Logger’s Annual Workshop Returns to Colville

The Logger’s Workshop in Colville is a newly re-established event that promises to play an essential role in ensuring the continued sustainable harvest of trees in northeastern Washington. Following a run of 20 consecutive years, this annual event was on hiatus for three years (2012-2014) while the WSU Extension Northeast Washington Forestry staff position was in transition. But now, after two consecutive years of drawing crowds of more than 120 people to the Stevens County Ag and Trade Center, the annual Logger’s Workshop is back with gusto.

guy cutting woodA primary purpose of the workshop was to bring together experts who can provide current information to loggers on matters that affect their profession with an emphasis on safety, new technology, sustainable forest management and changes in the regulatory environment. The information conveyed to loggers fulfilled this program’s other key function, which was to provide loggers a local and inexpensive forum at which they can earn the Washington Contract Loggers Association (WCLA) certification credits needed to maintain their Qualified Master Logger credentials.

The Qualified Logger credential is important to private industrial forest owners, Washington State Department of Natural Resources and other landowners who manage their lands sustainably following guidelines of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). A key commitment of the SFI rules for landowners is to use only Qualified Loggers when harvesting timber.

This year’s program was divided into three topics. The early presentations focused on lands affected by last year’s fires and the post-fire issues that loggers should watch out for in the course of their work. Topics covered included invasive plants, the mortality and recovery of fire-scorched trees, what might go wrong with roads and bridges and what silviculture applications can be used to restore and recover burned-over lands. The presentations provided information on operating safely in a radically changed forest environment, as well as what loggers can do to help forests recover or, at least, not take actions that would make things worse. These issues were considered from the perspective of controlling weeds, promoting forest health, managing roads and silviculture.

Next there was an update on regulatory issues in Washington and Idaho. For Washington residents, there was a presentation on “what makes a complete forest practices proposal.” For those who work or live in Idaho, there was a session on “what you need to know” about that state’s forest practices rules, which included recent changes in that state’s requirements concerning riparian areas.

Informative Afternoon

The afternoon of the conference was devoted to the loggers themselves. We began with a presentation by the son of a logger who became a logger himself, a trade he continues to practice in between the obligations of his new job of serving as a Pend Oreille County Commissioner. Showcasing relics of logging equipment and regaling us with stories of days gone by, the presenter made it clear that logging figures prominently in the history of northeast Washington. The history of this profession includes more than a few colorful characters whose work, collectively, was the backbone and driver for most of the economic development that has occurred in this part of the state. This presentation segued neatly into a talk by an actual, bona-fide, practicing storyteller (and forest landowner, citizen scientist and occasional logger) who encouraged us all to recognize that we are a part of what will be history tomorrow and that our stories will matter to those who follow us as much as the stories we had just heard from previous times mattered to and affected us.

This was followed by information about law enforcement in the woods and the all too common problems seen there—trespassing, poaching, dumping, meth labs and others. Loggers, because they are out in the woods every day, are sometimes the ones who either encounter the individuals who perpetrate these crimes or are first upon the scene of the damage done. Following the theme for the afternoon, this presentation also came with plenty of stories.

Economic Impact of Logging

Last on the agenda was a forest economist with brand new data collected from the Tri-County area (Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties). This data confirmed what many people intuitively knew, that loggers are key to the economy of northeast Washington. The data were a surprise, however, in the extent of that contribution. The number of secondary jobs generated as a result of the work of northeast Washington loggers was significantly greater than had been estimated in previous forecasting exercises that relied on fewer site- and region-specific data.

His data also showed some unexpected results. Many people have made the assumption that forest stewardship work—thinning forests to reduce fire risk, for example—would also benefit the economy. This is true but it is also the case that the economic benefits realized are localized to where the workers live, not where the work is done. Often, restoration work is done by crews from elsewhere who stay for the duration of the project and then leave. When the crews leave, the dollars–-their salaries-–go with them. The result is that dollars invested in remote forests do not necessarily stay in or directly benefit the economies of those remote areas. More than one restoration project has been launched with the idea that the project would benefit a struggling rural economy and this notion will clearly need to be revisited based on these data.

One other key finding of this economic analysis was that loggers are “hidden” people. When these data were collected, researchers pounded the ground to find all of the loggers working in this area. When the researchers compared their numbers against all commonly used economic and employment projection tools, they found many more loggers were working than showed up in previous projections. In this day and age, under-counted means under-represented and under-attended to, and these data provide a basis for more accurately understanding the dynamics of a still largely timber-dependent economy. Without logging, there would be much less economic activity in northeast Washington.

In summary, this year’s program gave loggers key information that will help them do their jobs better and more safely. It also gave them a rare opportunity to reflect on how their profession has changed over the years and they impact their work has on their communities.

WSU Extension is especially grateful for our partners who helped make this program a success: the loggers and landowners who shared their stories; Washington DNR, which helped with planning and contributed five of the workshop’s speakers; and the local timber industry for providing expertise and input to ensure the best, most current information. Industry support also helped to underwrite program costs and make this an affordable event to attend. Contributing to the 2016 workshop were Boise Cascade, Columbia Cedar, Hancock Forest Management, Stimson and Vaagen Brothers.

By Steve McConnell , WSU Extension Forester, smcconnell@spokanecounty.org