Restoring forest health in Washington


Lens, a new political and business news site in Washington, recently took a multi-tiered look at the state’s poor forest health, the various reasons why federal forests here aren’t actively managed and how more management would help.

The feds, for one, need to take a more active role, especially as Washington’s federal forests increasingly become a tinderbox for wildfires, according to forestry leaders.

Private landowners are…hoping the Forest Service will take a more vigorous role in managing its forests so they have a “healthy neighbor,” said Cindy Mitchell. Mitchell is the senior director of public affairs for the Washington Forest Protection Association.

Absent a more active role, the Forest Service will be “creating a condition that results in a McMurray,” she said in reference to the ongoing Fort McMurray fire in Canada. The wildfire has burned 1,457,910 acres so far.

Cross-laminated timber has incredible promise in providing a environmentally sustainable building material and in turn, helping to maximize the use of harvested timber, said Thomas DeLuca, director of the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at University of Washington.

Deluca says advances in CLT production could expand the uses of narrow trees culled for forest health, and create market demand. This would give the Forest Service a financial incentive to remove relatively young tree stands in national forests where logging abruptly ceased decades ago.

“It sounds like a pipe dream but I think it’s absolutely possible,” Deluca said at a January 28 meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The benefits of using thinner trees to produce CLT could go even further.

If they manage to find a way to expand the use of thinner trees for CLT, the next step would be to create financial incentives for private CLT mills to open up in the state, said (Bernard Bormann, Director of UW’s Olympic Natural Resources Center, based in Forks).

The nearest CLT mills to Washington are in Oregon and British Columbia.

…Bormann believes logging thinner trees for CLT could be one way around the “old timber wars,” because it only involves logging newer trees that would be removed anyway as part of mechanical thinning projects.

Along with new job creation, another potential benefit from CLT-based logging is additional funding for local schools and roads in the counties where the trees are located. Proceeds from both federal and state timber sales go to public schools and roads. However, only state forests are required to generate profit from logging.