In the Pacific Northwest, the threat of wildfires is an ongoing concern. Many fires start on national forests, land owned by the federal government. Because federal agencies have a limited amount of money and resources to put toward fire-prevention projects, a deal was reached in 2014 allowing states to step in and oversee work on federal lands. Idaho has taken advantage of this program for a few years. Last week, it announced a deal on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. And now, Washington is getting into the game as well.
The program is called Good Neighbor Authority, and Washington has finalized its first Good Neighbor timber sale under the program. Joe Smillie is a spokesperson for the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
“For Washington, it’s great because it combines our resources with the Forest Service’s to go out and do some of these timber sales,” Smillie said.
The sale is called The Block of Nine, and involves 604 acres of the Colville National Forest.
“Specifically, this one, the Block of Nine, is focused on restoring the health of that forest," said Smillie. "And as we’ve seen the last several years, it’s a growing problem with the size and scope of our wildfire situation.”
The deal also benefits the Forest Service because the federal agency has to spend much of its funding and time on fighting fires. The Good Neighbor Program gives the Forest Service much needed assistance, says Colville National Forrest spokesperson Franklin Pemberton.
“For us, its capacity right now," said Pemberton. "We have a lot going on with the Colville National Forest, and we have a lot more work than we have staff and time. Anytime we can add capacity through partnering, we jump at the opportunity, and this was a perfect fit. We have a great relationship with our partners at the state, and I think this will make it an even better one.”
While this is the first Good Neighbor sale in Washington, Pemberton’s agency closely watched how similar deals worked in other states.
“We’ve been looking at what’s going on in Oregon and Idaho," said Pemberton. "Just watching those projects play out closely and learning from any potential pitfall they ran into, and learning how we can improvise and adapt to those and put out a better product.”
The success of the other states was encouraging.
“I think we’re confident that this will be another tool in the tool box to move our pace and scale forward with restoration on the Colville National Forrest,” Pemberton said.
Washington will partner with the Vaagen Brothers Timber Company from Colville.
The Vaagen Brothers’ Josh Anderson says the deal just made sense.
“The contract will be operated much like a DNR timber sale," said Anderson. "So we’ll be removing some timber and doing some compliance work, improving the road system. A lot of the timber management goals are designed around forest health and some fuel reduction. So it should be a pretty good project for all the players involved.”
Smillie says the Block of Nine sale is the first of many Good Neighbor sales the state is working on.
“We have several more on the Pipeline. Next month we are expecting to auction one off down on the Gifford Pinchot Forest down by the Vancouver area," said Smillie. "And then we have several more on other forests around the state.”
The sale is expected to generate more than $1.5 million. That money will be used for further restoration projects on national forests in the state.