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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.
Edensaw Woods doesn't just provide wood to boats around the world - it's a pillar in the Port Townsend, Wash., community. The wood products company provides 45 jobs and countless donations to community groups and nonprofits. When you hear the story of Edensaw Woods and its co-founder James "Kiwi" Ferris, you won't be surprised that Ferris was just honored as the 2016 Washington State Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Ferris' nominator for the award, Ben Crowl of First Sound Bank, said it was a simple decision for him. (Ferris, a New Zealand native, is known as "Kiwi.")
"We were thrilled to hear Kiwi was named “Business Person of the Year” for Washington. Nominating Kiwi was easy because he was able to successfully lead his company through the great recession while still being an incredible steward to his employees and community. From his work with Sound Experience to the Edensaw Community Cancer Foundation, we could not think of anyone more deserving. We feel fortunate to have known him for many years and we’re proud to be his bank.”
Ferris co-founded the company 32 years ago, "providing wood products to fellow boat-builders, and other professionals such as cabinet makers, homebuilders, and furniture makers." Now the growth is clear.
Wood from Edensaw can be seen on boats all over the world, from multi-million dollar yachts, to small kayaks and canoes, as well as homes, furniture, and much more. From Edensaw's World Headquarters in Port Townsend and their additional location in Tacoma, the company is able to serve the Puget Sound region, and also sends product to every corner of the country and overseas. Edensaw Woods has become a go-to name in the industry for woodworkers, from the highly skilled professional to the at home enthusiast.
Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, Wash., has won national awards for its commitment to forest collaboration. Duane Vaagen and his sons Russ and Kurtis are true innovators in finding ways to bring timber groups, environmentalists and local, state, tribal and federal officials together in the pursuit of common goals.
The collaborative that Vaagen Brothers helped create, the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, was called “a model for timber communities nationwide" by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. For the most part, the collaborative has been able to avoid the litigation that has stymied so many timber projects across the West.
More recently the collaborative has been waiting to start timber projects in the Mill Creek Watershed on the Colville National Forest after some environmental groups, who declined to be part of the collaborative, objected to the projects. The Forest Service says it plans to restart the projects after further environmental review.
James Schroeder, Washington director of forest conservation and partnerships for The Nature Conservancy, had an op-ed today in the Spokane Spokesman-Review in support of the Mill Creek projects.
Billy Frank Jr. was such a transcendent man in his lifetime that it's no wonder his legacy is still growing two years after he passed away. Just in the last year, since we most recently wrote about Frank, here is what's happened to honor the late environmental, tribal and civil rights leader:
-President Obama honored Frank with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The president cited Frank's devotion to protecting salmon habitat and tribal fishing rights. “He saved the salmon that had fed his family for generations,” Obama said. “He was spat on, shot at, chased, clubbed and cast as an outlaw, but Billy kept fighting because he knew he was right.”
-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, is now called the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
-The Nisqually Tribe named its new Community Services Center after Frank.
-The Nisqually Tribe proclaimed March 9 as Billy Frank Jr. Day, in honor of Frank's birthday.
The fisher, a large member of the weasel, mink and otter family, disappeared from Washington by the mid-1900s because of overtrapping and loss of habitat. But the fishers have returned to their historic home in recent years because of efforts by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other leaders to reintroduce the mammal to the Olympic Peninsula and the Cascade Mountains.
Now it's time for forest landowners to play a critical role in the fisher's recovery.
State fish and wildlife leaders have drafted an agreement in which individual forest landowners in the fisher's range (see map here) can enroll that will give the landowners regulatory certainty in the event that the fisher is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In exchange, the forest landowners agree to monitor any fishers that venture on their property and to not disturb the animals. The agreement is called a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).
More from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife:
While wildlife managers expect that most fishers will remain on the national parks and national forests where they are released, they want to provide protection for any that may move onto non-federal lands. As part of the proposed CCAA, landowners agree to conservation measures such as:
-Work with WDFW wildlife managers to monitor fishers and their dens in the event that a den site is found on their property.
-Avoid harming or disturbing fishers and their young associated with active denning sites (March to September).
-Report den sites and sick, injured, or dead fishers on their property.
Excitement, nervousness, anticipation. If you're in the wood products industry, thinking about the prospects for cross-laminated timber (CLT) is like attending the first day of school or a new job. The momentum just keeps on growing every month. Newsweek Magazine recently took an in-depth look at not just one but three CLT projects built or planned in Portland. A bill was introduced in the Washington Legislature this session to allow tax exemptions for CLT buildings, and a blogger recently called for the city of Seattle to provide incentives to developers who use CLT in their projects.
"A CLT bonus would not only promote a potentially carbon-positive building technique, but also help serve the challenging mid-rise range of heights between six and twelve stories — beyond the range where light timber construction can be used," Doug Trumm wrote in The Urbanist. "Moreover, it would allow speedier construction schedules increasing turn around and getting more units on the market. That’s a big deal in Seattle where construction crews, City staff, and utilities staff are working at breakneck speed to keep pace with the building boom."
Some experts say changing state codes to allow for more CLT in tall buildings could be a few years away, but the point is clear: more and more people are getting on board for CLT. Its lower cost, faster construction schedule and environmental benefits are undeniable.
Vancouver, B.C., architect Michael Green, an international expert on CLT's use in tall buildings, spoke this week at a logging conference in Eugene, Ore. He received a standing ovation.
With this year's presidential race in full swing (and Presidents' Day on Monday), it's an appropriate time to take a look at not just our country's long and abiding relationship with forests but more specifically, the strong role that forests played with several U.S. presidents.
The Sustainable Forestry Initiative has a great story this week about the special connection that three presidents - George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt - had to trees. But it's not just that trio - several other presidents were close to the forest. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, wrote about the importance of trees and open space.
"I never before knew the full value of trees...What would I not give that the trees planted nearest round the house at Monticello were full grown."
According to the article from SFI, George Washington was a big proponent of trees.
Washington planted hundreds of native trees and shrubs at his vast Mount Vernon estate. These included acres of fruit trees including apple, pear, peach, apricot and, yes, even cherry. Vegetables were planted in a kitchen garden beginning in 1760, and the same garden has been cultivated continuously since then.
It's good to be a forester. Sometimes this fact can be overlooked amid economic upheaval or uneducated media coverage, but working in the trees is a great life.
If we needed any reminding, three recent news stories from the Northwest did the trick.
At a recent tree planting near Corvallis, Ore., there was the inspiring sight of 23 high-school forestry students teaching younger children about the power of forestry. Here is video and a photo gallery of the tree planting.
(Philomath High School forestry and natural resources teacher Simon Babcock) said the majority of the volunteer high-schoolers participating were his forestry students along with a few of their friends. He estimated this year’s number at around 23.
Babcock’s advanced forestry students have spent two weeks leading up to the event setting up plots and learning about different reforestation techniques.
“Their role is to basically mentor the other students that might be coming from the other classes,” Babcock said, adding that the activity provides a leadership component. “They’ve also been through this multiple times and they kind of get that lead role of seniors and juniors in advance classes.”
For (Philomath High School Junior Anna Collins), she has fun teaching youngsters new skills.
“It’s good experience because I want to go into forest management and this provides good connections to see people,” Collins said. “It’s cool to see younger kids coming out and planting trees and being able to help them and demonstrate (is satisfying) because it’s something not a lot of kids get to do, especially if they live in cities.”
This year's session of the Washington Legislature is about half over, and Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark's request for an extra $24 million to fight wildfires is still active. Goldmark testified last month to a House committee, and a few days later, gave a videoconference address on the need for more wildfire funding.
Lawmakers have not said no to the money, and in fact seem generally receptive, but some of them say they want to see changes in wildfire operations before any extra funding is approved.
These suggested changes have taken the form of legislation.
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, is proposing two bills (SB 6510 and SB 6511) - both of which would increase the state's use of prescribed burns to make forests less suspectible to fires. (Parlette herself is a victim of wildfire - her cabin near Lake Chelan burned down last year.)
Her second bill could lead to more active management of our state's forests.
A planned lawsuit announced earlier this month by an Oregon timber county against the state for not harvesting enough timber on state lands is dominating the timber debate there. Regardless of whether the upcoming suit wins in court, it's already been successful in changing the conversation.
Linn County, on Interstate 5 and just south of Salem, said it plans to sue the state of Oregon over what it says is the state's breach of contract over the trust lands the state bought in the counties back in the 1930s and '40s. According to Linn County, the state promised to manage the forestland "for the greatest permanent value" and return the timber income back to the counties.
The arrangement worked just fine until the late '90s, when the harvests on the state trust land started to decline, and those harvests have shrunk even more in the last two decades. Now Linn County is suing the state, for itself and 14 other timber counties, to recoup $1.4 billion in lost timber revenue.
The planned lawsuit has received positive feedback from several Oregon newspapers, including the Albany Democrat-Herald (in Linn County), the Roseburg News-Review and the Eugene Register-Guard.
It was heartening this week to see not one but two op-eds published on important Washington forestry issues - the first on fighting wildfires and the second on the integral history of tree farms in the state.
State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark wrote in the Seattle Times about why it's so critical for the Legislature to approve his request for $24 million to fight wildfires during the state's worst ever stretch of fires. In the summer months, when the fires are raging, it's easy to garner words of encouragement about increasing the state's wildfire budget. But once state legislators actually meet in the chilly winter, their memories grow short, Goldmark writes.
After two horrific wildfire seasons in a row, we need to prepare for the danger wildfire presents to our people, communities, forests and grasslands. Some legislators in both parties and Gov. Jay Inslee have declared willingness to increase funding. Yet, as the January rains fall in Olympia, the urgency fades for other lawmakers.
That’s dangerous. The lessons from 2014 and 2015 must shape how we prepare for future fire seasons.
I’m asking the Legislature now for $24 million to prepare our state for this fire season and beyond. This is roughly twice what Gov. Inslee proposed in his budget.
The second op-ed covers a topic unknown to most Washingtonians: the state was the site of the nation's first certified tree farm, which was established 75 years ago in Grays Harbor County.
"It was seen as a bold move in an era that was focused on rapid development, resource exploitation and world war," writes Elaine Oneil, executive director of the Washington Farm Forestry Association, in the Olympian.
Family forest owners make up a much larger portion of the forestry industry than many people realize. More than a third of forestland in the U.S. is owned by private families, which means that what goes for them goes a long way toward impacting the industry as a whole. More simply, family forests are integral to forestry.
We've written over the years (here and here, for example) about how the owners of these family forests are getting older, and that various efforts are in place to ensure the forests aren’t lost to development.
The public radio program Marketplace took up the issue this week with two stories (here and here), taking a look at a pilot program from the environmental group Pinchot Institute for Conservation that would allow family forest owners to sell carbon credits off their land in exchange for health insurance. Pinchot’s pilot is currently limited to two counties in Northwest Oregon.
"It's very hard for a small property owner — even though they accumulate a lot of carbon — to access the carbon market," said Woody Richen, who has inherited partial ownership of 450 acres of forest. "It's a little bit like mutual funds, I guess, where a small investor needs the help of some kind of aggregator or some additional expertise."
Historically, carbon markets have only been an option for large landowners with deep pockets that can afford the upfront costs.
"We are making a contribution. If others are getting paid to store carbon, why shouldn't the little guy have an opportunity to do that too," said Richen.
The carbon markets still have some downsides. They involve long-term land-use restrictions. And experts say the best rate on the current carbon market pays about four times less than selling trees for timber.
The last-minute failure of Congress to pass timber reform and wildfire reform last month was well documented. Instead of passing legislation that would have increased the management of our federal forests and changed the way our country pays to fight wildfires, Congress passed a stop-gap increase of $600 million in the firefighting budget. No chump change, but the money does nothing to address the larger problems, namely that our federal forests are woefully undermanaged and that the Forest Service needs to find a new way to fund firefighting instead of raiding other parts of its budget (a practice known as "fire borrowing").
What's a bit of a surprise is the Obama Administration is still lobbying just weeks after Congress failed to take action. The first and most important goal - increasing the management of federal forests - is unfortunately being ignored for now, but the Department of Agriculture is still pushing for legislation that would change how the Forest Service fights wildfires. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would treat those wildfires like other natural disasters instead of forcing Forest Service to raid other parts of its budget to fight the fires.
As Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week, the funding issue is more urgent than ever after the country endured a record wildfire year in 2015, burning 10.1 million acres.
"These fires have very real human costs, as we lost seven members of the Forest Service firefighting team in the line of duty, and 4,500 homes were lost. We take our job to protect the public seriously, and recently, the job has become increasingly difficult due to the effects of climate change, chronic droughts, and a constrained budget environment in Washington. Congress must fix the fire budget to stop an ever-increasing amount of the operating budget going to fire suppression. Failing to do so will result in more deadly and devastating fires in the future," said Secretary Vilsack.
"While the news that more than 10 million acres burned is terrible, it's not shocking and it is probable that records will continue to be broken. By August, the Forest Service had exhausted its firefighting forces and utilized nearly every piece of equipment devoted to saving lives and protecting property, exhausting the Forest Service's budget for fire suppression and forcing the agency to begin transferring critical resources away from trail restoration, watershed management, hiring, and all other areas of its budget. 2015 would prove to be the most expensive fire season in our Department's history, costing more than $2.6 billion on fire alone."
While the prospect of federal wildfire reform this year died in Congress, the hope for change in the way Washington State funds its firefighting efforts is still very much alive. State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark is lobbying aggressively (including at last month's WFPA annual meeting) for his request for $24 million for firefighter training and coordinated firefighting command, including $6 million for thinning and forest restoration.
In recent weeks, Goldmark received support from the editorial boards at the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin and the Vancouver Columbian. He also met with the news staffs at the Yakima Herald-Republic and the Ellensburg Daily Record.
An excerpt from the Herald-Republic's story:
When lightning storms are predicted for the region, (Goldmark's Department of Natural Resources) prepares by moving firefighters and equipment to areas forecast to be at risk.
But there’s no such forecast for human-caused fires, Goldmark said, so the state relies on local fire districts. More training and equipment for those typically volunteer firefighters is key to containing fires while they are still small, he said.
“I don’t want to have to call for crews from Alaska or Australia and New Zealand, by then it’s too late.” Goldmark said. “We need to build the local capacities so that we can respond in hours, not days.”
In addition to better prepared firefighters, Goldmark wants $6.3 million to help prepare forests and communities through fuel-reduction treatments and other precautions, such as planning evacuation routes and establishing defensible space around homes.
Even $6.3 million is small compared to the estimated need for restoration across hundreds of thousands of acres in Eastern Washington’s dense, stressed, fire-prone forests. But foresters say targeting such efforts, especially around communities, will lower the risks and costs of catastrophic fire in the future.
Just a week ago, it appeared that after years of fits and starts, Congress would finally pass federal timber reform legislation. Momentum had continued to grow after this year's record wildfire season. Legislators said they wanted to add more active management of our federal forests onto legislation that would change the way the U.S. pays to fight forest fires.
In the last few weeks, the Obama Administration reached a deal with a bipartisan group of legislators, including many from Western states, as well as other stakeholders to attach federal timber reform and wildfire funding reform onto a $1.1 trillion year-end spending bill. But just a few days after the deal became public, it was dead.
Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, swooped in at the last minute to kill the deal. That allowed Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the Senate natural resources committee, to oppose the deal. To add to the upheaval, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the chairwoman of the natural resources committee, decided to oppose the logging provision because she said it didn't go far enough in increasing the federal timber harvest.
Today Congress approved the spending bill - without the timber or wildfire provisions. The evaporation of the the timber deal was a disappointment to the stakeholders who had worked so hard on the compromise.
Cross-laminated timber has long been a promising wood product in Washington, but now all the various stakeholders - from timber leaders and academics to architects and environmental groups - are formally getting together to hash out ways to promote CLT.
This was on full display this month in an op-ed in the Puget Sound Business Journal. Anson Fatland, the associate vice president for economic development for Washington State University and Gene Duvernoy, the head of the conservation group Forterra, wrote that the movement is in full swing.
With former timber towns in our state looking for new revenue, and with our forests in need of restoration, Washington has the opportunity to be a leading force in this emerging industry.
We can do this through collaboration between public institutions, conservationists, timber industry and contractors and developers. This collaboration, in fact, has already started with Washington State University and Forterra, a nonprofit land stewardship and community building organization.
Since 2011, researchers at WSU’s Composite Materials and Engineering Center have been working with local companies, governments and economic development groups to improve the performance and manufacturing process of cross-laminated timber, as well as analyzing cost effectiveness and logistics of a rural to urban supply chain.
WSU is already working with milling and manufacturing partners to launch a supply chain in Eastern Washington and to identify other Western Washington opportunities.
In October, Forterra convened a leadership summit of 100 stakeholders, including WSU researchers, to discuss developing cross-laminated timber and other mass timber products in our Pacific Northwest region.
The biggest takeaway from the event: agreement that there are near-term opportunities for catalyzing a market. And now we need a broad coalition to make it happen.