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It's good to be a forester. Sometimes this fact can be overlooked amid economic upheaval or uneducated media coverage, but working in the trees is a great life.
If we needed any reminding, three recent news stories from the Northwest did the trick.
At a recent tree planting near Corvallis, Ore., there was the inspiring sight of 23 high-school forestry students teaching younger children about the power of forestry. Here is video and a photo gallery of the tree planting.
(Philomath High School forestry and natural resources teacher Simon Babcock) said the majority of the volunteer high-schoolers participating were his forestry students along with a few of their friends. He estimated this year’s number at around 23.
Babcock’s advanced forestry students have spent two weeks leading up to the event setting up plots and learning about different reforestation techniques.
“Their role is to basically mentor the other students that might be coming from the other classes,” Babcock said, adding that the activity provides a leadership component. “They’ve also been through this multiple times and they kind of get that lead role of seniors and juniors in advance classes.”
For (Philomath High School Junior Anna Collins), she has fun teaching youngsters new skills.
“It’s good experience because I want to go into forest management and this provides good connections to see people,” Collins said. “It’s cool to see younger kids coming out and planting trees and being able to help them and demonstrate (is satisfying) because it’s something not a lot of kids get to do, especially if they live in cities.”
This year's session of the Washington Legislature is about half over, and Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark's request for an extra $24 million to fight wildfires is still active. Goldmark testified last month to a House committee, and a few days later, gave a videoconference address on the need for more wildfire funding.
Lawmakers have not said no to the money, and in fact seem generally receptive, but some of them say they want to see changes in wildfire operations before any extra funding is approved.
These suggested changes have taken the form of legislation.
Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, is proposing two bills (SB 6510 and SB 6511) - both of which would increase the state's use of prescribed burns to make forests less suspectible to fires. (Parlette herself is a victim of wildfire - her cabin near Lake Chelan burned down last year.)
Her second bill could lead to more active management of our state's forests.
A planned lawsuit announced earlier this month by an Oregon timber county against the state for not harvesting enough timber on state lands is dominating the timber debate there. Regardless of whether the upcoming suit wins in court, it's already been successful in changing the conversation.
Linn County, on Interstate 5 and just south of Salem, said it plans to sue the state of Oregon over what it says is the state's breach of contract over the trust lands the state bought in the counties back in the 1930s and '40s. According to Linn County, the state promised to manage the forestland "for the greatest permanent value" and return the timber income back to the counties.
The arrangement worked just fine until the late '90s, when the harvests on the state trust land started to decline, and those harvests have shrunk even more in the last two decades. Now Linn County is suing the state, for itself and 14 other timber counties, to recoup $1.4 billion in lost timber revenue.
The planned lawsuit has received positive feedback from several Oregon newspapers, including the Albany Democrat-Herald (in Linn County), the Roseburg News-Review and the Eugene Register-Guard.
It was heartening this week to see not one but two op-eds published on important Washington forestry issues - the first on fighting wildfires and the second on the integral history of tree farms in the state.
State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark wrote in the Seattle Times about why it's so critical for the Legislature to approve his request for $24 million to fight wildfires during the state's worst ever stretch of fires. In the summer months, when the fires are raging, it's easy to garner words of encouragement about increasing the state's wildfire budget. But once state legislators actually meet in the chilly winter, their memories grow short, Goldmark writes.
After two horrific wildfire seasons in a row, we need to prepare for the danger wildfire presents to our people, communities, forests and grasslands. Some legislators in both parties and Gov. Jay Inslee have declared willingness to increase funding. Yet, as the January rains fall in Olympia, the urgency fades for other lawmakers.
That’s dangerous. The lessons from 2014 and 2015 must shape how we prepare for future fire seasons.
I’m asking the Legislature now for $24 million to prepare our state for this fire season and beyond. This is roughly twice what Gov. Inslee proposed in his budget.
The second op-ed covers a topic unknown to most Washingtonians: the state was the site of the nation's first certified tree farm, which was established 75 years ago in Grays Harbor County.
"It was seen as a bold move in an era that was focused on rapid development, resource exploitation and world war," writes Elaine Oneil, executive director of the Washington Farm Forestry Association, in the Olympian.
Family forest owners make up a much larger portion of the forestry industry than many people realize. More than a third of forestland in the U.S. is owned by private families, which means that what goes for them goes a long way toward impacting the industry as a whole. More simply, family forests are integral to forestry.
We've written over the years (here and here, for example) about how the owners of these family forests are getting older, and that various efforts are in place to ensure the forests aren’t lost to development.
The public radio program Marketplace took up the issue this week with two stories (here and here), taking a look at a pilot program from the environmental group Pinchot Institute for Conservation that would allow family forest owners to sell carbon credits off their land in exchange for health insurance. Pinchot’s pilot is currently limited to two counties in Northwest Oregon.
"It's very hard for a small property owner — even though they accumulate a lot of carbon — to access the carbon market," said Woody Richen, who has inherited partial ownership of 450 acres of forest. "It's a little bit like mutual funds, I guess, where a small investor needs the help of some kind of aggregator or some additional expertise."
Historically, carbon markets have only been an option for large landowners with deep pockets that can afford the upfront costs.
"We are making a contribution. If others are getting paid to store carbon, why shouldn't the little guy have an opportunity to do that too," said Richen.
The carbon markets still have some downsides. They involve long-term land-use restrictions. And experts say the best rate on the current carbon market pays about four times less than selling trees for timber.
The last-minute failure of Congress to pass timber reform and wildfire reform last month was well documented. Instead of passing legislation that would have increased the management of our federal forests and changed the way our country pays to fight wildfires, Congress passed a stop-gap increase of $600 million in the firefighting budget. No chump change, but the money does nothing to address the larger problems, namely that our federal forests are woefully undermanaged and that the Forest Service needs to find a new way to fund firefighting instead of raiding other parts of its budget (a practice known as "fire borrowing").
What's a bit of a surprise is the Obama Administration is still lobbying just weeks after Congress failed to take action. The first and most important goal - increasing the management of federal forests - is unfortunately being ignored for now, but the Department of Agriculture is still pushing for legislation that would change how the Forest Service fights wildfires. The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would treat those wildfires like other natural disasters instead of forcing Forest Service to raid other parts of its budget to fight the fires.
As Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week, the funding issue is more urgent than ever after the country endured a record wildfire year in 2015, burning 10.1 million acres.
"These fires have very real human costs, as we lost seven members of the Forest Service firefighting team in the line of duty, and 4,500 homes were lost. We take our job to protect the public seriously, and recently, the job has become increasingly difficult due to the effects of climate change, chronic droughts, and a constrained budget environment in Washington. Congress must fix the fire budget to stop an ever-increasing amount of the operating budget going to fire suppression. Failing to do so will result in more deadly and devastating fires in the future," said Secretary Vilsack.
"While the news that more than 10 million acres burned is terrible, it's not shocking and it is probable that records will continue to be broken. By August, the Forest Service had exhausted its firefighting forces and utilized nearly every piece of equipment devoted to saving lives and protecting property, exhausting the Forest Service's budget for fire suppression and forcing the agency to begin transferring critical resources away from trail restoration, watershed management, hiring, and all other areas of its budget. 2015 would prove to be the most expensive fire season in our Department's history, costing more than $2.6 billion on fire alone."
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.