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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.


Washington's raging wildfires are a cause for reform

2015-07-23 Ashley Bach

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.


Cross-laminated timber advances in the Northwest

2015-07-16 Ashley Bach

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.

Washington wildfire season is off to a blistering start

2015-07-08 Ashley Bach

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. 

Exploring the nuances of forest collaboration

2015-06-26 Ashley Bach

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." 

Washington leaders tackle fish passage barriers

2015-06-19 Ashley Bach

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.)

Mill closures impact Washington rural communites

2015-06-12 Ashley Bach

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.

Alaska Airlines to complete flight powered by biomass

2015-06-06 Ashley Bach

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.”

Power of Washington wood buildings moves into spotlight

2015-05-29 Ashley Bach

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.”