Vaagen Brothers innovates through media and collaboration


Vaagen Brothers Lumber is the largest private employer in Northeast Washington and a national leader in forest collaboration. The company is also an innovator in the use of media to promote the company’s operations, active forest management and the power of collaboration. Company Vice President Russ Vaagen has an active blog, and Vaagen Brothers has also posted a large number of videos over the past couple years.

A drone-shot aerial video of the company’s Colville, Wash., mill operations was featured in Popular Mechanics and has received more than 416,000 views on YouTube. The company’s newest video, “A Forest Story,” is an absorbing animated look at how our forests have become overgrown and suspectible to disease, and how active forest managment and forest collaboration can help make forests healthier.

Russ Vaagen recently wrote in his blog about “Era of Megafires,” a multimedia presentation that is currently touring the Northwest. The presentation is by Dr. Paul Hessburg, researcher at the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Wenatchee and professor at University of Washington, and Wenatchee film company North 40 Productions. Russ Vaagen is also interviewed in the film.

From Vaagen:

(Dr. Hessburg) has found that people created a 50-year departure of natural occurring fire in the fire-prone forests of the west. This was in response to the 1910 fire that claimed over 3 million acres and multiple lives while destroying entire communities. It took until the early 50’s to really get fire under control, primarily by the US Forest Service. This “control” came at a cost and now we’re paying for it.  Although we’re paying over $2 billion in fire suppression, the cost is excess of $50 billion.

Dr. Hessburg says the problem is getting worse. Instead of having hot, dry conditions leading to a patchwork of fires, we now have so much built up fuel in our forests that entire forests are burning up. In many cases hundreds of thousands of acres at a time. Although this paints a pretty dire picture of the future, there are things we can do to help make necessary changes.

We can use mechanical thinning in areas that we are permitted to manage. These areas are often in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) with existing road systems and prior management activities. There are also many areas of the foothills that also have road systems and past management that can be thinned as well. These necessary restoration treatments can get the forest back into a condition that can handle fire in a beneficial way, either by natural occurring fire or prescribed burning.

Vaagen Brothers has been able to move forward with the restoration treatments because of the collaborative the company helped create. The Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, which includes timber companies, environmental groups and federal, state and local leaders, was called a “a model for timber communities nationwide” by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

According to Russ Vaagen, the coalition makes the goals laid out in “Era of Megafires” a reality.

Using collaboration, we can get the necessary support from our local communities and conservation groups to do these treatments. This was highlighted in the film by Mike Petersen of the Lands Council, a conservation group based in Spokane, talking about the benefits of coming together to talk about our interests in the forests. Then I was interviewed and also talked about the benefits of the collaboration for forests and the community. What a concept, the Forest Industry and the Environmental Community coming together to focus on their collective interests. That’s what’s going on at the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition (NEWFC). Getting together every month to make sure the projects on the ground are meeting ecological, economic, and social needs.