COLVILLE, Wash. — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., is working to use the Colville National Forest to spur economic growth in northeast Washington.
McMorris Rodgers conducted a summit here Aug. 23 with timber, agriculture, energy and recreational interests from Ferry, Pend Orielle and Stevens counties.
She said the forest has a ripple effect as one of the biggest economic drivers for the region.
About 6,600 acres of the 1.1 million-acre Colville National Forest is harvested each year. There are about 770,000 acres accessible by road in the forest, and roughly 330,000 acres in total wilderness or without roads.
Duane Vaagen, president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber, based in Colville, , said his company’s mill in Usk, Wash., will be vulnerable in a year if the fiber supply does not improve, meaning the potential loss of 167 jobs in the tri-county region. The Usk location has only had enough wood to operate at 40 percent capacity for the last five years.
Vaagen would like to see up to 80 million board feet, compared to less than 40 million board feet now, come off the Colville forest in order to continue the mill’s operations at full pace.
“It’s safer and more cost-efficient to thin the forest than to fight the fire,” Vaagen said.
If timber increases on the forest and streamlines methods to enhance production to sustainable levels, some grazing allotments that have been reduced or put on hold may come back on line, Stevens County Commissioner Don Dashiell said.
Grazing benefits the understory of the forest, Dashiell said, giving vegetative management that also serves forest health and fire control, relieving manpower needs.
McMorris Rodgers has proposed legislation to re-establish a priority of actively managing national forests.
The Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act would require the U.S. Forest Service to designate every acre in America that is capable of producing timber.
McMorris Rodgers estimates the area to be 49 million acres of nearly 200 million acres. The Forest Service would be required to produce at least half of the sustainable yield of timber each year.
House Bill 1526 passed the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee in July and is slated to go to the House floor in September or October.
McMorris Rodgers’ pilot program on the Colville National Forest, an “A to Z” management unit, calls for a 10-year contract between the U.S. Forest Service and a private company. The company will manage 50,000 acres of forest land, or roughly 10 million board feet per year.
According to McMorris Rodgers’ office, a request for proposals was put out for bid in June. The successful bid will be announced in September.
McMorris Rodgers is hopeful for the House bill and for the pilot program.
“One of three acres of National Forest Service land right now, of 200 million (acres), is either diseased, bug-infested, dying, burned timber,” she said. “There’s a growing recognition that the forest is not healthy and we need to start taking action to prevent catastrophic fires, but also the economic impact these forests have in communities all across this country.”