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Washington state officials recently confirmed what many people suspected: this is the worst drought in the state's modern history.
“We have never experienced a drought like this,” said Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology. “It is remarkably worse than the drought of 2005 or 2001... and there is no end in sight.”
The Methow Valley News put the misery in bullet points:
-Almost 99 percent of the state is classified as being in a “severe drought.”
-Eighty sturgeon, from 5 to 7 feet long — including breeding females — have been found dead along the Columbia River.
-Typically wet forests on the Olympic Peninsula are burning, with the largest fire on record in Olympic National Park this summer.
-Every county in the state is predicted to qualify for federal disaster relief.
-At least 30 irrigators have been ordered to shut their diversions.
And the wildfires, as we noted earlier this month, are already off to the races.
“Wildfire season started early and energetically,” said Mary Verner, deputy supervisor of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). As of July 17, there had been 747 fires that burned almost 74,000 acres. This week brush fires near Quincy and Monroe have increased the total.
The 74,000 acres is more than twice the area burned by mid-July last year (not counting the Carlton Complex Fire, which had just started), said Verner.
The cross-laminated timber (CLT) industry in the Pacific Northwest received a couple huge boosts this month. First the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that it will help Washington and Oregon become a center for the manufacturing of CLT and its use in the construction of tall wood buildings.
While there isn't any money yet attached to the federal government's announcement, the new designation of a manufacturing zone for CLT and other cutting-edge wood products is still a breakthrough development.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, applauded the designation.
"This announcement is great news for Southwest Washington families and businesses as we all work to develop and grow our economy, and create jobs for local workers," Murray said in a statement."
...The Commerce Department is considering a 16-county swath from southern Oregon to Vancouver, Washington, a manufacturing zone (and) will dedicate federal resources -- including a liaison and promotion to domestic and foreign investors -- to help grow the fledgling industry.
"Never before have we had the opportunity to collaborate as closely with such a broad range of partners to strengthen opportunities for manufacturing job creation. We are thrilled to receive this designation," said Mike Bomar, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council (in Vancouver).
Here's what else is planned:
-Special certification program for wood product manufacturing
-Training for young people who want a path other than traditional education systems
-Repurposing old lumber mills in rural areas to adapt to new technology, rather than building new mills
-Washington officials plan to update land designations to align with Oregon's study of industrial land that can accommodate manufacturing industries.
The federal designation will cover three Washington counties: Clark, Klickitat and Skamania.
The forest fire season in Washington has got off to such a terrible, destructive start that even a rain forest is burning. Before July had even begun, the Sleepy Hollow fire burned down 29 homes near Wenatchee. Several other wildfires still burn across Central and Eastern Washington, scorching hundreds of acres of forests.
The Los Angeles Times commented that the spate of wildfires so early in the summer is making Washington look like perpetually dry Southern California.
The flames sent a terrifying message: Normally soggy Washington — nicknamed the Evergreen State for good reason and home to the wettest town in the Lower 48 — has never been hotter or drier at this point in the year, officials say, and the fire season has never begun so early or so fiercely.
"It's more reminiscent of Southern California and the brush fires fed by the Santa Ana winds," said Peter Goldmark, head of the state Department of Natural Resources. "Now it's up here in the state of Washington, where this kind of behavior is unseen. It's heralding a radical change in the kinds of fires we're going to see."
The 1,200-acre fire in the Olympic National Park's Queets rain forest proves that Western Washington is no longer immune from large fires either.
This year, even the Queets rain forest, a place that typically receives more than 200 inches of rain annually, is burning.
The fire started after a warm winter prevented most of the snowpack from forming, followed by an exceedingly hot, dry spring that primed the forest for ignition. The result of this unusual alignment is what now ranks as the largest fire since the park was established, and might burn through the summer.
...The fire is a reminder that even these ancient forests in one of the wettest places in North America have a burn cycle, although it’s measured in hundreds of years.
The worry is so great that in King County (Seattle and its suburbs), officials are now asking residents to perform the same brush-clearing and other fire prevention measures asked of forest homeowners in fire-prone Eastern Washington.
Jim Petersen, the co-founder of the Evergreen Foundation, is a longtime and respected advocate for Northwest rural communities, forest landowners and timber professionals. His opinions have appeared on this blog several times before (here, here and here), and his Evergreen Magazine is still an invaluable resource for timber leaders after nearly three decades.
Collaboration has also been a popular concept in forestry circles for many years, and it's something this blog has written about many times over because it's one of the only ways that economically viable timber harvests are happening on a local level, without the threat of lawsuits. Timber leaders, environmental groups and local and federal officials have the potential to work together.
Petersen agrees - so much so that a few months ago he started a project to explore forestry collaboration in the Northwest. About once a week he's been posting an interview and so far the subjects are timber leaders, local county officials and representatives from the U.S. Forest Service.
As Petersen says in his opening essay, he's conducting the interviews because he feels that collaboration is one of the only ways forward.
This is the first in a series of essays I am writing that I suspect will surprise many who know me. I am embracing Forest Collaboration, a process that many battle-scarred veterans of the fabled timber wars view as “Sleeping with the enemy,” the enemy here being the slew of environmental litigants that killed the federal timber sale program and thus the economies of the West’s rural timber communities.
...Together (through the interviews and essays), we’ll learn what works, what doesn’t work, and why. We’ll also dig into the factors that seem to limit success, or at least threaten collaboration’s long-term sustainability. There are some that demand our attention.
In Petersen's most recent interview, he talks to Duane Vaagen of Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, a small town in Northeast Washington. Vaagen Brothers helped create the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, which U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called “a model for timber communities nationwide."
Fish passages - those culverts you see underneath roads - are critical in allowing Washington fish to migrate both up and downstream. But what a lot of people don't realize is that tens of thousands of these passages around the state don't work correctly. Perhaps the culvert was built too small, too shallow, too high off the surface of the waterway or built to move the water through too quickly.
Since 1999, with the passage of the historic Forests & Fish Law, forest landowners have been the state leader in clearing these fish passage barriers. 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.
Road Maintenance and Abandonment Plans (RMAPs) for forest landowners have led to the clearance of most of the forest fish passage barriers, as well as a smaller program, the Family Forest Fish Passage Program.
In a recent meeting of the state Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee, David Price of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife lauded the Forests & Fish Law for its positive impact on the health of the state's fish, allowing so many steelhead and salmon to migrate freely.
"It's a very successul program, something (forest landowners) should be very proud of," Price said.
According to the state, it's now time to push the clearance of fish passage barriers to the next level. While forest landowners have led the way so far, there are still as many as 40,000 fish passage barriers across Washington. The Legislature last year created the Fish Passage Barrier Removal Board, though lawmakers still haven't approved any money for the board to actually clear any passage barriers. (The board held its first meeting this week.)
The closure of sawmills and paper mills is always impactful to the small, often rural, communities in which many of them are located. As we saw with the final closure two years ago of the Harbor Paper mill in Grays Harbor County, Wash., the effect on people's jobs and livelihoods is deep and wide-ranging.
The closures put at least a temporary halt to what was for many families generations of employment, going back several decades. The closures also create a large hole in rural economies where the unemployment rate is already very high and the promise of new jobs and industries is low.
This was on display this week with the announcement that the last lumber mill on the West End of Washington's Olympic Peninsula will close next month. Meanwhile, just one day later, the last log was cut at the Shelton, Wash., mill owned by Simpson Lumber Co., which has operated in Shelton for 90 years.
According to the Olympian, the mill's last log was "processed by double-cut sawyer Rick Glaser, who spent 44 years working for Simpson."
Glaser joined the company at 18 and leaves it as a 62-year-old man.
The 18-foot Douglas fir log took all of five minutes to cut, he said.
“It was sad and real emotional,” said Glaser, who added that his daughter, Amanda, also works at Simpson, and watched her father complete his job one last time.
Glaser plans to retire, but his daughter, 34, will have to find work, he said.
Glaser and his daughter are among about 270 employees who lost their jobs after Simpson announced that it had sold its waterfront mill and one in Dayton, near Shelton, to Sierra Pacific Industries, a wood products company based in Northern California.
In Shelton, the closure is not the end of the timber business. Timber will continue to be processed locally, and Sierra Pacific and Simpson will continue to have a strong presence in the area.
It was just a few years ago that a coalition of aviation companies and other stakeholders were banding together to figure out a way to fly jetliners on fuel made from woody biomass generated by Northwest forests. And it was also a few years ago that Washington State Forester Aaron Everett said at the annual meeting of the Washington Forest Protection Association that the state Department of Natural Resources is bullish on the potential of creating jet fuel from timber slash.
This would be a combination of two great state industries: aerospace and forestry, according to (Aaron) Everett of the Washington Department of Natural Resources. "Our view of (jet fuel and biomass) is wild optimism and great opportunity."
That wild optimism and great opportunity was on display this week with the announcement by Washington State University that a coalition, including WSU, University of Washington, Weyerhaeuser, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several other colleges, was leading the charge on a long, possibly cross-country, airline flight using 1,000 gallons of jet fuel made from Northwest woody biomass.
The coalition, called Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA), is helping to make the fuel for Alaska Airlines, which will complete the flight.
(NARA co-director Michael Wolcott) said biomass is ideal because one of the goals of the project is to “not use food-based materials so there’s no competition between food and fuels. In this case, we’re using the residue of the forestry industry. We’re using materials that can’t be used in pulp and lumber ... and we use a portion of that to be produced into fuels.”
NARA is a five-year project supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Institute of Food and Agriculture. It’s made up of 22 member organizations ranging from industry and academia to government laboratories. Its mission is to facilitate development of biojet and bioproduct industries in the Pacific Northwest while also evaluating the economic, environmental and societal benefits of the project.
“Developing alternative jet fuel made from forest residuals represents a significant economic challenge with considerable sustainability benefits,” Wolcott said in a statement. “While the price of oil fluctuates, the carbon footprint of fossil fuels remains constant. NARA efforts to engage stakeholders from forest managers to potential fuel users like Alaska Airlines to lay the foundations for a bio-based, renewable fuel economy is exciting work that we believe will benefit society in the years ahead.”
Wood is a powerful and versatile material, and sometimes it feels like the range of its uses is practically limitless. Just this week, a new study came out showing that computer chips are now being made of wood. Computer chips!
Wood's wide application was also on display with a long story in this month's issue of Seattle Business Magazine. The article is one of the most in-depth stories we've seen on the rise of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in the construction of tall buildings. And best yet: it's written from a Washington State and Pacific Northwest perspective.
The article is definitely a must-read for anyone with an interest in the future of Northwest forestry. From its very first paragraph, the story pulls you in.
Before aerospace, software and coffee defined the Pacific Northwest, timber was the industry that fueled our economy. Now, a radical new approach toward sustainable construction — building high-rises from wood — could bring timber back into the spotlight, stimulating rural economies and promoting forest health in a way that architects, conservation groups and timber companies can get behind.
The potential reach of CLT is unprecedented.
What makes CLT so compelling is that it can be manufactured using “junk” trees with diameters as small as 4 inches, including many dead trees. National forests on either side of the Cascades are filled with “dog-hair thickets” of Western hemlock, Douglas fir and other trees that are conducive to wildfires and pest outbreaks. Thin trees are uneconomical to harvest today because they have so little value, yet federal and state forest managers don’t have the budget to clear them. When incorporated into CLT panels, that wood could provide the raw material to build many of the mid-rise buildings popping up in Seattle and other urban centers across the country.
“Everybody sees it coming,” says Timothy Punke, senior vice president of corporate affairs and public policy at Plum Creek Timber Company, which owns vast forestlands in Washington state. “It’s a huge opportunity to build environmentally friendly cities while helping rural economies that depend on timber and creating incentives for more people to plant more acres as trees.”
We've long known that lawsuits from environmental groups challenging timber projects can be damaging to rural communities and forest health, but now there is more evidence to quantify it.
The University of Montana this month released a study showing that lawsuits in Montana have cost local communities and the U.S. Forest Service tens of millions of dollars. And this week experts testified at a U.S. House hearing about the damage from lawsuits challenging timber projects.
The Montana study showed the Forest Service region including Montana, North Dakota and parts of South Dakota and Idaho had the most timber projects in the country challenged from 2008 through 2013, with 73 projects and 40-50 percent of the planned timber harvest litigated.
The researchers also used as a case study the Spotted Bear River project, which was designed to "cut trees on 1,193 acres, perform prescribed burns on 1,346 acres and thin 660 acres of saplings, producing 7.3 million board feet of timber with an estimated market value of $729,000."
That timber project, however, was delayed for years by a lawsuit and the Forest Service didn't win its legal fight until earlier this year.
(The University of Montana study) states there were more than $95,000 in costs to the federal agency from the estimated 1,883 hours of work that Flathead National Forest personnel spent defending against the (Spotted Bear River) litigation. It states that dealing with the suit consumed more than 25 percent of the forest’s 2013 timber program budget. Region-wide, litigation cost the agency’s timber budget $9.8 million in 2013 and $6.8 million in 2014.
Had the project been canceled altogether, the authors estimated the loss of 136 jobs and more than $10 million, based on the direct and indirect impacts from labor income, resultant spending, tax revenue and other ripple effects.
When some people think of forestry of Washington they think about large timber companies, but in fact small forest landowners are a critical and overlooked part of the industry. Nonindustrial private forest landowners make up about 19 percent of forestland in the state. The smallest of this class, the family operations, can own anywhere from one to 3,000 acres. Many of these landowners maintain their tree farms on their own time and with their own sweat equity. And without their commitment to sustainable forestry and keeping their land as working forests, sadly there would be a lot more asphalt and concrete paving over our state's forests.
This is why it's so important to honor some of the best tree farmers in Washington every year. Not only does their hard work help support their families, often for many decades, but they play such a key role in keeping the state green and forested.
The Washington Farm Forestry Association and the Washington Forest Protection Association hand out the Washington Tree Farmer of the Year award every year. In 2013, a couple with a tree farm in Grays Harbor and Thurston counties won the award. In 2014, it was a couple who bought their Mason County tree farm in 1969.
The winners this year are Greg and Sue Pattillo, who own a 700-acre tree farm in Pacific County, near Raymond on the Washington coast. According to the announcement of their May 1 award, "numerous commercial thinnings and final harvests have provided (the Pattillos) their income for the last 26 years and have been (American Tree Farm System)-certified for 33 years. Both have been actively involved in forestry activities for many years. Greg, a retired forester, has been active in the Society of American Foresters and as an American Tree Farm Inspector. Together they have provided leadership for the Pacific County Chapter of Washington Farm Forestry Association for many years."
Vaagen Brothers Lumber is located in the small town of Colville in Northeast Washington, but its profile in the forestry industry now reaches far and wide. Vaagen Brothers was instrumental in spurring a spirit of collaboration between parties that don't always get along, both timber companies and environmental groups, along with federal, state and local leaders.
Vaagen helped bring all the disparate groups together to form the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, which U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called “a model for timber communities nationwide." More than just about anything, the partnership helped increase the timber harvest without costly litigation because all the groups were at the table from the beginning.
The collaboration helped pave the way for Vaagen Brothers to ink a 10-year contract to harvest timber on 55,000 acres of the Colville National Forest in a pilot project that U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said is "designed to restore the forest, reduce the risk of forest fires and strengthen our rural economy."
The innovation led to Vaagen Brothers deservedly being honored this week by the Forest Resources Association (FRC), a Washington, D.C., trade group., with the 2015 National Outstanding Forestry Activist Award.
The Colville company's commitment to working with other interest groups was a notable success, according to the FRC:
Vaagen’s unwavering support for the (Northeast Washington Forestry) Coalition — in funds, personnel, travel, and participation in meetings with local, state and federal public officials — and collaboration with all Coalition members has resulted in the annual harvest on the Colville’s rising from 18 million board feet to 60 million. Vaagen Brothers has demonstrated the potential of “restoration forestry” on federal lands to stakeholders outside of the Coalition to showcase sound forestry practices and management, reduced wildfire risk, and increased wildlife habitat for Rocky Mountain elk, among other species. The result is, no stewardship projects were litigated or appealed to the point of stopping much-need forestry work since the Coalition’s inception.
The legacy of Billy Frank Jr. endures. The environmental, tribal and civil rights leader, truly a giant in U.S. and Washington state history, died in May 2014 at the age of 83. He is being remembered today in a resolution before Washington State's Senate.
Just in the last couple months, a Salmon Totem Pole was built in his honor on the Nisqually reservation, near Olympia. He was mentioned prominently, along with Marlon Brando, in a new song by Native American hip hop artist and author Gyasi Ross.
And those honors are just the tip of the iceberg. This week the Washington State Senate passed a resolution commemorating Frank and his impressive legacy. Several Senators stood in support of the resolution, and relayed personal experiences with Billy, reflecting on how committed he was to working together for sustainable working forests and healthy fish runs. His leadership will very much be missed.
Here is the full text:
WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. of the Nisqually Tribe was an unflinching advocate for environmental protections in Washington and human rights for Native Americans, and he firmly believed in honoring and preserving the earth; and
WHEREAS, During the Fish Wars of the 60s and 70s, Indian Tribes were fighting for their right to fish in their own historical territories, a right that was guaranteed to them in the 19th century by the federal government; and
WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. was arrested over 50 times for standing up for Native American treaty rights; and
WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr.'s unwavering actions helped lead to the Boldt Decision, which established Indian Tribes in Washington as comanagers of the salmon resource and reaffirmed tribal rights to harvestable salmon; and
WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. shaped Washington State as it is known today in not only advancing cooperative management over natural resources between tribes and the state, but also in the fight for equality for all people; and
WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. supported Indian Tribes in Washington for over 30 years as chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, which gave tribes a powerful voice to express their concerns to Washington, D.C.; and
WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. was dignified with numerous humanitarian awards for his service, including the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, Washington State Environmental Excellence Award, and American Indian Distinguished Service Award, along with countless others; and
WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. passed away on May 5, 2014, at the age of 83, and he was on that day, as on most days, on his way to a meeting about fish and tribal treaty rights; and
WHEREAS, Washington must continue to remember Billy Frank Jr.'s legacy, his passion, and the strides he made to defend and protect his tribe, his country, and our earth; and
WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. stressed the importance of both the spiritual and cultural ties of salmon to indigenous people throughout Washington and the nation; and
WHEREAS, Through his lifetime of kinship with the natural world, Billy Frank Jr. helped create a healthy environment that can sustain salmon, achieved change, and brought diverse and divergent communities together around shared desires through nonviolent means; and
WHEREAS, Billy Frank Jr. spent his entire life bringing together those with diverse ideologies and backgrounds around a shared passion for sustainability
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Washington State Senate honor Billy Frank Jr. and the impact he had on tribes, the state, the nation, and the earth, and now let him inspire all of us to carry on his legacy.
Peter Goldmark isn't happy with the state of affairs when it comes to Washington wildfire funding. The state Public Lands Commissioner requested from the Legislature $20 million over two years to thin forests and other wildfire protection, but so far, state lawmakers are balking. The House proposed biennial budget includes just $5 million for forest thinning, while the Senate budget has no money for thinning.
Goldmark is also asking for an additional $4.5 million to fight the wildfires when they happen, but the House is proposing just $2.5 million and the Senate nothing.
This is disappointing, especially given that just this week Gov. Jay Inslee expanded the state emergency drought declaration from a handful of counties to almost half the state. The state's snowpack is just 22 percent of normal, which is a record for April. The drier the ground, the easier wildfires start.
It's no surprise, then, that Goldmark is working hard to make sure the state understands the dire consequences if firefighting crews don't have enough money to fight fires, or state-owned forests aren't actively managed to make them less suspectible to fire. In the last few weeks, he's done interviews with KING 5, KIRO 7 and the Vancouver Columbian. Earlier in the year, the Tacoma News Tribune editorial board came out in favor of Goldmark's request for $20 million for forest thinning, and this week the Columbian editorial board came out in support as well, having this to say:
When it comes to wildfires, an old axiom applies: We can pay for them now or pay for them later. What isn't included in that saw, however, is the idea that paying for wildfires later will greatly increase the price.
The U.S. Forest Service is planning to essentially throw out the Northwest Forest Plan after 21 years. As we noted earlier this year, the tide seems to be turning (ever so slowly) among even some Democrats that the federal timber harvest is woefully inadequate to support rural communities. Once the changes are complete, the Northwest Forest Plan, the source of so much misery in timber towns, will cease to exist, at least in its current form.
In November 2014, the Forest Service briefed representatives of industry, local government and conservation on its intent to revise the (Northwest Forest Plan), as required by the National Forest Management Act. Jim Peña, the Northwest regional forest supervisor, said the Northwest Forest Plan will no longer exist as an umbrella document that applies to all forests equally. Instead, its principles -- but not necessarily its specific strategies -- will be embedded into the planning documents of each of the 19 forest units.
...Under the new plans, the timber industry expects to gain access to more timber than it has since the Northwest Forest Plan first took effect, said Ann Forest Burns, a vice-president of the Portland-based industry group, the American Forest Resource Council. She added that the industry's allocation has been half or less of the 1.1 billion annual board feet promised in the original plan. If the new forest plans fails to provide enough timber, she said, "we will ask Congress to change the law." That could include two 1970s-era mandates, the National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Of course, there are still many unanswered questions about how the new forest plans will emerge. And environmental groups no doubt will also be lobbying to limit timber harvests even more than they are now. Already the timber industry and rural communities had to speak up in order to get the Forest Service to hold local meetings about the proposed plan revisions.
The Forest Service last month held three "listening sessions," in Portland, Seattle and Redding, Calif. Rural leaders in Oregon and Washington complained that they could not make the sessions because they were in large cities far from loggers and rural towns. Not surprisingly, the listening session in Portland was filled with environmentalists, with few timber voices able to attend.
This week, the Forest Service took note and announced that it would hold listening sessions in all 19 national forests and seven Bureau of Land Management units affected by the Northwest Forest Plan. The first of those sessions was scheduled for April 27 in Corvallis, Ore.
In pure numbers, forestry in Washington produces far more trees than it harvests - for every tree harvested, three are planted in its place. Private forest landowners are more aggressive in reforestation than the 3-year time frame that state law requires, replanting trees in 12-18 months before wild plants can swoop in.
Reforestation doesn't get mentioned much by those who oppose timber harvests because for them, it's an inconvienent fact, but planting millions of trees is a critical part of modern forestry. In Washington alone, 52 million trees are planted each year. In the U.S., 1.43 billion seedlings are shipped by forest nurseries for replanting in U.S. forests.
A video from the Washington Forest Protection Association summed it up well:
Forest landowners, who supply us with wood and paper products, want to get the new forest up and growing as fast as they can. Trees are a renewable resource and reforestation helps make sure future generations will have forests just like we have, providing jobs and wood products, clean air and water and wildlife habitat.
This commitment to sustainable forestry was on full display this week with a special ceremony in Mason County, Wash. Seattle's Green Diamond Resource Company, which was founded 125 years ago as S.G. Simpson & Company, celebrated the planting of its 100 millionth tree.
Green Diamond didn't start counting the number of trees it planted until 1943, so the number of new trees could be even greater.
In the midst of a 40-acre clearcut Wednesday just east of Taylor Towne in Mason County, about 75 people with ties to the state’s timber industry watched Green Diamond Resource Company Chairman Colin Moseley plant what was proudly called the family-owned forestry company’s 100 millionth tree.
Moseley had some help on this milestone occasion from two Democratic congressmen: Denny Heck of Olympia and Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor. Green Diamond’s 323,000 acres of South Sound timberland spill over into both Heck’s 10th District and Kilmer’s 6th District and Heck was quick to point out that the tree planting was happening in his district.
The Douglas fir seedling that gained so much attention was surrounded by about 16,000 slightly larger Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine trees that were planted in 2011 on the 40-acre parcel, which was harvested in 2010. On all four sides of the reforested area, Green Diamond timber stood in age classes ranging from 15 years old to 80 years old., symbolizing the fact that the company, which began as S.G. Simpson & Company has been around a long, long time — since 1890 to be exact.
CNN this week covered the trend of tall, modern wood buildings being constructed in countries around the world. As so many countries, cities, architects and developers are discovering, tall buildings can now be built with a type of wood called cross-laminated timber (CLT) that is much more efficient, attractive and environmentally friendly than concrete or steel.
Quoted in the CNN story is British Columbia architect Michael Green, an innovator in CLT who starred last year in a series of wood-building videos sponsored by the Washington Forest Protection Association, the Washington Contract Loggers Association, the Family Forest Foundation and the Washington Farm Forestry Association.
(Green) said news of taller wooden structures is sprouting up all the time.
"There seems to be a new announcement every two or three weeks," Green said. "We've got one in Vancouver for 18 stories and in Vienna there's one for more than 20 stories.
"We've done research in high earthquake zones that show 30 stories is feasible; we certainly think we can go to 40 and higher."
Green is right. Do an online search for cross-laminated timber, and projects are being announced about every week. A factory in British Columbia. A summer house in Quebec. A 10-story high-rise in England that claims to be the largest CLT building in the world.
The Northwest is also fertile ground. SmartLam, located in Whitefish, Mont., says it's the first CLT distributor and manufacturer in the U.S., and this month it announced plans to expand its plant to be the largest CLT plant in the world.
Sunday, March 22 marks the one-year anniversary of the Oso, Wash., landslide that killed 43 people and had a severe impact on several Snohomish County communities, including Darrington, Arlington and Oso itself. The communities will honor the anniversary with a series of events and remembrances this weekend.
The focus is on healing, but according to local leaders, true recuperation will take a long time.
It’s impossible, locals say, to remove dozens of people — in an instant — from a small community and expect things ever to return to normal.
“Every family, every survivor, is on an individual journey,” said the Rev. Tim Sauer, pastor of both Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Arlington and St. John Vianney Mission in Darrington. “Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.”
One of the things that's giving the local communities strength is that they came together so well in the wake of the disaster. It was locals, many of them loggers, who were the first on the scene of the landslide, rescuing survivors. And it was locals who banded together to support each other in the weeks and months after the disaster, even while rescue crews were still working on the recovery at the site of the slide.
This week, the communities of Darrington, Arlington and Oso and the Sauk-Suiattle tribe received the state Medal of Valor for their heroism in the rescue and community building after the slide. It was an honor well deserved.
The relatively balmy winter in the Northwest may have made it comfortable to be outside, but it's done no favors for this year's wildfire season.
The warmer, drier conditions have already led in the past week to a 100-acre fire in Eastern Oregon and a 150-acre fire south of Spokane. The Eastern Washington fire in particular, as well as smaller fires nearby, has fire officials worried.
Brush fires and wildland fires are typically rare this time of year, and a fire this large this early in the season is even rarer, (said Spokane County Fire District 3 Duty Officer Arron Hess).
“The last two winters have been very, very mild,” he said. “If things do continue this way it could be a very long (fire) season.”
Firefighters in Stevens County Fire District 1 also responded to a brush fire on Bluebird Way in the Suncrest area Saturday, though it was only about 2 acres in size. The district also responded to a small brush fire about two weeks ago, which caught firefighters by surprise.
“This is the earliest anyone can recall,” the district posted on its Facebook page after the first fire.
Lawsuits are a difficult subject in forestry. Some environmental groups see lawsuits as a necessary method, while timber leaders grow frustrated with how the legal challenges slow down what is already a relatively paltry federal timber harvest.
The debate is especially heated in Montana right now, but lawsuits over timber harvests have also been reported twice (here and here) just in the last 10 days in Washington State, so no forested Western state is immune from the issue.
In Montana, both U.S. senators (Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester) have been holding workshops and town halls around the state the past month to discuss ways to get the federal timber harvest going, not just in Montana but around the country. Tester received some flak from environmental groups for overestimating the number of lawsuits in a radio interview, but the message from both senators was clear: we need to get the timber harvest going.
The lawsuits aren't just stopping the timber harvests they challenge - they have a chilling effect on other harvests as well.
The Northwest Forest Plan is the troubled legacy that haunts both the timber industry and environmental groups. Neither side was happy with the plan when it was approved 21 years ago, and neither side has a clean sheet two decades later.
Environmentalists defend the plan, but even they have to admit that the plan did nothing to save the spotted owl, which is doing worse than ever before. The environmental groups also have a hard time defending the abject poverty that the Forest Plan created in rural communities across the West. The timber industry, meanwhile, was hit hard by the massive reduction in the federal timber harvest caused by the plan, which never produced even its promised timber yield, let alone anything resembling the harvest levels before the plan went into effect.
In the last couple years, the pendulum -- however slowly -- seems to be swinging back the other direction. Republicans now control both houses of Congress, and even some Democrats are recognizing that the federal timber harvest is woefully inadequate to support our rural counties. Several bills have advanced in Congress to create more active management of federal forests, though none have yet to be signed into law.
And now the Northwest Forest Plan itself, long in the tooth after 20 years, may be in its death throes.
Environmental writer Paul Koberstein writes in the Portland Tribune this month that the U.S. Forest Service (controlled by a Democratic president) is planning to revise the Northwest Forest Plan or even ditch it altogether.