Site Visit: Saw Mill Complains of Feds Lumbering Around

lumber mill in Washington state

By Prianka Sharma, Assistant Chief Counsel

On July 14, Assistant Chief Counsel Prianka Sharma and Regional Advocate Apollo Fuhriman visited Vaagen Bros. Lumber, Inc. a lumber saw mill in Colville, Wash. While there, they met with Duane and Emily Vaagen, father and daughter who own the company, Josh Anderson, Timber Manager, and Adam Molenda, President of the Timber Products Manufacturing Association.

Fuhriman and Sharma spoke with the group about their concerns related to timber regulations. Vaagen Bros. was founded in 1952 and has 130 employees. The company uses Scandinavian practices in managing their mill. They focus on smaller logs of larger quantities, a unique model for the area. Whenever they receive larger logs, they sell them to other mills. They consider themselves a “low tech, high tech” firm.

While touring the facility, Advocacy staff was impressed with the technology and infrastructure that Vaagen Bros. has invested in their company. Almost all of their equipment is automated, so that when a piece of wood goes through a particular machine, the machine can determine the species of tree, as well as test the wood for compressive strength and mark areas of the wood based on their strength. The owners stated that not all companies use this streamlined technology, and that many still operate manually.

Duane Vaagen stated that the timber supply is the biggest issue facing the industry. They have seen many small businesses go out of business recently because there is simply not enough supply of federal timber sales in the area. Vaagen Bros. in 1982 expanded their business to two additional mills, but subsequently were forced to close them and layoff their employees due to a lack of supply. They stated that the supply of available Forest Service timber has decreased by 20-30 percent. They urge Forest Service and SBA to keep their promise to finalize the timber set aside rule. They also stated that stewardship sales need to be counted under the SBA calculations in the final rule.

Vaagen Bros. aims to be an environmentally-friendly operation, they assist with forest restoration, and healthy growth of larger trees by removing the smaller logs to make room. They also participate in wildfire salvaging, which involves taking burned trees from a wildfire area and salvaging them for use. They stated one challenge with doing this is that it takes too long for the Forest Service to put the wood up for sale, and that by the time they are able to access the wood, it is not salvageable. Vaagen Bros. is still trying to collect burnt trees from 2015, but said that generally after a fire, the trees are only good for up to one year.

Another barrier for small businesses in the industry is that it costs approximately $20,000 to put together a stewardship package for a bid, and that most bids go to large companies or foreign markets, who are predatory in nature, and bid up on logs.

Duane and Emily Vaagen stated that there is a phenomenon in the industry where everyone is fighting for the same trough, and the small businesses as the runts are often left behind because the big businesses get to the trough first. They stated that they need Advocacy along with SBA as a whole to be their “Charlotte’s Web” and ensure that attention is given to the timber rule and the industry as a whole so that more businesses are not forced to close. The visit was an eye-opening experience for Advocacy staff, and they left much more knowledgeable about an industry that is extremely important and unique to the region.



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