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Lumber company works to improve forest health

Matthew Weaver
Vaagen Brothers Lumber Inc., in Colville, Wash., was recently awarded a $30 million 10-year stewardship contract for a pilot program to manage acres on the Colville National Forest.

COLVILLE, Wash. — A Washington sawmill company hopes a new pilot program will improve management on the national forest in its backyard.

Vaagen Brothers Lumber Inc., vice president Russ Vaagen recently spoke to a the Washington State Coordinated Resource Management task group during their tour in Colville, Wash.

The CRM aims to bring people together to reduce conflicts in natural resource management.

The Colville National Forest recently awarded Vaagen’s Colville-based lumber company a 10-year stewardship contract worth $30 million.

Vaagen believes the pilot program will build a working collaborative model and get more out of the area’s resources, with better supplies to area mills and improved forest management.

He said the program is intended to help make up for a lack of U.S. Forest Service personnel and funding. The industry has requested an annual harvest of 80 million board feet from the Colville National Forest; the service can handle about 40 million board feet, he said.

The company will manage about 54,000 acres of the forest.

The forest service typically identifies an area for sale or treatment, conducts the environmental assessments and pre-sale work, putting out a packet for someone to bid on the stewardship and timber.

Vaagen said his company will have a third party crew do the National Environmental Policy Act and pre-sale work for a project. Vaagen Brothers foots the bill upfront. Vaagen expects there will be a series of projects over the course of 10 years, likely with negotiated points set along the way for the timber.

Vaagen estimated the cost would be about $1 million before the company has the opportunity to bid on the timber coming off the land.

“We’re not even guaranteed it won’t be appealed and litigated, but because of our collaborative work, we feel confident we can address those concerns going forward,” he said.

Vaagen’s mill in Colville is running close to capacity with 130 employees. The mill in Usk, Wash., with 45-50 employees, is at essentially break-even. Vaagen hopes the new program will allow the Usk mill to run at capacity.

The idea is to keep the infrastructure in Usk in place, he said. Without the Usk mill, the only option for forest treatment would be to invest in increasing volume at the Colville facility.

“The last thing we need to do is spend money fighting fires, and then we lose our resource for 80 to 100 years,” he said.

Washington Association of Conservation Districts President David Guenther said the CRM executive group listed forest health as one of its top priorities for coordinated resource management activities.

“Part of forest health isn’t just trees, it’s the habitat and the rest of the community that lives with that forest health,” Guenther said.

Guenther said forest fires in Washington and Oregon in recent years have demonstrated the problems of timber stands that haven’t been properly managed, increasing fire risk.

“We can bring in the large forest land owner or manager in connection with their local community where the impacts might be, so we can work together to a solution to make a safer environment,” Guenther said.



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