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More resources needed for record wildfire season

2015-12-22 Ashley Bach

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.


Congress strikes out on timber reform in 2015

2015-12-18 Ashley Bach

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.


Washington gathers its forces for cross-laminated timber

2015-12-13 Ashley Bach

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.


Collaboration is the key at 2015 WFPA Annual Meeting

2015-11-20 Ashley Bach

Collaboration was the word on everyone's mind at this year's annual meeting of the Washington Forest Protection Association in Olympia on Nov. 19. The theme of the event was "A Spirit of Collaboration: New Partnerships for Working Forests," and it lived up to the title. 

Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark titled his talk as "A Spirit of Collaboration Against Wildfire" and said it's critical for the timber industry to support his request for $24 million from the Legislature for increased firefighter training and coordinated firefighting command, including $6 million for thinning and forest restoration to prevent the fires from ever happening. "I don't want to have a 1-million-acre fire season (like 2015) again," Goldmark said.

Goldmark's deputy in the Department of Natural Resources, Mary Verner, reiterated during a panel discussion later in the day that DNR does not accept that wildfire seasons are going to always be horrendous like in 2015, the so-called "new normal."

"This can't be normal," Verner said. "We need to change it."

Kevin Martin, a director for the Pacific Northwest Region of the U.S. Forest Service, said for our forests to become healthier and less prone to fire, state, local, federal officials and timber and environmental groups must all come to the table to reach solutions. "We can't do it alone," Martin said. "We have to be working together."

Mark Doumit, executive director of WFPA, said the timber industry prioritizes collaboration, especially after the approval of the landmark 1999 Forests & Fish Law, which brought "together people who were once enemies to the table." Getting policy approved now isn't as much about policy details as people think, Doumit said. It takes about 75 percent good relationships and 25 percent actual policy and science.

"Developing relationships is critical to the process," said Frank Jongenburger, a forestry engineer at Weyerhaeuser.

Bringing all the stakeholders together, each of them with disparate interests, and finding common ground means not coming in with preconceived notions, said Nate Putnam, Chief Forester for SDS Lumber Co. "For a minute, put away the finer points of the rules and and listen - really listen." 

For more information about the past year in the Washington timber industry, read WFPA's 2015 Annual Report.

Remembering Sherry Fox, a Washington forestry leader

2015-11-13 Ashley Bach

The Washington forestry community has lost a good friend. We are saddened to hear that Sherry Fox, a tree farmer in Lewis County and former member of the Washington Forest Practices Board, recently passed away. 

Sherry was very active in the Washington Farm Forestry Association, taking leadership roles on the local and state level from 1993-2002, serving as WFFA's Policy Coordinator from 2002-10 and serving on the state FPB Board from 2001-08. 

The WFFA this week said, "Sherry’s leadership was a testament to commitment to maintaining small forest landowners as a critical and viable part of the forested landscape of Washington State."

More from WFFA:

Sherry and her husband, Tom, were also active in the Washington Tree Farm Program and were honored as the Lewis County Tree Farmers of the Year in 2003, Washington State Tree Farmers of the Year in 2004, and Western Regional and National Outstanding Tree Farmers of the Year in 2005.

Sherry and her husband Tom own Tree Management Plus, a full service forestry company focusing on non-industrial forest land owners. They also are forest land owners and received an 80 year multi-species Habitat Conservation Plan for their own family forestland in 2004. In 2013, Tom and Sherry received a Distinguished Service Award from the Lewis County Farm Forestry Association.

A celebration of Sherry's life will be Saturday, Nov. 21, at 5 p.m. at The Loft in Chehalis (547 NW Pacific Avenue), with a dinner and band to follow.

Cards may be sent to: Tom Fox, P.O. Box 311, Ethel, WA 98542 or Alicia and John Bull, 330 Brockway Road, Chehalis, WA 98532.

Paper shines light on forestry in coastal Washington

2015-11-06 Ashley Bach

Sometimes it feels like forestry doesn't get the media attention it deserves because so much of the work takes place in rural areas where large media outlets don't exist and often don't tread. Which is why it's so gratifying to see the coverage of papers like the Daily Astorian and Chinook Observer, which cover the coastal counties of Southwest Washington and Northwest Oregon.

The papers devoted the cover story of this month's Coast River Business Journal, their sister business paper, to reporting on the state of the area's forestry industry. Besides fluctuations in timber prices and housing starts, the big takeaway from the story is that everyone from large mills to tree farm operators are at the mercy of regulations.

Even without increases in regulation policy, the increasing number of agencies involved in land regulation put a strain on tree farmers, said Greg Pattillo, owner of Pattillo Tree Farms in Raymond, (Wash.). Roughly one-third of Pattillo’s 700 acres aren’t available for him to use due to regulations, he said.

...He understands the need to protect the environment, Pattillo said, but feels that, at times, regulations have been allowed to grow too far and create undue strain on foresters looking to use their land.

(It should be noted that the Pattillos won this year's Washington Tree Farmer of the Year award.)

The Coast River Business Journal accompanied its news report with an editorial in which the paper bemoans the average person's lack of personal experience with the industry.


"Zombie" trees are not the Halloween treat states deserve

2015-10-31 Ashley Bach

The idea of zombie trees might seem too good to be true given that it's Halloween, but the situation is all too true in Washington and Oregon. Analysis in both states show there is an alarming number of dead "zombie" trees, especially on federal forestland.

The Oregon Forest Resources Institute sponsored research that showed 350 million trees are standing dead in the 14 million acres of Oregon’s national forests.

“It’s a tale of two forests,” says Mike Cloughesy, OFRI’s director of forestry. “About 17 percent of the trees on National Forest System lands in Oregon are dead, compared to 11 percent for other public lands, and 8 percent for private and Indian lands.

“While it may not seem scary, it’s a potential nightmare because there’s a lot more NFS land.”

In Washington, the situation is similar. About 22 percent of the trees in the state's national forests are dead, compared to 15 percent on state and local government forestland and 10 percent on privately owned forestland. That means the percentage of dead trees on federal land is more than twice that of the trees on private land. 

That's no coincidence, forestry leaders say. Federal forests suffer from a severe lack of active management, meaning the forests are overcrowded, leading to trees dying from insects and drought.


Washington recognizes critical role of state's forestry industry

2015-10-23 Ashley Bach

It's appropriate that right around the time Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared Washington Forest Products Industry Week, the state Department of Commerce installed former state legislator Brian Hatfield as the department's first forestry sector lead.

As the Commerce department describes, the state's forestry industry plays an important role in Washington's economy, so it makes sense that it would receive recognition:

Older than statehood, Washington’s forest products sector has provided wise stewardship of our natural resources and community sustaining, family wage jobs for over 165 years.  Despite challenges, the industry’s ability to innovate, modernize and diversify provides proof that this giant piece of Washington’s past will also play a critical role in our future.

Hatfield is also an appropriate representative for the industry at the state level:

As a product of Washington’s timber country himself, Brian Hatfield’s passionate support for rural economic development and the defense of our state’s natural resources industries stood out during his 26 years of service, in and around the State Legislature. 

Meanwhile, Inslee declared Oct. 18-24 as Washington Forest Products Industry Week, coinciding with National Forest Products Week. 

“The governor’s announcement is yet another validation that products from the forest are renewable and sustainable,” said Mark Doumit of the Washington Forest Protection Association. “It helps communicate the reality that responsibly managed forests are essential to our lives and livelihoods here in Washington.”

...Gov. Inslee’s proclamation notes that the industry supports more than 41,000 direct jobs and another 63,000 forestry-related jobs, paying wages of nearly $4.9 billion a year. It also recognizes forests’ “critical role in combating climate change due to the natural process of photosynthesis where trees absorb carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, release oxygen into the atmosphere and capture carbon, which is stored in wood products for the life of the product.”


Washington's federal delegation brainstorms on forest policy

2015-10-17 Ashley Bach

It's encouraging to see Washington State political leaders gather together to figure out ways to improve forest policy. This week three members of the state's federal delegation got together in two separate gatherings.

In the first, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (Democrat) and U.S. Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Republican) didn't let their political differences stand in the way of their meeting with forest stakeholders in Spokane.

“We want to make more headway on how we fight these (forest) fires,” Cantwell said. “We want to make sure we are doing the work in advance — the fuel reduction and modernization that will help us be better prepared for the future.”

The discussion included finding additional funding sources for the U.S. Forest Service, enlisting and training volunteer firefighters throughout the year and improving equipment and communications.

The U.S. House also has legislation that could help lead to more active forest management, McMorris Rodgers noted.

McMorris Rodgers said the House passed HR 2647, the Resilient Forests Act, which would put funding for fighting fires under the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Firefighting funds currently come from the forest management budget, meaning that activities such as thinning are curtailed. The Senate will consider the bill next, she said.

“We need to get some legislation on the president’s desk,” she said. “Clearly with the larger catastrophic fires that we’ve seen, there’s some urgency attached to this. We need to keep raising awareness and making sure Congress recognizes that they need to take action.”


Cross-laminated timber could help timber towns

2015-10-09 Ashley Bach

Things continue to look up for the planned $60 million Oregon Forest Science Complex at Oregon State University. First Seattle's Plum Creek pledged a sizable donation to the new center, a complex designed to train forestry students and promote the use of innovative wood products like cross-laminated timber. 

Now Sierra Pacific Industries, a large timber company based in California but with strong roots in Washington, has pledged $6 million to the new forest science complex at OSU. Sierra Pacific is the second-largest lumber producer in the country, with 1.9 million acres of timberland in Washington and California. In Washington, the company has mills in Aberdeen, on the coast; in Burlington, north of Seattle; and Centralia, about halfway between Seattle and Portland. 

The donation will build an advanced wood products laboratory at the new OSU forest science complex, with one of the priorities the continuing study of cross-laminated timber in the construction of tall buildings.

One of the university's goals is to use the laboratory to establish Oregon as an international leader in the way wood is used in tall commercial and residential structures. That research, said OSU president Ed Ray, could have a profound impact on the state's economy.

"Sierra Pacific's commitment is a tremendous investment in the region's future," Ray said. "By developing new technologies and products that could be manufactured in Oregon and throughout the West, this lab will have a lasting positive impact on our state and its rural communities. We are deeply grateful for the company's partnership."


Rural communities rise up for active forest management

2015-10-02 Ashley Bach

As state, local and federal leaders continue to take stock after this year's horrendous wildfire season, the calls for more active management of our state and federal forests are getting louder and louder.

The Ellensburg (Wash.) Daily Record recently published testimony in front of a U.S. Senate committee from Kittitas County Commissioner Gary Berndt. The commissioner spoke about the fires that regularly plague his community and how the only long-term answer is healthier, less crowded forests.

...The solution for the long term will also have to involve strategic timber harvest and stand thinning. Recently the Nature Conservancy purchased nearly 50,000 acres of timberland in our county and they acknowledge that forest management will be critical to achieving their goals including reducing the threat from fire.

Incident management teams are much more successful and cost effective when there are options to guide fire into managed areas with access and reduced fuels.

I believe that there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create solutions which will help prevent and drastically lessen the impact and numbers of fires we are enduring. A first step must be to establish a funding mechanism that does not “raid” funds for management activities to pay for suppression costs. Sen. Cantwell has discussed this and without the funds to carry on routine management activities, nothing will change.

I see communities across the West continue to be at peril from catastrophic fire impacts. I have managed fires where families have lost everything; I have worked my entire career to minimize the damage to forests watersheds and local economies. The solution is to better improve immediate response and management, but the real solution is to develop a plan of action that will create a fire resistant healthy forest environment.


Seattle tech leaders discover the power of the forest

2015-09-25 Ashley Bach

We've written before about the need to educate the younger generations about forestry, from grade-school kids to college students. But what if the drive to get out to the forest was geared toward adults and not about finding employees for the timber industry but something more primal?

That's what going on with the new practice of "forest bathing," in which over-stressed and over-teched professionals head out to the trees for "forest bathing," a cleansing of the mind in nature. The Washington Post recently covered a group outing to the forests in Duvall, near Seattle.

The group of about a dozen had signed up for the first-ever “Unplug and Recharge in Nature” day organized by the Wilderness Awareness School on 40 acres of forested land just outside the high-tech corridor that is home to Microsoft, Amazon.com and a host of other high-tech companies. They’d come to the woods, many said, because after spending so much of their time in the addictive and information-loaded virtual world, they felt a need to reconnect with the real one.

No wonder "forest bathing" has been around for decades, but it's really catching on in the U.S. now because it's needed more than ever.

The practice originated in Japan (in) the early 1980s, where it’s called Shinrin-yoku. And it has been gaining ground in the United States, where recent studies have found that people spend as much as five to seven hours a day in front of screens and check their smartphones several times an hour – some almost incessantly.

A U.S. Shinrin-yoku organization is now based in Santa Rosa, Calif. More nature retreats, like Earthwalk Ways in Fredericksburg, Va., offer “forest therapy.” And as research is beginning to show that “bathing” in the natural world is associated with lower stress levels, a boost to natural killer cells in the immune system, better mood, self-esteem, physical fitness, memory, attention, and creativity, among other benefits, some psychologists are beginning to offer “eco therapy.” Doctors, like Robert Zarr, a pediatrician at Unity Health Care in Washington, D.C., and “physician champion” of DC Parks Rx, are even prescribing time outside rather than pills.


Cross-laminated timber gets kudos in Northwest and D.C.

2015-09-19 Ashley Bach

It's been a big month for cross-laminated timber and tall wood buildings. So good in fact that we need numbers to list all the highlights.

1) The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week split its $3 million Tall Wood Building Prize among two high-rise projects (both still to be built) in Portland and New York City. The New York project is a 10-story condo building and the Portland project is a 12-story office/apartment building in the city's Pearl District. The USDA awards drew stories from the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post about the benefits of tall wood buildings.

From the Post story:

...To hear (U.S. Agriculure Secretary Tom) Vilsack tell it, this is also about the environment  and about forests (the Agriculture Department manages the U.S. Forest Service). Ultimately, he hopes, there could be a way of pairing together tall wood construction with U.S. forest restoration — namely, by putting insect-ravaged trees into buildings before a wildfire can come along and torch them, releasing their carbon into the atmosphere. Instead, it will be stored in the wood of a building.

“There’s 45 million acres of that diseased wood that’s available, and that currently presents a fire risk,” Vilsack says. “And so, to the extent that we can create this opportunity, it will result, I believe, over time, in more of that diseased wood being removed as opposed to burned.”

But most of all, the secretary believes that wood buildings will win people over by how they look and feel.

“I tell you, when you’re in New York City, all of a sudden you see a 10-story wood condominium building, and that becomes the talk of the town, that’s obviously going to encourage a lot of attention,” Vilsack says.


Learning from the Washington wildfire season

2015-09-11 Ashley Bach

While the wildfires in Washington still burn, wetter and cooler weather has slowed them down and firefighters are finally getting an edge up. This is an appropriate time to assess some of the lessons going forward.

One of the most striking things was how shorthanded many of the fire crews were. This was a record wildfire season in Washington, to be sure, but the lack of manpower is important to note, especially when State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark said the state is still woefully underfunded for fighting the fires and for wildfire prevention.

A recent Los Angeles Times story paints a harrowing picture of the choices that fire officials in Stevens County in northeast Washington were forced to make as the flames closed in. 

For almost 24 hours, (Stevens County Fire District 2 Chief Rick) Anderson and 11 other firefighters fought the blaze alone, with pickup trucks carrying 300-gallon water tanks.

It was a costly and deeply personal battle waged on home turf, with two firefighters battling to save their parents’ home, another defending his in-laws’ house, and another losing 120 acres of his timber to the flames.

...Never before in Anderson’s four-decade career had he been forced to make such a choice.

“There was a group of homes we had to walk away from,” he said. “I’ve never had to make that decision: ‘We’re not going to do anything.’

“It isn’t like the newscasts,” he said. “It’s the Smith household. It’s the Jones household.... The houses all have names on them.”

Many homes had to be abandoned and, in all, 17 had burned as of Wednesday.


Olympic Peninsula and Wash. DNR address unsold timber

2015-09-04 Ashley Bach

The recent closure of four mills on Washington's Olympic Peninsula has some local leaders wondering what they can do to stem the tide. 

In 2014, Interfor closed two West End mills in Beaver and Forks; and Green Creek Wood Products closed its Port Angeles mill. This summer, Allen Logging closed its lumber mill.

Officials in Clallam County say the problem is the State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has had lots of timber authorized to sell over the last 10 years but then doesn't sell it, a process known as "arrearage."

The city of Forks says that DNR "was supposed to sell — but didn't — 247 million board feet of timber on county trust lands in the Olympic region in the past decade," according to the Peninsula Daily News. Officials at the closed mills say a lack of logs was a factor in the mills shutting down.

The Clallam County Board of Commissioners is so serious about addressing arrearage that last week it formed an advisory committee to study the management of state forest lands in the county. The committee is going to study the possibility of the county taking over the state forest lands from DNR. The committee, if it wanted to move forward, would send the issue to voters. And if they approved, the land transfer would still have to approved by the Legislature.

One of the most outspoken critics of DNR is Forks City Attorney Rod Fleck, who says the county could gain tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs if the backlog of timber was sold by the state.

The issue has been active on the Olympic Peninsula for several months, and State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark (the head of DNR) was interviewed by the Peninsula Daily News about arrearage in June.

Goldmark said external factors out of DNR's control contributed to the timber not being sold. Below is an excerpt. Go here for the full interview.


Wildfires shed light on lack of state wildfire funding

2015-08-27 Ashley Bach

As Washington faces one of its worst wildfire seasons ever, including the largest fire in state history, attention is turning back to the wildfire budget requests made earlier this year by Washington Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.

Goldmark asked the Legislature for $20 million for forest thinning and other wildfire prevention measures. Lawmakers gave him $10 million.

Goldmark asked the Legislature for $4.5 million to actually fight the wildfires as they happen. Lawmakers gave him $1.2 million.

In an interview with the Seattle Times this week, Goldmark said he's upset that the Legislature didn't give him his full request, especially in light of the massive wildfires that came to pass.

“I’m disappointed in their lack of understanding that public safety is a big issue,” Goldmark, a Democratic statewide elected official who runs the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said in an interview. “We’re doing our best with the scarce resources.”

State lawmakers say their practice is to go back and fund the firefighting from the previous summer in a supplemental budget, which is what happened this year for the 2014 wildfires. And Gov. Jay Inslee says the lack of funding never limits how the state fights wildfires (since the firefighting is always eventually paid for). 

But is this smart budgeting? And regardless, it doesn't explain the relative lack of funding for forest thinning and wildfire prevention.


Washington, Oregon put out call for aid in wildfires

2015-08-19 Ashley Bach

The wildfire season is busy enough this summer that in both Washington and Oregon, many communities need help to fight the fires.

For the first time in state history, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources is asking for volunteers to fight wildfires. The state needs volunteers to coordinate at centers in Omak, in north-central Washington, and Colville, in Northeast Washington.

If they can't show up in person, volunteers should not call DNR - the state has already been deluged with responses. They should first fill out this online survey providing the state with their information.

Every volunteer should also have wildland firefighting qualifications, which means "an Incident Qualification Card (commonly called a Red Card), a “Blue Card,” or a letter of certification from a local or rural firefighting agency stating that you have met appropriate physical fitness, experience and training standards for serving on wildfire incidents."

Volunteers can also go directly to the coordination centers in Omak and Colville. More information about the centers can be found here.


Support continues in D.C. to fix wildfire funding

2015-08-15 Ashley Bach

We wrote last week about how there seems to be wide support in D.C. to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires. Leaders from both parties agree that the U.S. Forest Service should not have to raid its own budget to fight massive wildfires, a practice known as "fire borrowing." Instead, the Forest Service should be able to use money set aside for natural disasters. 

But that's where the agreement stops. The Obama administration and many Democrats want a bill called the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would focus only on getting rid of fire borrowing. For many Republicans and timber leaders, however, this bill doesn't go nearly far enough. They support a bill passed by the U.S. House last month called the Resilient Federal Forests Act. The bill would get rid of fire borrowing but also increase active management of our federal forests and help restore our rural economies. 

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, wrote an op-ed this month in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin in support of the Resilient Federal Forests Act.

The federal government made a promise to actively manage America’s forests for the benefit of those who call this land home — and to preserve it for their livelihood. Clearly, the government has faltered in this commitment. Decades of burdensome regulations and frivolous lawsuits have hindered forest management.

...This summer, I voted for H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015. This bipartisan legislation incorporates the best combined ideas from my bill, which calls for the Forest Service, local leaders and private companies to work together to expedite environmental review.

This bill will modernize the contract approval process so the Forest Service has the tools they need to quickly remove dead trees and to effectively manage forests in Eastern Washington and across the country.


Wildfire funding reform heats up in Congress

2015-08-06 Ashley Bach

As fires continue to burn in forests around the West, most people seem to agree that we need to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires. The Forest Service is now spending most of its budget on firefighting, and that leaves little room for fire prevention, including forest thinning.

From a report this week:

In a new report released Wednesday, the (U.S. Forest Service) says that while it spent 16 percent of its total budget on preparing for and fighting fires in 1995, it will spend more than half its budget this year on the same task — and a projected 67 percent or more by 2025 under current funding arrangements.

By ten years from now, the agency’s expenditures for fighting wildfires as they flare up — dubbed fire suppression — are projected to increase from just under $1.1 billion in 2014 to nearly $1.8 billion. And that’s just one of a number of fire related costs; there is also an annual, fixed fire “preparedness” budget that exceeds $1 billion each year.

The Forest Service report says the agency’s very mission is “threatened” by this trend of increased fires, which is having a “debilitating impact” on other Forest Service responsibilities due to a phenomenon where funds for other priorities get shifted towards immediate wildfire emergencies.

The rub lies, however, in the fact that the Obama administration and many Democrats differ from many Republicans on how to fix the problem. Both sides agree that the Forest Service needs to change the way it funds the firefighting, but Republicans also want much more active management of federal forests - in order to keep the forests healthy and to prevent the wildfires before they start.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (whose department oversees the Forest Service) has been making a full-court press this week in support of legislation that he says would solve the firefighting funding problem. He's done several interviews (including with the Yakima Herald-Republic), authored an op-ed in the Seattle Times, and the Forest Service released the report mentioned above.

The legislation that Obama and Vilsack are supporting is similar to a wildfire funding proposal pushed by the President last year, a proposal we wrote about then.


Barred owl killing plan continues but with uncertain results

2015-07-31 Ashley Bach

While the federal government considers revamping the Northwest Forest Plan and uplisting the spotted owl from threatened to endangered, there was another development recently in the spotted owl saga.

Say what you will about the feds' plan to kill the competing barred owl, but it's at least an acknowledgement that the real threat to the spotted owl is its larger and more aggressive cousin, which over the last few decades has moved west into the spotted owl's territory. The spotted owls are dying off because they can't compete for food, and in some cases, the barred owls are even killing the spotted owls directly

Last year two animal rights groups sued to stop the federal plan to kill the barred owls in sites in California, Oregon and Washington. That lawsuit was just rejected by a U.S. District Court judge.

Friends of Animals and Predator Defense, two animal rights groups, filed a complaint last year accusing the agency of violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to evaluate alternatives to lethal removal of barred owls.

They also claimed the Fish and Wildlife Service’s study is contrary to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, under which the U.S. and other countries agreed to protect migratory birds.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken has rejected these arguments, finding that the agency wasn’t obligated to undertake other “recovery actions” for the spotted owl that didn’t call for removal of barred owls.

The agency took a sufficiently “hard look” at the study’s effects, including the possibility that it may disrupt an “equilibrium” between the two owl species in some areas, Aiken said.

The experiment also falls within an exception to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which permits birds to be killed for “scientific research or educational purposes,” she said.