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See wood's trip from the forest to the marketplace

2017-03-24 Ashley Bach

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

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

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


Congress introduces bill to promote CLT across the country

2017-03-16 Ashley Bach

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

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

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


Tom Westergreen wins ATFS National Outstanding Inspector of the Year

2017-03-09 Ashley Bach

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

From the ATFS press release:

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

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


Pacific Education Institute testifies for natural resource jobs

2017-03-05 Ashley Bach

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

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

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


Statewide effort to clear fish barriers takes shape

2017-02-24 Ashley Bach

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

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

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

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


Forestry issues get attention in Olympia

2017-02-18 Ashley Bach

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

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

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

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

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


Legislature could increase prescribed burns and private fire contractors

2017-02-09 Ashley Bach

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

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

From the news site Lens

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


President Trump says Forest Service can hire summer firefighters

2017-02-06 Ashley Bach

President Trump has said he will allow the U.S. Forest Service to hire seasonal firefighters for this summer's wildfire season. The announcement ends a period of uncertainty that included a letter of concern from three Washington lawmakers: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Spokane), Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) and Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Sunnyside).

Last week, the three lawmakers were part of a group of House members who sent a letter asking Trump to exempt seasonal firefighters from a federal hiring freeze he announced on Jan. 23. Rep. McMorris Rodgers issued this additional statement with the letter:

“Growing up in Northeastern Washington, I’ve seen the devastation that catastrophic wildfires can cause to a community. For those of us who live in areas prone to wildfires, it’s so important that the Forest Service has all the resources possible to keep our forests healthy and our communities safe,” said McMorris Rodgers. “I am so thankful to those who work and volunteer to help fight fires here in Washington and urge the Office of Personnel Management to respect the important safety needs of our community by exempting seasonal firefighters from this hiring freeze.”


Reports suggest reform in fighting Wash. wildfires

2017-01-27 Ashley Bach

New reports on the 2015 Twisp River Fire that killed three U.S. Forest Service firefighters suggest several lessons for battling fires in the future. 

From the Spokane Spokesman-Review:

An after-action review of a fatal incident is normal, but this time the Forest Service teamed up with the Washington state Department of Natural Resources for a learning review. The learning review is a relatively new process, and the reports issued last month are the first completed with two agencies.

High temperatures and drought created an explosive fire season in Washington in 2015, drawing firefighting crews from around the region and from other states. Crews that responded to the Twisp River fire that started on Aug. 19, 2015, included local fire districts, the Forest Service, the Department of Natural Resources and firefighters called in from Colorado to help with Washington’s fires.

“One of the goals of a learning review is to focus on just the particulars of what happened and what we can learn from it,” Forest Service spokesman John Haynes said. “It’s not a process designed to find who is responsible or to point blame.”


Mass timber now on display in D.C.

2017-01-20 Ashley Bach

Cross-laminated timber has now arrived in one of the country's major museums in Washington, D.C. The National Building Museum has on display an exhibit called Timber City, which highlights the benefits of mass timber construction products like cross-laminated timber, laminated veneer and laminated strand lumber. 

The Architects Newspaper has more details:

(I)t’s the 21st century, and a new exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington challenges us to let go of our fear and embrace the future. The structural wood products that have recently entered the market are not your grandfather’s two-by-fours. Engineered timber beams have been proven in tests to be just as fireproof as steel, and arguably more so, since their cores as less likely to melt in a fire. They are also surprisingly strong.


Pope Resources leads on Wash. forest conservation

2017-01-13 Ashley Bach

Poulsbo's Pope Resources has long been a timber company at the leading edge of forging partnerships between the forestry industry, local government and conservation groups. The company's spirit of collaboration was on display again this month with the announcement that the company is selling 1,355 acres to Kitsap County that will more than triple the size of Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park. The $2.35 million purchase was funded by the Washington Department of Ecology.

The Kitsap Sun:

Now totaling 1,890 acres, (Port Gamble is) by far the largest park on the Kitsap Peninsula.

“It’s a wonderful huge leap forward,” Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder said. “It helps realize a vision the community has had for years.”

The forested property is nearly 4 miles long, stretching north from Stottlemeyer Road to the outskirts of Port Gamble. It constitutes a major chunk of the Kitsap Forest and Bay Project, which aims to preserve nearly 7,000 acres of Pope-owned land in North Kitsap.

Already open to the public, the property has a large network trails and logging roads frequented by hikers, runners, equestrians and mountain bikers. The trails link to the existing 535-acre portion of the park on Port Gamble Bay's west shore.


Northwest companies take major role in CLT

2017-01-06 Ashley Bach

A new story from the Associated Press explores the critical role that Northwest companies are playing in the rise of cross-laminated timber in the U.S. The story is also notable because since it was produced by the Associated Press wire service, the article has been published in newspapers all over the country, helping to spread the word about the benefits of CLT in the construction of tall buildings.

The story features the only two companies in the U.S. that currently make CLT -- SmartLam in Whitefish, Mont., and DR Johnson in Riddle, Ore. (Washington does not currently have CLT facilities, but there have been talks about building CLT plants in Darrington (Northwest Washington), Forks (Olympic Peninsula) and Colville (Northeast Washington).)

From the AP article:

John Redfield watches with pride as his son moves a laser-guided precision saw the size of a semi-truck wheel into place over a massive panel of wood.

Redfield's fingers are scarred from a lifetime of cutting wood and now, after decades of decline in the logging business, he has new hope that his son, too, can make a career shaping the timber felled in southern Oregon's forests.


U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is from the Northwest

2016-12-23 Ashley Bach

Given the towering evergreens of the Northwest, it's not a surprise that trees from this region would often be chosen to serve as the official Capitol Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. But it's still a thrill to see the trees make their way across the country and eventually stand in lights at the U.S. Capitol for the whole country to see.

In 2013, an 88-foot Engelmann spruce from the Colville National Forest in Northeast Washington served as the national Christmas tree, tying for the tallest Capitol tree ever. Last year, the national tree was from Alaska but still had a Washington connection, as the tree arrived in the continental U.S. by ship at Tacoma. 

This year the Capitol Christmas Tree is an 80-foot Engelmann spruce from the Payette National Forest in Idaho. After being cut down Nov. 2, the tree toured the country before arriving in D.C. in early December.


Federal wildfire reform in 2016 goes up in smoke

2016-12-16 Ashley Bach

For several years now we've followed the efforts in Congress to pass federal timber reform. None of those efforts have proved successful so far, but more recently there was hope on the horizon that Congress may approve at least one measure that would have provided more money for wildfire prevention. There appeared to be bipartisan momentum to end the practice of "fire borrowing," in which the U.S. Forest Service raids other parts of its budget, including money set aside for wildfire prevention, to meet the rising cost of fighting wildfires.

As recently as early last week, it looked like Congress would end fire borrowing as one of the many provisions of a larger energy bill. However, by Wednesday of last week, the energy bill was dead - the victim of sparring between the House and Senate over competing versions of the bill. 


More fishers reintroduced in Washington

2016-12-09 Ashley Bach

The fisher, a large member of the weasel, mink and otter family, has returned to Washington in recent years after disappearing in the mid-1900s because of overtrapping and loss of habitat. The revival of the fisher is 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. 

Forest landowners are also playing a critical role in the fisher's recovery. More than two dozen forest landowners have signed agreements to monitor any fishers that venture on their property and to not disturb the animals. The agreement, called a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA), gives the landowners regulatory certainty in the event that the fisher is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

That's why the moment last week in Mount Rainier National Park was so special to forest landowners and so many other people. Ten fishers were released, the first in the park in decades, as part of the ongoing effort to reintroduce the animals to the South Cascades. 


Washington kids gets funding for outdoor education

2016-12-02 Ashley Bach

Mark Doumit, the Executive Director of the Washington Forest Protection Association, and Bill Taylor, President of Taylor Shellfish, wrote in an Everett Herald op-ed last year about the importance of teaching children about working outdoors and in natural resources industries.

It’s heartening to see school districts, state lawmakers and nonprofits like Washington STEM show strong support for improving education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). As others have noted, Washington has the highest concentration of STEM jobs in the country, and yet the majority of our students aren’t graduating with competency in STEM skills.

What’s been overlooked in the debate is Washington’s leading role as a provider of jobs not in a high-tech office or laboratory but outdoors — in the forest, on the waters of Puget Sound or on the farms of Eastern Washington. Natural resource industries — like farming, forestry, fishing and shellfish growing — have been an integral part of our state’s economy since before it was founded 126 years ago.


Alaska Airlines flight runs on fuel powered by wood

2016-11-23 Ashley Bach

Airplane fuel made from wood? We've been following the story closely over several years, including this post last year, and so we are especially happy to report that it happened: an Alaska Airlines flight last week became the first commercial flight to ever run on wood.

An Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Washington, D.C., on Monday morning was powered with a jet-fuel blend containing 20 percent renewable biofuel made from Pacific Northwest forest residuals — the limbs and branches that remain after the harvesting of managed forests.

Billed as the first commercial flight running partly on wood, the alternative jet fuel was produced through the research efforts of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA). Led by Washington State University, the group aims to build a sustainable supply chain for aviation biofuel using the leavings from logging operations.

The wood came from Washington, Oregon and Montana, including forests managed by Weyerhaeuser, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes.


Collaboration is focus of 2016 WFPA Annual Meeting

2016-11-18 Ashley Bach

Collaboration and the concerns of rural communities were top of mind this week at the 108th annual meeting of the Washington Forest Protection Association in Olympia on Nov. 16. The election of Donald Trump as president shined a spotlight on the needs of residents who live in smaller communities outside large cities, several participants said, and Washington state government's continued split - with Republicans controlling the State Senate and Democrats controlling the State House and the Governor's Office - means collaboration is more important than ever.

In Washington State, "people are really going to have to work together in a bipartisan way," said Cindi Holmstrom, a government affairs consultant and former Director of the Washington State Department of Revenue.

Patti Case, public affairs and regulatory manager for Green Diamond Resource Co., added that the invigorated national conversation about the economic disparity among U.S. citizens creates opportunities to show how the forestry industry has a positive economic impact on rural communities.


Peter Goldmark reflects on 8 years overseeing WA public lands

2016-11-10 Ashley Bach

Washington Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark is leaving office in January after announcing earlier this year that he wouldn't run for re-election.

His eight years in office managing 5.6 million acres of public lands gives him a unique and valuable perspective on the state of Washington's public forests. He will speak at next week's WFPA Annual Meeting, and he sat down last month for a wide-ranging interview with Evergreen Magazine, with forest health a major theme.


Vaagen Brothers innovates through media and collaboration

2016-11-04 Ashley Bach

Vaagen Brothers Lumber is the largest private employer in Northeast Washington and a national leader in forest collaboration. The company is also an innovator in the use of media to promote the company's operations, active forest management and the power of collaboration. Company Vice President Russ Vaagen has an active blog, and Vaagen Brothers has also posted a large number of videos over the past couple years. 

A drone-shot aerial video of the company's Colville, Wash., mill operations was featured in Popular Mechanics and has received more than 416,000 views on YouTube. The company's newest video, "A Forest Story," is an absorbing animated look at how our forests have become overgrown and suspectible to disease, and how active forest managment and forest collaboration can help make forests healthier.

Russ Vaagen recently wrote in his blog about "Era of Megafires," a multimedia presentation that is currently touring the Northwest. The presentation is by Dr. Paul Hessburg, researcher at the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Wenatchee and professor at University of Washington, and Wenatchee film company North 40 Productions. Russ Vaagen is also interviewed in the film.