(STAFF REPORTS/Chewelah Independent)
Rodgers and Christiansen hail A to Z project as the future of forest management…
The interim chief of the U.S. Forest Service Vicki Christiansen and Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers toured timbered areas around Colville on Thursday, to check out a unique project taken on by Vaagen Bros.
Vaagen Bros., a major employ in Colville, won a contract to thin 54,000 aces of forestland to make the area more fire resistant in the future. Vaagen is doing the same work to reduce fuels that would have had to be done by the U.S. Forest Service. The Forest Service, however, doesn’t have the resources to keep up with the backlog of thinning to reduce the threat of wildfires.
McMorris Rodgers and Christiansen told the Spokesman-Review that the model illustrates the future of forest management. Christiansen is a 1983 UW grad and used to fight fires with the WA DNR.
Vaagen Bros. won the contract in 2013 but there was legal battles to be had before lumber harvesting began last year. A environmental group in Montana sought to halt the project but a judge threw the injunction out in 2016. Duane Vaagen of Vaagen’s Bros. said that the A to Z project has receieved local support from the Stevens County Commissioners and the US Forest Service. Even local environmental and conservation groups such at the Lands Council, the Kettle Range Conservation Group and The Nature Conservancy are involved in the project.
Forest Supervisor Rodney Smoldon of the Colville National Forest said that private companies are producing more lumber and at lower costs than what the Forest Service could do on its own. The Forest Service estimates it could thin 6,000 acres a year and produce about 45 to 60 million board feet while private companies like Vaagens have handled 16,000 acres a year while creating close to 150 million board feet.
After their tour, McMorris Rodgers and Christiansen meet with Vaagen Brother’s Lumber and the Tri-County Forestry Group to talk more about the A to Z Project but also about the need to keep this local collaboration going in the area to continue to meet the needs of the forest and bring economic development to the region.
McMorris Rodgers quotes a 2007 UW study that found that with each additional million board feet produced, 12 more jobs related to the timber industry are created. She is hopeful that the A to Z model can be used nation wide and has introduced federal legislation that would enable similar programs. The thinning also improves the the health of the forest and makes them less susceptible to fire.
To finish her day, McMorris Rodgers made her way to Kettle Falls to host a town hall events with the community. Cathy answered questions on immigration, rural broadband, veterans issues, and national security.
On Friday, McMorris Rodgers continued her time in Northeastern Washington for another meeting with interim Chief Christiansen and held another town hall in Republic to hear from people in the community.