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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Russ Vaagen and Mike Petersen: Forests are a source of abundance, not scarcity

mike petersen

In response to George Wuerthner, “Harvesting dead trees is bad for forests,” ( Feb. 8):

When we first saw the title of this opinion piece we knew it was going to be a direct challenge to the work we have been doing on the Colville National Forest over the last 15 years. It’s OK, we’re used to it. Collaboration gets challenged from the right and the left and all levels in between. It usually comes from those who have not participated or have no interest in engaging in the collaborative process. Mr. Wuerthner isn’t the exception.

He has posted similar things online and in other publications. We don’t shy away from naysayers and challenges because we work very hard within the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition (NEWFC) to have an open door to people and their opinions. What we ask everyone who chooses to participate to do is to lay down your position and let’s collectively discuss interests.

This approach has worked wonders because we start focusing on what’s possible rather than what isn’t permitted. We look at our forests as a source of abundance and not scarcity. We don’t think you need to choose between actively managing our forests and protecting our beautiful backcountry, up to and including wilderness. We can have beautiful, natural forests and healthy rural economies based on restoring and managing our forests.

What’s important is that we’re not actively managing every inch of these forests. Where we focus on management is where we already have road systems in place. Areas that are near communities that see a great deal of use from the public. Even when we are managing these forests there is always a focus on wildlife habitat and water. Each area that is managed strives to include significant improvements to habitat that includes leaving dead snags for nesting birds, insects and animals. Care is taken to leave the appropriate amount of downed, woody debris to continue to add to the habitat after the management concludes.

The fact is, what we are part of on the Colville National Forest, including the A to Z project, is much more about what we leave behind than what is removed. The logs delivered to area mills are simply the byproduct of creating healthy forests. On our public lands, the focus is no longer on resource extraction, but on creating a healthy, resilient forest that can be used and enjoyed for generations to come. We invite you to consider a paradigm shift in the way you think about forests and consider a future where we can have the eco-friendly products we need while maintaining and saving the places we love.

Russ Vaagen is CEO of Vaagen Timbers and serves as president of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition. Mike Petersen is executive director of The Lands Council and serves as vice president of NEWFC.