Russ Vaagen, Vice President for Vaagen Bros Lumber in Colville, Washington, is an experienced collaborator, and serves as the immediate past chairman of the board for the Timber Product Manufactures Association, member of the board for Sustainable Northwest, and President of the board for the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition.

Russ recently attended the Collaborative Restoration Workshop in Denver, Colorado hosted by NFF, after being invited to speak on two different panels. Russ recently reflected on the workshop on his blog (, where he regularly shares insights related to the “new era of forest health and restoration in the fire prone forests of the West.”

At the National Collaborative Workshop hosted by The National Forest Foundation, I shared the following to kick off day two. We need to take this seriously so we can create a better future for our forests.

It’s great to see such a large crowd of people here that are passionate about our National Forests. Thank you to both NFF for putting this on and being a partner to the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition. And thanks to The Nature Conservancy for being a partner as well. I’m happy to share the stage with the four of you.

In such a large group of people here, I’m wondering how many of you represent an organization or family company that utilizes at least 50 loads of logs per day? (4 hands out of 200 were raised, representing Idaho Forest Group, Yakama Nation for Yakama Forest Products, Boise Cascade, and myself for Vaagen Bros. Lumber). I think it’s telling that we don’t have enough of the people here that will help us pay for the necessary work that we need to do in our forests. The Forest Industry is the glue that will hold collaboration together.

Mills not only pay for the logs that are required to run the plants but as is the case in NEWFC (Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition), Vaagen Bros Lumber hosts meetings, helps fund initiatives when needed and provides employees with the latitude to participate gainfully in the process. It is critical to have all parties at the table, but without some real Industry participation, collaborative groups have a hard time gaining real traction with projects.

Vaagen speaking at the 2016 Collaborative Restoration Workshop

We hear a great deal about ‘Pace and Scale’ of forest restoration. Some aren’t as comfortable with large scale projects. If we don’t see a significant change in the Pace and Scale of projects in our forests, we will continue to see the Pace and Scale of fire, insect and disease

Without mechanical treatments as shown in the Vaagen Bros. Youtube video Logs to Lumber we will have difficulty using prescribed fire. Our windows of time to conduct purposeful burns is shrinking, and in many cases doesn’t realistically exist. On the Colville National Forest, we have seen the retained receipts from the last three years of stewardship projects complete over 8,000 acres of a combination of prescribed burns and non-commercial fuels treatments. Those treatments would have been a fraction of the size had it not been for the dollars created by those projects. All of this was done with no cost to anyone. Completed in addition to the stewardship project all because of a small log infrastructure that adds value to the by-products of forest restoration.

It’s imperative that we strive to get the highest and best value for the by-products of our restoration projects. It’s the only way to pay for the work that needs to be done. Currently, the best value is added by sawmills with small diameter technology, pulp mills, and biomass plants. The mills pay for the small logs, the pulp mills that pay for the chips, sawdust, and bark, and the biomass plants take bark, wood waste, and pile grindings.

Does anyone here think that we’re doing an adequate job managing our National Forest Lands? (No one raised their hand which includes all of the USFS leadership)

If we need to improve so badly why aren’t we all acting with more urgency?

We need a Pinchot/Roosevelt moment. The work we are doing today is every bit as important as the creation of the National Forests themselves. We have the right people in this room. We need to reach out to our networks and make these changes happen. We need a new plan of action!

We’re all here. Let’s get on the same page and do this together.

We followed the talks with an open format Q&A with our panel and the audience. One of the focal points that I brought up was our need to fix the dispute resolution system currently in place on National Forest projects. Even if you have a project with collaborative support and approval, groups that refuse to participate can object and then follow that with a lawsuit to either stop or delay much-needed projects.

I advocated for an Arbitration clause that would be much like the system that Major League Baseball uses. It’s easy to understand and most importantly takes much less time to complete. It can be done in 60-90 days, rather than the months or even years that can result from a lawsuit. Lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits continue to cost the taxpayers money. As is the case with many projects, they burn before the project gets completed because it takes so long to complete the environmental analysis. This happened on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest two years ago and again on the Colville National Forest last year. Much needed projects get put together with collaborative support only to burn before we can get to it. Arbitration would also improve the time that it takes to complete NEPA because specialists would be working on getting data to support the project needs and not trying to prepare for a potential lawsuit.

As former Region 6 Forester Linda Goodman once said, “It’s difficult for us because even our specialists want to do Cadillac level NEPA work when Chevrolet is more than necessary.”

This blog was originally posted on

National Forest Foundation