COLVILLE, Wash. — The interim chief of the U.S. Forest Service toured a Northeast Washington forest-thinning project this week, touting the collaboration efforts of the partners involved.

The A to Z Project established a 10-year contract on 54,000 acres in the Colville National Forest with Vaagen Brothers Lumber, of Colville, Wash., and Usk, Wash., to work with the forest service to manage sections of the forest to reduce wildfire and insect risk and meet community needs.

Interim chief Vicki Christiansen said northeast Washington brings various interests together in a “sound, collaborative” process.

“Northeast Washington is a leader in collaboration, but also in the innovative public-private partnerships,” she said. “The spirit of how we innovate, take some measured risk, learn and improve together (sets) a model for both our partners and within our own agency.”

Rodney Smoldon, forest supervisor on the Colville National Forest, said the agency didn’t have the capacity to do all the necessary work to sustain forest health.

Typically, the forest spends about $65 per thousand board-feet for such a project, Smoldon said. Under the A to Z Project, the cost is closer to $10-$15 per thousand board-feet, he said.

Without the project, the forest would harvest an average of 45 million to 60 million board-feet and treat 6,000 acres in a year on its own. With A to Z, it’s treating 16,000 acres and harvesting up to 150 million board-feet per year.

“The amount of work we’re getting besides logs on trucks and fuels reduced, we’re treating roads, maintaining our road system and reconstructing roads for watershed reasons, we’re improving transitory range for our permittees, the list just goes on and on,” Smoldon told tour participants.

The Colville National Forest intends to have a similar project in the Chewelah, Wash., area, Smoldon said.

Under the project, the contractor receives timber at appraised rates with no competition and profit from restoration activities, according to the forest service.

Duane Vaagen, president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber, was pleased to get Christiansen on the forest floor. He wanted to highlight collaboration of the industry, he said, working to eliminate potential negativity for the project as early as possible.

“The healthy forest leads to healthy communities,” Vaagen said. “Rural communities need that forest for their livelihood, recreation and well-being. We need that certainty of timber supply ... This is such a good project, it helps us immensely both in Colville and Usk.”

Increased timber sales translates directly into the communities, Vaagen said.

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