National Forest Foundation Workshop in Denver

The Collaborative Restoration Workshop is taking place in Denver over the next few days.  I’m looking forward to talking about two topics while I’m there.  The first is going to be an open discussion to the entire group.  My goal in this talk is to inspire people to think about the importance of our work and how we’ve only just begun.

I don’t think very many people believe that we are doing an adequate job managing our national forests, so why do we keep doing the same things?  We need to do things at a pace and scale necessary to create real results for our forest and everything that depends on them.  I was recently talking with a professor from the University of Washington and he reminded me that I had mentioned a “Pinchot Moment” in a prior talk.  He told me that he believed that we were almost there for a variety of reasons.  To me, that means that we need to do things so bold that they are as impactful to our National Forests as their creation over 100 years ago.  We need to do things in ways that take us out of our comfort zones in order to have the forests that we all want.

Overstocked forests that are decimated by pine beetles
Overstocked forests that are decimated by pine beetles

This requires changing the way we do things in the public input process.  If communities are going to spend the time, energy and expense to collaborate on forest management efforts, then we need to value and stand behind those efforts.  If groups or individuals choose not to participate in the public process, then they should not be able to stop or stall efforts without just cause.  This isn’t to say that the input of others shouldn’t be heard and considered.  Quite the contrary.  If people cannot or choose not to attend meetings they should provide comments or concerns.  Once they are reviewed by the Forest Service and addressed by the collaborative groups(s), then the project needs to keep moving forward.

It is my belief that if we don’t fix this problem, an attempted solution will be pressed upon us.  I don’t have faith that a solution from Washington DC that hasn’t had the consensus from collaborative groups will meet the needs of the forest or the people.

My second topic will be focused on the A to Z project on the Colville National Forest.  It is a unique project where the planning, environmental compliance, public outreach, layout and design is being conducted by independent contractors.  The Colville National Forest released an RFP to have the entire process (hence the name  A to Z) completed by outside contractors.

Our family company, Vaagen Brothers Lumber, had the only proposal submitted and was selected to conduct the project.  The area just outside the town of Colville is about 55,000 acres of forest land.  This area was not in the Colville National Forest’s five-year plan but was very much in need of forest health treatments.

A group of Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition members start out of a field trip for a prospective project.
A group of Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition members collaborating with Cramer Fish Sciences on the A to Z project

The project area has a good road system, has been actively managed in the past and has considerable recreation traffic.  There are no roadless areas or wilderness areas in or adjacent to the project area.  This project also has the support of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition.


Recently the first half of this project has had a record of decision signed. Shortly thereafter the Forest Service received objections.  Were these objections from groups or individuals that worked collaboratively on the project?  No.

These are outside groups that chose not to participate in the open process and are now crying foul for a variety of reasons.  Rather than explaining this myself, I’ll let you read what The Nature Conservancy says about it.    It’s unfortunate that these projects can’t move forward quickly when the land is overdue for management.  Our hope is that this serves as an example for needed change.

Andrew Waugh brings Timber Age to the Northwest

Round table discussion at the University of Washington
Roundtable discussion at the University of Washington

The world of Mass Timber is moving fast all over the world and this week it got a boost from one of the world leaders in designing and building with wood. For those of you who may not know, there is an architecture firm in London, Waugh Thistleton, that has been pushing clients to look at the benefits of building with wood. Andrew paid a visit to both the Portland and Seattle areas last week (April 18-22) to meet with groups and individuals about his work over the past decade in the UK. I was fortunate enough to spend time with him to discuss CLT and Mass Timber in a few different settings.

Andrew speaking at UW

Andrew and his team are the real deal. They have been urging their clients to use “Timber” (In the US we use either wood or lumber to describe the same thing) in their urban developments. This drive comes from their real desire to do what’s best for the environment. They don’t think it’s enough just to put some solar panels or a windmill on the top of your building and say, ‘Look, we care about the environment.’ He acknowledges that concrete and steel are necessary to build with, but not exclusively. He makes this point very eloquently when he shows a slide of his presentation that has an image of his hand with some seeds in the palm and says, “This is what it took to create the product for that building.”


Artist rendition of Murray Grove in CLT
Rendition of Murray Grove in CLT

In 2005, he used the wood generated from similar seeds to create the first major tall wood building in the UK, Murray Grove.  He had plenty of critics when he started, but the nine-storey building came together and is a smashing success. Some stats to back this up are that the apartments were in such demand from people that wanted to buy and occupy the 29 residences that the entire building sold out in 1 hour and 15 minutes. Even further evidence that it works is that 11 years later nearly all of the flats are occupied by the original owners.


Since 2005, there have been many other buildings build using CLT and Mass Timber components, including the building Andrew calls home.

Andrew lives in the upper center apartment
Andrew lives in the upper center apartment of this building in Shoreditch

Initially, the team at Waugh Thistleton had to convince developers to consider the use of CLT in their buildings. It was tough bringing potential clients up to speed on what the product was, let alone dispell myths and concerns about using CLT. Today they are in demand that fuels the rapid growth of their firm. Currently, clients are coming to them. Andrew considers themselves a ‘Timber First’ business that has 22 current projects, 21 in wood.

One of those is Dalston Lane, which is the largest global CLT project. The residential building is ten-storeys and has over of 172,000 square feet of space. This structure has some very telling statistics. First, if it were constructed of concrete, it would have weighed in at 10,000 tons, however by using CLT, it’s only 1,930 tons. The overall construction time is eight months less than conventional methods as well as reducing construction costs by 15%.

Dalston Lane in CLT
Dalston Lane in CLT

Andrew is full of great information. I feel very fortunate to have been introduced to him and look forward to working with him to advance the global use of Timber. It’s ideal for the rural communities where the product is made, beneficial for our cities and best of all it’s the best building material for the planet.

The Timber Age

Andrew Waugh of London-based Thistleton Waugh says that we are beginning the “Timber Age.” I think it’s great as do many others. New designs and buildings are popping up everywhere. This post from The Urban shows an example of a skyscraper that would be 80 storeys tall, making it the second tallest building in London.

It’s encouraging to see such grandiose designs.  I hope to see the completed building in person some day.  Although these structures are impressive there are many other uses of “timber” or wood that may be less in size and complexity, no less important for the environment.

This is an image from the Timbory Company in Germany showing off a clean CLT kitchen  design
Image from the Timbory Company in Germany showing off a clean CLT lunchroom design

Mid and low-rise mixed use buildings, schools, and even single family homes can be constructed differently with these products.

BMW Group, Alpenhotel Ammerwald.  BMW built this CLT hotel for its employees.
BMW Group, Alpenhotel Ammerwald. BMW built this CLT hotel for its employees.

It is my hope that this builds a stronger connection to our forests and the way we manage them.  Matching societies need with societies conservation ethic will be critical in achieving the best use of products and landscape.  It’s hard to tell where all of this is heading, but for many of us, it’s fascinating and exciting.