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home : premium content : news May 24, 2016

4/17/2013 2:00:00 PM
Timber harvest planned for Chumstick to reduce fire fuels
Ian Dunn

As part of an effort to reduce the fire danger in the Chumstick Valley, the Forest Service recently completed a sale of 862 acres of timber in the area. Seattle-Snohomish Mill Company was the high bidder for the Skywalker Small Business Administration sale, which is located three miles from Leavenworth.

The sales includes 16,208 cubic feet of timber, including Douglas fir, ponderosa pine and grand fir trees.

"While it took us awhile to get there, there was remarkable coordination in the community," said Stuart Woolley, resources staff officer, Wenatchee National Forest. "We collaborated with the community and worked with the Chumstick Coalition, a broad spectrum of environmental, adjacent landowners. They were very anxious for something to be done."

Skywalker is part of two timber sales in the Chumstick area. Woolley said while they were getting those two sales completed, many of the adjacent landowners went after grants and began doing things on their land to compliment what was being done on National Forest lands.

This sale, he said, will go a long way toward reducing the fire fuels in the Chumstick, an area of the county considered a high fire risk, because of the lack of fire over the years and the built up fire fuels.

"The Chumstick Coalition has been right in the middle of it. From our end, the whole planning effort started several years ago with a pretty thorough analysis by some of the best folks we have on the forest," he said. "It started with questions. How does fire move through the Chumstick? How can we interrupt that?"

The objective is to keep the fire smaller, which would improve the chances of protecting structures, lives and property in the area, intermingled with National Forest land throughout. The coalition tried to inform people to make responding treatments on their property.

"Now that we have a successful bidder, somebody awarded that timber sale, private land owners throughout the coalition can contact that particular purchaser and say, 'Now that you are treating this unit next to my property, can you do something here?,'" he said.

This sale through the Forest Service is known as a small business set aside, which is a portion of sales set aside for small businesses. What this does is guarantee the smaller sawmills a chance with the timber sale program that often only involves larger business.

Woolley said it is challenging the way the process works. If not enough small business participated in a particular sale, then the next sale that comes along is referred to as a small business set aside, like Skywalker.

"Small (businesses) have a shot at it first. And, in fact, if no small businesses bid on it, then we would turn around, assuming people are interested in it, and offer it to a broader audience, including large business," he said. "There was a small business that stepped forward."

The recession hit lumber mills pretty hard, he said. Nearly half the mills in the Northwest were lost in the past 5-10 years. This has created a big challenge in the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest, especial when there are treatments.

Most of the time the treatment requires taking biomass off the site before fire can be reestablished. But there are not many options for biomass anymore.

"We have chip facilities across the north end, near Oroville. Some of our timber sales end up there," he said. "Biomass is a hard one. There aren't many places."

These treatments have proven successful, most notably during the Wenatchee Fire Complex last year.

"We have numerous examples from the Canadian border down to Naches, situations where we've done a commercial harvest and really opened up the stand, removed commercial products," he said. "Then, fire ran through there. In fact, years later, that's where we caught a fire, because when it hit some of the treatment areas, it dropped to the ground.

"The fire behavior changed sufficiently that we had a chance to stop the fire. Typically, those treatment units are where we are able to set some backfires. That played out vividly during our fires in September."

The environmental assessment in the Chumstick Valley calls for the largest, most fire resistant trees, to be left on the landscape. Areas of thick undergrowth and overstocked stands of trees are to be removed to lessen the fire danger.

Timber removal will be completed primarily through Skyline Logging. Some ground based equipment may also be used. The timber purchaser must also pay for road construction and reconstruction for routes that will be used to haul away the timber.

Ian Dunn can be reached at 548-5286 or

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