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Nearly three weeks after the Oso landslide, scientists are still studying what caused a massive hillside to break away, travel over the Stillaguamish River and spread out over a mile – all in just 60 seconds.
A team from the U.S. Geological Survey is leading the effort to understand what happened. Richard Iverson, a hydrologist at the USGS’s office in Vancouver and one of the world’s leading landslide experts, told the Seattle Times that the slide was caused by “a combination of unusually wet weather, erosion at the toe of the slide and local geology.”
According to the Times, Iverson believes the sandy soil collapsed and “probably compressed the sodden soil, which would have increased water pressure between soil grains and turned the mass to soup.”
The “mass of mud, rocks and trees was traveling about 60 mph when it slammed into the (Stillaguamish River).”
The city of Darrington and the forestry industry are so intertwined that they are practically one and the same. The mascot for the Darrington Middle and High School is the Loggers. The school’s gym, which also serves as part of the Darrington Community Center, “tells you a lot about this town,” said KING 5’s Chris Daniels in a recent story. “All wood, all local lumber. Built by loggers, for loggers.”
Signs around town say, “Logger Power/Git Er Done.” The largest employer in the town of 1,300 people is the Hampton sawmill, which has 130 employees and is responsible for another 170 jobs through mill-related businesses. Even Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin owns a logging company.
So it was no surprise when the timber community banded tightly together in the wake of the March 22 landslide in nearby Oso that killed at least 30 people. For nearly two weeks, loggers have searched the slide, bringing their heavy equipment to clear the mud and debris, opening their homes to the affected families, working long hours to help their own.
Smart forest management is a need that gets more important every year. Because our country's federal forests aren't being actively restored and managed, they are dying from insects, disease and massive wildfires.
These forests are dangerous to their neighbors - so overcrowded that they're a tinderbox for increasingly destructive wildfires, and fire or not, filled with disease-riddled trees that could fall down at any moment.
According to experts, these unhealthy and overcrowded forests are also sucking too much water out of the ground and hurting drought-stricken areas. The Modesto Bee reports that forests in the Sierra Nevada mountains are taking too much groundwater from Central California, which is in its third year of drought.
What a big week for the future of tall wood buildings. It was three years ago that the U.S. government announced it would promote wood as a green building material, and it has spent more than $2 million on emerging wood technologies through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Products Laboratory.
Using wood for construction is one thing, but using wood for tall buildings, even skyscrapers? It's an method that's been used in Europe since the 1990s, and in the last year or two, the idea has started to take hold in the United States. The USDA just announced this week that it will spend $1 million to train architects, engineers and developers in the benefits of large wood buildings, and another $1 million on a design competition to "demonstrate the architectural and commercial viability" of using wood for high-rise construction.
The Northwest may end up becoming an epicenter of the new trend. Seattle architectural expert Joseph Mayo spoke recently at the Washington Forest Protection Association's annual meeting about how Washington, with its world-leading positions in timber, manufacturing and technology, can be a new center for the use of wood in the construction of large buildings. Mayo has also talked to the city of Seattle about changing building codes to make the construction of large buildings easier.
It's encouraging to see Northwest voices come out in support of active forest management. As we wrote last month, forest management is sometimes pushed aside in the discussion over forest health and climate change, and that's unfortunate.
Doc Hastings is a Republican, and Ron Wyden is a Democrat. But both members of Congress are from the Northwest and both care deeply about increasing the federal timber harvest. Which is why some impending changes to their status in Washington, D.C., could have major implications for the Northwest's clout on environmental issues, especially federal timber reform.
The timber business is one of the oldest industries in the country, particularly in the West, but it never stands still. Just last week, the media profiled four wood products firms that are using innovation to not just survive, but thrive.
There is one thing our local, state and federal governments can agree on: our nation's federal forests are in poor health. We are facing a record wildfire season this year and federal forests across the West are diseased by pine beetles, spruce budworms and root rot.
Timber and environmental leaders agree that meaningful federal timber reform in Washington, D.C., is closer than it's ever been. But the path to real reform has taken several twists and turns in recent weeks, and seems set to take many more throughout the year.
With the passage of a new Farm Bill this week, Congress ended a legal battle over logging roads that started all the way back in 2006.
Who knew that nanocrystals could be so important to the paper industry?
Cellulose nanocrystals, a microscopic material produced by processing wood pulp, are at the forefront of what the U.S. National Science Foundation says could become a $600 billion industry by 2020.
Wild Olympics is back.
The proposal to make 126,000 acres of Olympic National Forest off-limits to logging and also name 19 rivers and seven tributaries as wild and scenic is up for consideration again in Congress. This new version, sponsored by new U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer and veteran U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, was introduced on Friday and is pretty much the same proposal that didn't go anywhere after being introduced in 2012.
The Aberdeen Daily World this month made it official: Harbor Paper is not going to reopen. The mill's closure is another sign that the model for federal forest management is broken.
Wildifires are tremendously destructive, with the largest fires burning miles and miles of forestland and sometimes property. For private forest owners, one of their priorities in the wake of the fires is to salvage whatever timber they can. Seattle's Plum Creek Timber Co. is in the process now of salvaging what it can among thousands of acres of the company's forestland that burned in last summer's Lolo Creek Complex of fires in Montana.
Northwest timber counties got some good news over the holidays when federal leaders announced that new federal timber subsidies won't be subject to the budget cuts known as sequestration. But the counties' financial situation is still dire.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is an ace up in the sleeve for timber issues in the Northwest. The Oregon Democrat took over as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in January 2013, and since then, he's championed timber reform.
One unavoidable truth in the timber business is that our country's small forest landowners are getting older. According to the U.S. Forest Service, 20 percent of U.S. family forestland is owned by people 75 years and older. Another 30 percent of family forests are owned by people between 55 and 65.
The bark beetle epidemic that has spread across the West in the last 17 years is unmistakable. Forty-six million acres of forests in the U.S. have been affected. In British Columbia, 576,000 acre feet of trees have been killed, which is the same amount of timber that's harvested over a normal 10-year period in B.C.
Forest collaboratives - coalitions of timber and environmental interests, along with local, state and federal leaders - are all the rage right now. We've written about them here in the Northwest many times, and while the projects have been far from perfect, they have undoubtedly been successful in at least getting all the parties at the same table. Just getting timber and environmental interests to sit down together is an accomplishment in itself.
After more than a year of anticipation, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., this week unveiled his plan to increase the federal timber harvest. His plan comes out two months after the U.S. House approved a sweeping timber reform bill, sponsored by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., called the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.