COLVILLE, Wash. — Russ Vaagen, whose family has a 66-year-long history in Washington state’s timber industry, sees a future in mass timber.

The former president of family-owned Vaagen Brothers Lumber has founded a new company, Vaagen Timbers, which will produce mass timber products.

Mass timber, also called engineered wood, includes cross laminated timber, glulam beams and other products that are less expensive, lighter and lower-cost than other building materials such as steel and concrete.

Cross-laminated timber is made by gluing planks of wood in perpendicular layers, creating thick panels that can be used for walls and floors.

He sees the use of wood in homes, apartments and buildings as a way to remind urban and suburban consumers about the importance of the rural timber industry.

“These products allow us to tell a story so the consumer really understands and makes that connection: ‘I’m living in this apartment and it’s made of wood and it ... supports healthy forests and healthy communities,” Vaagen said.

He foresees the timber going into mid-rise apartments and commercial structures ranging from 4 to 10 stories.

Vaagen expects to use roughly 30 million board-feet of timber per year at first, with room for growth.

He points to more developers building all-wood projects, supporting local jobs and economies.

Because mass timber uses smaller logs, it benefits inland forests where restoration is needed, thinning the small trees in the dense under story and leaving the biggest and best trees more fire resistant, Vaagen said.

He also is adamant about helping rural economies in timber country.

“We want to see the value that’s coming from the forest get added as close to the forest as possible,” Vaagen said.

Vaagen is the president of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition on the Colville National Forest. He emphasizes timber sales to mills as a tool for forest restoration, used to pay for needed thinning.

Vaagen said he tries to match forest needs with community needs for the greatest good.

Mass timber has been used in Europe for decades, but is relatively new to the U.S. industry, said Adam Molenda, president of the Timber Product Manufacturers Association. Vaagen is on the association’s board of directors.

“It’s very structurally sound, it’s very fire-resistant,” Molenda said. “There’s opportunities to build skyscrapers, new buildings. We hope that the industry would see the value and help manage the forest a little better.”

James Krejci is a commercial banker at Umpqua Bank and has worked with Vaagen.

“He’s done a lot of work educating the general public on proper management techniques and initiatives, with the goal of minimizing wildfire impacts and leaving healthier forests,” Krejci said. “He’s done that while creating a business model that supports those techniques and initiatives.”

Russ Vaagen

Title: Founder and CEO, Vaagen Timbers; former president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber.

Age: 41

Hometown: Colville, Wash.

Education: Degrees in management and human resource management from Washington State University.

Family: Engaged, two children, expecting a baby in November


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