor of Goldmark's request for $20 million for forest thinning, and this week the Columbian editorial board came out in support as well, having this to say:

When it comes to wildfires, an old axiom applies: We can pay for them now or pay for them later. What isn't included in that saw, however, is the idea that paying for wildfires later will greatly increase the price.

Federal timber changes could include spotted owl uplisting

2015-04-10 Ashley Bach

The U.S. Forest Service is planning to essentially throw out the Northwest Forest Plan after 21 years. As we noted earlier this year, the tide seems to be turning (ever so slowly) among even some Democrats that the federal timber harvest is woefully inadequate to support rural communities. Once the changes are complete, the Northwest Forest Plan, the source of so much misery in timber towns, will cease to exist, at least in its current form. 

In November 2014, the Forest Service briefed representatives of industry, local government and conservation on its intent to revise the (Northwest Forest Plan), as required by the National Forest Management Act. Jim Peña, the Northwest regional forest supervisor, said the Northwest Forest Plan will no longer exist as an umbrella document that applies to all forests equally. Instead, its principles -- but not necessarily its specific strategies -- will be embedded into the planning documents of each of the 19 forest units.

...Under the new plans, the timber industry expects to gain access to more timber than it has since the Northwest Forest Plan first took effect, said Ann Forest Burns, a vice-president of the Portland-based industry group, the American Forest Resource Council. She added that the industry's allocation has been half or less of the 1.1 billion annual board feet promised in the original plan. If the new forest plans fails to provide enough timber, she said, "we will ask Congress to change the law." That could include two 1970s-era mandates, the National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Of course, there are still many unanswered questions about how the new forest plans will emerge. And environmental groups no doubt will also be lobbying to limit timber harvests even more than they are now. Already the timber industry and rural communities had to speak up in order to get the Forest Service to hold local meetings about the proposed plan revisions.

The Forest Service last month held three "listening sessions," in Portland, Seattle and Redding, Calif. Rural leaders in Oregon and Washington complained that they could not make the sessions because they were in large cities far from loggers and rural towns. Not surprisingly, the listening session in Portland was filled with environmentalists, with few timber voices able to attend. 

This week, the Forest Service took note and announced that it would hold listening sessions in all 19 national forests and seven Bureau of Land Management units affected by the Northwest Forest Plan. The first of those sessions was scheduled for April 27 in Corvallis, Ore. 

Reforestation is fundamental to sustainable forestry

2015-04-03 Ashley Bach

In pure numbers, forestry in Washington produces far more trees than it harvests - for every tree harvested, three are planted in its place. Private forest landowners are more aggressive in reforestation than the 3-year time frame that state law requires, replanting trees in 12-18 months before wild plants can swoop in.

Reforestation doesn't get mentioned much by those who oppose timber harvests because for them, it's an inconvienent fact, but planting millions of trees is a critical part of modern forestry. In Washington alone, 52 million trees are planted each year. In the U.S., 1.43 billion seedlings are shipped by forest nurseries for replanting in U.S. forests.

A video from the Washington Forest Protection Association summed it up well:

Forest landowners, who supply us with wood and paper products, want to get the new forest up and growing as fast as they can. Trees are a renewable resource and reforestation helps make sure future generations will have forests just like we have, providing jobs and wood products, clean air and water and wildlife habitat.

This commitment to sustainable forestry was on full display this week with a special ceremony in Mason County, Wash. Seattle's Green Diamond Resource Company, which was founded 125 years ago as S.G. Simpson & Company, celebrated the planting of its 100 millionth tree.

Green Diamond didn't start counting the number of trees it planted until 1943, so the number of new trees could be even greater.

In the midst of a 40-acre clearcut Wednesday just east of Taylor Towne in Mason County, about 75 people with ties to the state’s timber industry watched Green Diamond Resource Company Chairman Colin Moseley plant what was proudly called the family-owned forestry company’s 100 millionth tree.

Moseley had some help on this milestone occasion from two Democratic congressmen: Denny Heck of Olympia and Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor. Green Diamond’s 323,000 acres of South Sound timberland spill over into both Heck’s 10th District and Kilmer’s 6th District and Heck was quick to point out that the tree planting was happening in his district.

The Douglas fir seedling that gained so much attention was surrounded by about 16,000 slightly larger Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine trees that were planted in 2011 on the 40-acre parcel, which was harvested in 2010. On all four sides of the reforested area, Green Diamond timber stood in age classes ranging from 15 years old to 80 years old., symbolizing the fact that the company, which began as S.G. Simpson & Company has been around a long, long time — since 1890 to be exact.