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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Theft of prime wood rallies unusual alliance

Richard Roesler The Spokesman-Review

Thieves are apparently descending on the state’s forests – public and private – and stealing prime wood to make musical instruments.

The pictures would make any deer or elk hunter cringe – large trees felled and left to rot, with the thieves just taking a few slices of the finest-grained wood from the base. Knot-free Engelmann spruce, Western red cedar, big leaf maple and Western red alder are all popular, either for the hard backs or resonating fronts of instruments such as guitars, violins and mandolins. A small “blank” for a guitar neck – a 3-foot board, basically – can sell for more than $100.

So an unusual alliance of rural conservatives, urban liberals and farm-district lawmakers says it’s time to treat such wood like a game animal: Give it a tag. For a seller to possess or transport such high-grade “specialty woods,” they’d need a permit, validated by the local sheriff’s office.

Even private landowners harvesting large amounts of their own high-grade wood would need to provide the paperwork to anyone buying it. Independent cutters on private or state property would need the permit to prove that they’re harvesting legally, with the owner’s permission.

“My private property owners and your public lands are being stripped of this wood by people who aren’t paying for it,” Rep. Jim Buck, R-Joyce, told a House committee last week.

Anyone caught with a stolen haul of specialty wood would get their vehicle and equipment seized and a fine.

“We don’t want people to be able to say, ‘Well, this is just firewood,’ which is what they can do now,” forester Barry Wikene said.

Honoring the seniors

When a tree reaches a certain age, Rep. Sam Hunt feels, it should be left alone. Hunt, an Olympia Democrat, has proposed House Bill 1360, which would prohibit the harvesting of most “ancestral trees” on state-owned forests.

“I imagine you have stood in awe in the silence of an old-growth forest, as I have,” said Ruth Mulligan, with an Episcopal environmentalist group. “These forests, I suggest, are the cathedrals of the natural world.”

Rural members of the House committee that heard the bill last week, however, said it’s impractical. In Eastern Washington, a 150-year-old tree can have the diameter of less than a foot, Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, pointed out.

“In this case, I would say size does matter,” he said. Others said it would be preposterous to try to scour millions of acres of state forest, tree by tree.

(Hunt said that’s not the intent – that the inventory should be done by stand, rather than by tree.)

The bill – even if it’s rewritten – faces long odds. The state Department of Natural Resources says the limits could cut tens of millions of dollars in state profits from timber sales, money that helps pay for schools, colleges and some local government services.

The crowning touch for any Zagmobile

A bevy of local lawmakers wants to create a new state license plate featuring Gonzaga University. Cost: $40.

The state Department of Transportation would get $12, and after deducting the cost of making the plate and running the program, the rest of the money would go to GU’s alumni association. The plates – assuming the bill passes – would be available next year.

Washington offers more than two dozen such plates. Among the groups showing their pride on their plates: Eastern and WSU students and alums, Freemasons, ham radio operators, bicyclists, former prisoners of war, Mariners fans and square dancers.

A hardy perennial blooms again

Yet again, a group of mostly east-of-the-Cascades senators is proposing cleaving Washington in half, creating a new state of Eastern Washington.

“Since statehood, the lifestyles, culture and economies of Eastern and Western Washington have been very distinct and dramatically different,” reads Senate Joint Memorial 8009, “while the urbanization and rapid growth in the western portions of the state has progressively heightened this divergence of cultural and economic values between the western and eastern portions of the state.”

No mention is made of what the new state might be called. But an economic analysis done several years ago in response to a similar bill had some urban lawmakers joking that without the economic ties and tax money from Puget Sound, a good name for such a state would be New Appalachia.

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