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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.
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 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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
Congress is currently considering legislation that would legally confirm woody biomass as carbon neutral, a move that would be a huge boost for the Washington forestry industry, for forest health and for rural communities.
Dean Rudolf, vice chairman and Western Region director of the Pulp & Paperworkers’ Resource Council, wrote this month in the Spokane Spokesman-Review about the benefits of biomass and why Congress should approve the bill.
Congress is considering whether to require EPA to restore biomass’s carbon neutral rating so long as the ability of U.S. forests to absorb carbon dioxide is stable or expanding. Its action would contribute greatly to controlling climate change and protecting the jobs of those who depend on Washington’s forestry-dependent industries.
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.