Spokane Spokesman-Review profiles Duane Vaagen


The Spokane Spokesman Review has a great feature story this week on Duane Vaagen and his family business Vaagen Brothers Lumber. The company in Colville in Northeast Washington has roots going back to the 1930s, with the company formally starting in the 1950s.

The Vaagen family is not just a leading timber company, but is a leader in the timber issues of the day. For instance, one of Duane’s sons, Russ, has a blog that we have cited before.

(Duane’s) two sons, Russ and Curtis, and daughter, Emily, work in the business with ownership going back to his father and grandfather.

They operate one of the few remaining family-owned sawmills in the West, where at one time many small towns in the mountains were anchored by at least one. But they plan to be the last one standing by making changes.

His son Russ is 40 and already has 20 years in the business. He graduated from Washington State University. He determined years ago that environmentalists didn’t want to put him out of business. Rather, he searched for common interests such as protecting the streams and wildlife as well as local jobs.

He has been vice president for 12 years and goes on the road more than his father now to promote change in the industry that will lead to a steady supply of timber and healthy forests.

“I learned from my father the stick-to-it attitude,” Russ Vaagen said. “I also got the will to survive and do the job right as well from him.”

Duane Vaagen and his family believe in collaboration and not just in harvesting timber but in making forests healthier.

Duane Vaagen is a nationally known proponent of thinning large areas of the national forests of densely growing small trees to save the forest. He also believes in collaborating with environmental groups and other stakeholders to get it done faster.

Vaagen said some in the timber industry believe he is collaborating with the enemy because of his work with environmentalists.

But he said he doesn’t care about what they think if they can get logs for the sawmills and prevent forest fires. He just hopes the Forest Service can get more areas open for restoration work before it is too late. That’s the message he delivered in Washington, D.C.

“Duane always has a view that you can always do more,” said David Bruce, chief financial officer for Vaagen’s lumber company.

It all started in the 1930s with his mother’s family homestead in the Squaw Creek area about 15 miles east of Colville. His mother’s father, Valdemar Anderson, and his family lived off the land. Among their tools were a portable sawmill and horses.

Vaagen told the story while sitting in his comfortable, modern office on the second floor of company headquarters next to the Colville sawmill. The giant, lighted, white gantry crane used to unload log trucks was moving outside. The family name is painted across it and can be seen from far away. There are 124 workers hustling to convert acres of logs to lumber.

About 95 loads of saw logs and 40 loads of pulp logs are milled each day. The work pulses millions of dollars each year into the local economy. All are small logs – 4.5 to 11.5 inches in diameter – mostly from forest thinning and fire salvage.

The Colville mill produces 170 million board feet of lumber annually with the Usk mill capable of another 120 million board feet.

Last year after nearby forest fires, Vaagen Brothers asked why people didn’t harvest burned timber, he said. They were told nobody wanted it, but they said they did, just like their grandfather did years ago.

Read the whole Spokesman-Review profile here.