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It's the third weekend of October, which means it's time to honor the forestry industry with National Forest Products Week. The annual celebration, created by Congress in 1960, is a tribute to the country's forest products industry and the 900,000 American workers who make the industry such a critical piece of the U.S. economy.
President Obama, in his declaration of this year's event, noted:
Today, forests provide products we use each day, including paper, wood, and building and packaging materials. During National Forest Products Week, we express our appreciation for the incredible bounty forests provide and we renew our commitment to ensuring the next generation can enjoy their irreplaceable resources.
We should always remember how critical Washington's forest trust lands are to the funding of our schools, libraries and fire districts, as well as our rural economies and the health of our forests. Jim McEntire writes in the Seattle Times this month from experience. He's a former member of the state Board of Natural Resources and is also a former Port of Port Angeles commissioner and former Clallam County commissioner.
Washington citizens own 2.1 million acres of state-forest trust lands, and these lands are managed by the state Department of Natural Resources for the benefit of various trust beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s K-12 school system. Money from timber sales and agricultural land leases provide a substantial and dependable revenue stream to the Legislature and local school districts, greatly helping to fully fund basic education and school construction — more than $124 million in 2015 — plus more money in timber sales from lands held in trust for counties.
Forest thinning is a valuable tool for managing forests that we write about a lot on this blog, including last week. But a tool that doesn't get as much attention but is also important is prescribed burning.
The Yakima Herald-Republic recently took a firsthand look at a prescribed burning program called the Forest Resiliency Burning Pilot, which was approved by the Washington Legislature earlier this year.
The importance of thinning forests and maintaining active management of the forests is a fact that's been established even on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., this summer mentioned a video from the Spokane Tribe with time-lapse video showing the efficiency of the tribe's forest fuel reduction program in the face of a wildfire.
Another Eastern Washington tribe also recognizes the need for active forest management. As wildfire becomes more prevalent, the Confederated Colville Tribes are planning to reopen a sawmill that can process ponderosa pine.
The histories of the timber industry and Washington are intertwined, so much so that one can't separate them. The timber industry was active here even before Washington became a state in 1889 and is still the state's second largest manufacturing sector, supporting 106,000 jobs and $5.2 billion in wages.
This deep history is what makes celebrations like the 75th anniversary earlier this year in Montesano, Wash., of the country's first tree farm so resonant. The timber industry is part of what makes Washington the state it is, and it is still a critical part of people's lives.
This was on full display with a recent story by KNKX Radio (formerly KPLU) about the former logging town of Grisdale, 30 miles outside Montesano, in Grays Harbor County and just inside the border of the Olympic National Forest.
When the town shut down for good in 1986, it was the last logging camp in the continental U.S. (this Knight-Ridder story from December 1985 sets the scene). Simpson Timber Co. opened the town in 1946. Rather than a temporary camp, Simpson had its sights set on a community with more staying power, according to Knight-Ridder.
Seattle Magazine has a long story on cross-laminated timber in its latest issue, laying out the next steps to make CLT more common in the construction of tall buildings in Washington.
Here in Washington, there’s enough raw (CLT) material to immerse us all in that environment. But only a handful of projects in the state have used the material so far—for example, in (Seattle architect Susan) Jones’ CLT house (in Seattle), in the walls of the Bellevue First Congregational Church sanctuary designed by (Jones' firm) Atelierjones and on a building project at Washington State University in Pullman. In Oregon, (Seattle architect) Joe Mayo (who spoke at the 2013 WFPA annual meeting) recently worked on the design for what is to be the first use of U.S.-made CLT on a two-story building project, using panels manufactured by Oregon’s D.R. Johnson.
There are a few other regional CLT building projects in the design process now. In June, Washington state granted design-build contracts to several architects, including Susan Jones of Atelierjones and Joe Mayo of Mahlum, for 900-square-foot classrooms at several elementary schools in western Washington, to be constructed by the end of 2017.
We write regularly about the importance of educating young people about forestry (like this post in May) because it ultimately means nothing less than the future of the industry. New generations must understand the the value of working forests, for the environment, for the economy and for rural communities.
Port Blakely, the Seattle timber company, understood this fact decades ago and started an environmental education program that has allowed Washington fourth graders to tour the woods and learn about the natural environment. The program just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
A coalition of forestry companies and organizations (including the Washington Forest Protection Association) have launched a new website dedicated to solutions on how to reduce our country's number of catrastrophic wildfires and make our forests healthier.
HealthyForestFacts.org includes four principles for a healthy forest:
1. Fuel reduction promotes healthy, fire-resilient forests.
2. Attacking fires with early suppression pays off.
3. An ounce of fire prevention can save property, habitat and lives.
4. Post-fire environmental recovery is a hands-on process we need to do more of.
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.