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Federal and state wildfire reform is still alive

2016-06-12 Ashley Bach

There is renewed promise for federal legislation that would end the practice of "fire borrowing," and editorial boards are calling for wildfire reform in Washington State as well. 

We wrote a few months ago about the last-minute death of a U.S. bill that would have ended the Forest Service's practice of raiding other parts of its budget to pay for firefighting. Now a bipartisan group of senators have introduced the Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act, another piece of legislation that would end fire borrowing.

The Seattle Times and Vancouver Columbian both recently expressed support an end to fire borrowing.

The Times:

(Washington Gov. Jay) Inslee and (State Commissioner of Public Lands Peter) Goldmark support a more direct way to deal with wildfires: Treat them in federal accounting the way hurricanes and floods are handled across the country.

They are all disasters that claim lives, destroy private property and put communities in jeopardy. Create the budget structures and cost thresholds used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and others.

This approach has bipartisan support among Washington’s congressional delegation.

Failure to maintain forest health with thinning, and disease and pest control creates fire hazards that can cost vastly more to extinguish. Raiding the forest-health funds to pay for putting out fires only compounds the budgetary madness.


The reach of cross-laminated timber continues to grow

2016-05-17 Ashley Bach

There are so many positive developments each week in the use of cross-laminated timber to construct tall buildings that they can be hard to track.

Just two weeks ago, the Timber Innovation Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate. The bill, with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) as one of the sponsors, would increase federal research and grants into the construction of tall wood buildings, extend the Tall Wood Building Prize for five more years and help implement a state-by-state education program for the use of CLT in tall buildings.

“This legislation will not only help reduce the environmental footprint of the built environment, it will help keep families, who own and care for a large portion of U.S. forests and supply a majority of the timber we use, on the land and help them keep their land in forest. In this respect, it is an incredibly powerful forest conservation strategy and we thank Senators Stabenow, Crapo, Klobuchar, Daines and Cantwell for leading the effort,” said Tom Martin, (American Forest Foundation) President and CEO.

Just in the last week, Bloomberg and National Public Radio have written stories about the rise of CLT in the Northwest.


Northwest forestry reaches into urban areas

2016-05-13 Ashley Bach

It's not often enough in Washington that you hear stories about loggers near the urban Seattle area -- forestry is happening everywhere, not just in forests far from any kind of city.

Preston Drew has been logging for four decades, and his company, Drew Logging, is based in Carnation, on the outskirts of the Seattle metro area and in the same county as Seattle (King County). TimberWest Magazine, which covers the West Coast timber industry, profiled Drew in its most recent issue. 

The secret to his success and preserverance? Flexibilty and durability over time, while also understanding exactly what works for him and his business.

Drew has worked a variety of jobs that include U.S. Forest Service timber sales (the first in 1973, the last in ’95) and land clearing work from 1994 until 2005 when the recession hit. He has even done production driven work for industrial timber owners. Yet what Drew kept returning to, and now defines as his niche, are thinning jobs for private, family landowners. He has worked exclusively with these property owners for the past 10 years.

“The nice thing about thinning is it pays well, though there is less production. It’s not so impacted by market shifts,” he explains. Drew prefers second thinning, large volume jobs with one MBF (thousand board-feet) or better, as these jobs have the high-value logs. This type of land also has the topography best suited to the mechanized ground-based logging that Drew employs.

...During his career, he has logged as far south as Eugene, Oregon, as far north as Mt. Vernon, Washington, and west to Westport and the Olympic Peninsula’s Port Angeles. Drew even recently worked a challenging job on Whidbey Island that had 12 loads taken off the island. He also stays busy by purchasing his own sales and as a result of word-of-mouth referrals.


Young people discover the benefits of forestry

2016-05-06 Ashley Bach

Young people, quite simply, are the future of forestry. Some of them may learn about the industry through their parents or other relatives, some of them may already live in rural communities, while others may live in larger cities and have to discover the outdoors from the ground up. 

Farmer Jack Gray and retired forester Dick Powell recently wrote an op-ed in the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard about the importance of outdoor education. 

Getting outdoors ­— out of the classroom and immersed in how our natural world works — inspires kids and opens possibilities they never dreamed of before.

This is why Tillamook County, for example, whose economic base relies heavily on natural resources, is such a strong believer in outdoor education. The people of Tillamook understand that the link between outdoor education and economic impact is not at all a “bit of a stretch,” as Sen, Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, put it, because the next generation’s success as adults depends on having an appreciation and knowledge of natural resources.

Our society is increasingly urbanized and increasingly distanced from the natural world. If our children believe their cereal and milk come from Fred Meyer or that 2-by-4s come from Home Depot, when they grow up they are more likely to make uninformed decisions regarding their use and care of the natural world.


Washington universities lead the way on forestry

2016-04-27 Ashley Bach

Plenty of positive forestry developments in the last week at the two largest colleges in Washington - University of Washington and Washington State University.

We already reported on the excellent talk at UW by London architect Andrew Waugh about the power of cross-laminated buildings. Russ Vaagen of Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, Wash., was there as well and described the experience on his blog.

Andrew and his team are the real deal. They have been urging their clients to use “Timber” (In the US we use either wood or lumber to describe the same thing) in their urban developments. This drive comes from their real desire to do what’s best for the environment. They don’t think it’s enough just to put some solar panels or a windmill on the top of your building and say, ‘Look, we care about the environment.’ He acknowledges that concrete and steel are necessary to build with, but not exclusively. He makes this point very eloquently when he shows a slide of his presentation that has an image of his hand with some seeds in the palm and says, “This is what it took to create the product for that building.”

Vaagen pointed out that Waugh is "one of the world leaders in designing and building with wood."

Andrew is full of great information. I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to him and look forward to working with him to advance the global use of Timber. It’s ideal for the rural communities where the product is made, beneficial for our cities and best of all it’s the best building material for the planet.


Innovative London architect speaks in Seattle about the power of CLT buildings

2016-04-22 Ashley Bach

Architect Andrew Waugh is a true pioneer in the use of cross-laminated timber in large buildings. His London firm, Waugh Thistleton, built the first CLT building in the UK, and when its Murray Grove building opened in 2009, it was the largest modern wood building in the world. Waugh has been featured in the New York Times, Financial Times and Popular Science, among many others. 

Waugh is so revered in the CLT building industry that he was one of the judges last year of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize (developments in Portland and New York were the winners).

So it was quite a pleasure to listen to Waugh speak this week at the University of Washington, thanks to the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, the Washington Department of Commerce, Forterra and the Washington Forest Protection Association.

When Waugh's firm first started building with CLT in 2003, it was very difficult to convince clients to use wood as the primary building material, Waugh said. The firm's first CLT project was very small, just 450 square feet, and Waugh was only able to build Murray Grove six years later because London had a shortage of steel and concete from construction of various projects for the 2012 London Olympics. It was only then that his client was willing to build with wood, even with the much lower cost, shorter construction schedule and ease of building. 


State forestry policy in Wash. is dictated by science

2016-04-15 Ashley Bach

This is a big election year, with not just a presidential race but all kinds of critical local and state races as well. Which is why the Northwest office of the Society of American Foresters decided to devote most of the latest issue of its paper, Western Forester, to the upcoming election. 

Forestry professionals aren't consulted nearly as much as they should be on topics like wildfires, drought and forest health, wrote Travis Joseph, President and CEO of the American Forest Resource Council, in the new issue. But that lack of input could be short-lived, Joseph says.

The 2016 election cycle provides an extraordinary opportunity to change this dynamic—at every level of government. Now is the time for foresters and forestry professionals to raise public awareness about our issues, to educate and engage candidates and decision makers on forestry-related policies, and to establish forestry professionals as constructive, solutions-oriented partners.

In Washington State, forest landowners in the '90s realized they wanted predictability more than anything else in forestry regulations and that it made no sense to fight the timber wars of the past, wrote Cindy Mitchell, Senior Director of Public Affairs for the Washington Forest Protection Association, in another Western Forester story


LEED finally recognizes SFI forest certification

2016-04-07 Ashley Bach

The debate between the two leading forest certification systems - the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) - has been going on for many years. We have followed it closely, with a lot of posts and updates (here's an example). But the funny thing about the debate is, it really didn't need to be a debate at all.

SFI has always just wanted a level playing field. The leading green building standard in the world, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), had never recognized wood from SFI-certified forests, or really any other certification system other than FSC. FSC had a monoply, and SFI just wanted to be treated equally.

Now it's all finally changing. It was just announced that the U.S. Green Building Council, which administers LEED, will now give credit for wood from SFI and other certification systems besides FSC. This is a really big deal, because it means that the majority of sustainably managed forests in the U.S. will now be able to be part of the world's largest green building standard. That opens up a world of opportunity for American timber.


Campaign for wildfire reform continues in both Washingtons

2016-03-31 Ashley Bach

While federal wildfire reform died a last-minute death back in December, hope is not lost for meaningful legislation to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires.

As we wrote in January, the issue that Republicans and Democrats can agree on is that the feds must end the practice of "fire borrowing," where the Forest Service raids other parts of its budget to pay for firefighting.

The current momentum seems to be centered on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which was the more White House- and Democrat-favored bill last year to end fire borrowing. That said, Republicans seem willing to support it if it frees up more money for the Forest Service to prevent fires, not just fight them.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, wrote this week that he’s still trying to get fire borrowing legislation passed. Crapo is one of the primary sponsors of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act.  

I recently had the opportunity to join fellow Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) in speaking on the Senate floor and offering a bipartisan amendment to draw attention to the need to permanently fix wildfire funding now and end the senseless practice of raiding fire prevention and other U.S. Forest Service accounts to fight this year’s fires.

We introduced an amendment to the energy bill being debated by the full Senate that would end fire borrowing for good, stop the erosion of the Forest Service budget and ramp up fire prevention projects, thereby reducing wildfire risks and fire suppression costs.


Port Townsend wood products co. wins federal award

2016-03-25 Ashley Bach

Edensaw Woods doesn't just provide wood to boats around the world - it's a pillar in the Port Townsend, Wash., community. The wood products company provides 45 jobs and countless donations to community groups and nonprofits. When you hear the story of Edensaw Woods and its co-founder James "Kiwi" Ferris, you won't be surprised that Ferris was just honored as the 2016 Washington State Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.  

Ferris' nominator for the award, Ben Crowl of First Sound Bank, said it was a simple decision for him. (Ferris, a New Zealand native, is known as "Kiwi.")

"We were thrilled to hear Kiwi was named “Business Person of the Year” for Washington. Nominating Kiwi was easy because he was able to successfully lead his company through the great recession while still being an incredible steward to his employees and community. From his work with Sound Experience to the Edensaw Community Cancer Foundation, we could not think of anyone more deserving. We feel fortunate to have known him for many years and we’re proud to be his bank.”

Ferris co-founded the company 32 years ago, "providing wood products to fellow boat-builders, and other professionals such as cabinet makers, homebuilders, and furniture makers." Now the growth is clear.

Wood from Edensaw can be seen on boats all over the world, from multi-million dollar yachts, to small kayaks and canoes, as well as homes, furniture, and much more. From Edensaw's World Headquarters in Port Townsend and their additional location in Tacoma, the company is able to serve the Puget Sound region, and also sends product to every corner of the country and overseas. Edensaw Woods has become a go-to name in the industry for woodworkers, from the highly skilled professional to the at home enthusiast.


Vaagen Brothers demonstrate collaboration

2016-03-19 Ashley Bach

Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, Wash., has won national awards for its commitment to forest collaboration. Duane Vaagen and his sons Russ and Kurtis are true innovators in finding ways to bring timber groups, environmentalists and local, state, tribal and federal officials together in the pursuit of common goals.

The collaborative that Vaagen Brothers helped create, the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, was called “a model for timber communities nationwide" by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. For the most part, the collaborative has been able to avoid the litigation that has stymied so many timber projects across the West.

More recently the collaborative has been waiting to start timber projects in the Mill Creek Watershed on the Colville National Forest after some environmental groups, who declined to be part of the collaborative, objected to the projects. The Forest Service says it plans to restart the projects after further environmental review.

James Schroeder, Washington director of forest conservation and partnerships for The Nature Conservancy, had an op-ed today in the Spokane Spokesman-Review in support of the Mill Creek projects.


The legacy of Billy Frank Jr. endures

2016-03-11 Ashley Bach

Billy Frank Jr. was such a transcendent man in his lifetime that it's no wonder his legacy is still growing two years after he passed away. Just in the last year, since we most recently wrote about Frank, here is what's happened to honor the late environmental, tribal and civil rights leader:

-President Obama honored Frank with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. The president cited Frank's devotion to protecting salmon habitat and tribal fishing rights. “He saved the salmon that had fed his family for generations,” Obama said. “He was spat on, shot at, chased, clubbed and cast as an outlaw, but Billy kept fighting because he knew he was right.”

-Congress voted to name the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, near Olympia, for Frank. The wildlife preserve, so close to where Frank grew up as a member of the Nisqually Tribe, is now called the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

-The Nisqually Tribe named its new Community Services Center after Frank.

-The Nisqually Tribe proclaimed March 9 as Billy Frank Jr. Day, in honor of Frank's birthday.


Forest landowners can help protect the fisher

2016-03-03 Ashley Bach

The fisher, a large member of the weasel, mink and otter family, disappeared from Washington by the mid-1900s because of overtrapping and loss of habitat. But the fishers have returned to their historic home in recent years because of efforts by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other leaders to reintroduce the mammal to the Olympic Peninsula and the Cascade Mountains. 

Now it's time for forest landowners to play a critical role in the fisher's recovery.

State fish and wildlife leaders have drafted an agreement in which individual forest landowners in the fisher's range (see map here) can enroll that will give the landowners regulatory certainty in the event that the fisher is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In exchange, the forest landowners agree to monitor any fishers that venture on their property and to not disturb the animals. The agreement is called a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).

More from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife:

While wildlife managers expect that most fishers will remain on the national parks and national forests where they are released, they want to provide protection for any that may move onto non-federal lands. As part of the proposed CCAA, landowners agree to conservation measures such as:

-Work with WDFW wildlife managers to monitor fishers and their dens in the event that a den site is found on their property.
-Avoid harming or disturbing fishers and their young associated with active denning sites (March to September).
-Report den sites and sick, injured, or dead fishers on their property.


Cross-laminated transforming timber industry

2016-02-26 Ashley Bach

Excitement, nervousness, anticipation. If you're in the wood products industry, thinking about the prospects for cross-laminated timber (CLT) is like attending the first day of school or a new job. The momentum just keeps on growing every month. Newsweek Magazine recently took an in-depth look at not just one but three CLT projects built or planned in Portland. A bill was introduced in the Washington Legislature this session to allow tax exemptions for CLT buildings, and a blogger recently called for the city of Seattle to provide incentives to developers who use CLT in their projects. 

"A CLT bonus would not only promote a potentially carbon-positive building technique, but also help serve the challenging mid-rise range of heights between six and twelve stories — beyond the range where light timber construction can be used," Doug Trumm wrote in The Urbanist. "Moreover, it would allow speedier construction schedules increasing turn around and getting more units on the market. That’s a big deal in Seattle where construction crews, City staff, and utilities staff are working at breakneck speed to keep pace with the building boom."

Some experts say changing state codes to allow for more CLT in tall buildings could be a few years away, but the point is clear: more and more people are getting on board for CLT. Its lower cost, faster construction schedule and environmental benefits are undeniable.

Vancouver, B.C., architect Michael Green, an international expert on CLT's use in tall buildings, spoke this week at a logging conference in Eugene, Ore. He received a standing ovation.


The Presidents and the Forests

2016-02-19 Ashley Bach

With this year's presidential race in full swing (and Presidents' Day on Monday), it's an appropriate time to take a look at not just our country's long and abiding relationship with forests but more specifically, the strong role that forests played with several U.S. presidents. 

The Sustainable Forestry Initiative has a great story this week about the special connection that three presidents - George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt - had to trees. But it's not just that trio - several other presidents were close to the forest. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, wrote about the importance of trees and open space.

"I never before knew the full value of trees...What would I not give that the trees planted nearest round the house at Monticello were full grown."

According to the article from SFI, George Washington was a big proponent of trees.

Washington planted hundreds of native trees and shrubs at his vast Mount Vernon estate. These included acres of fruit trees including apple, pear, peach, apricot and, yes, even cherry. Vegetables were planted in a kitchen garden beginning in 1760, and the same garden has been cultivated continuously since then. 


Enjoying a life of forestry

2016-02-10 Ashley Bach

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.”


Washington lawmakers propose reform in how state fights wildfires

2016-02-05 Ashley Bach

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. 


Timber county sues over lack of forest management

2016-01-29 Ashley Bach

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.


Wildfire funding and tree farms lead the agenda in Wash.

2016-01-21 Ashley Bach

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.


Passing family forests on to the next generation

2016-01-14 Ashley Bach

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.