Astoria marks sale of FSC certified timber to Massachusetts firmArmed with a heavy-duty tape measurer and a can of spray paint, forester Mike Barnes ventures into a stand of hemlock trees in the Bear Creek watershed. An architecture firm in Massachusetts wants environmentally friendly timber to build a three-story barn, and Barnes is looking for trees that are tall and straight enough to fit the bill.

"We're trying to pick trees that we could get something out of," says Barnes. He measures the base of one towering hemlock that is 26 inches in diameter, and estimates that a timber mill could cut it into a 24-foot long, 12-by-12 inch board, with wood to spare for other smaller pieces.

The 80 or so trees that Barnes has marked in the last few weeks for the Massachusetts project comprise the city of Astoria's first timber sale of logs that will be used as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified materials. While it's a small project, those involved said that they hope that it will mark the beginning of increased sales of timber from the watershed for FSC certified uses.

One goal in mindAstoria has received its water from the Bear Creek watershed since 1875, when the water was piped from the area south of Svensen to Astoria via a wooden pipe. The land was previously owned by timber companies, but the city has owned and managed the 3,700 acres that drain into Bear Creek and Cedar Creek since the 1950s, explained Barnes, who is a consultant for the city.

The area is managed with one goal in mind, said Astoria's Public Works Director Mitch Mitchum.

"Our single objective is to have the best quantity and quality of water," Mitchum said. "You manage everything to that objective, and managing the trees is part of that." By thinning parts of the forest to maintain the tree cover at an optimal density, the city can help prevent erosion and fires and improve the quality of the water that ends up in glasses on dining room tables.

A few years ago, the city decided to apply for FSC certification for the watershed. The FSC is an international nonprofit agency that sends third-party appraisers to forests. The appraisers look for forest management practices that promote sustainable forests, as well as social and environmental benefits.

"The primary goal is not to try to eliminate or reduce harvests, but rather to set standards," said Barnes, who is also a FSC certified forest resource manager. "Under FSC, you look at the total health of the forest."

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

After a trip up to the Bear Creek watershed, forester Mike Barnes closes the gate which bears the city seal.Because the city was already conducting thinnings only to improve water quality, not many changes needed to be made to comply with the FSC standards, and Astoria's watershed was certified in early 2003.

"One of the reasons we went for the certification, it was not for the economic returns, but it was a way to provide an assurance to our city that we're properly managing" the forest, Mitchum said.

The city has conducted two timber sales since then, but the buyers did not market the resulting lumber as "FSC certified," because it would have required processing the logs at special mills and treating them separately from regular timber.

But then the city was contacted by a lumber broker, who said that Architectural Timber and Millwork of Hadley, Mass., was looking for some eco-friendly hemlock.

Visual satisfactionArchitectural Timber and Millwork specializes in timber frame houses and buildings, owner Tom Harris said. Timber frames are a type of building popular in New England, where timbers are fit together to create the structural skeleton of the building, which remains visible.

"The idea here is to reveal the structure," Harris said. "There's a lot of visual satisfaction in looking at it." He was looking for hemlock, instead of the fir often used in the region, because hemlock has a lighter color, and less of a distinct grain to the wood.

The Massachusetts firm frequently uses materials like timbers salvaged from old textile mills, and is increasingly using more environmentally friendly wood in its projects.

"Many of our clients are concerned about old-growth forests and doing damage to the environment, so they have a great interest in being confident that the material we're using in our projects doesn't cause them moral pain," Harris said.

The Astoria-grown hemlock will be used to build a three-story structure that acts as a barn and a craft shop, but Harris said he thinks the wood could also be a good for other structures like libraries or public buildings.

"We're very excited about using this product for future buildings, and would like to represent it as a material we have available for this type of structure," he said.

Pilot project Still, it will take a while for the timber to reach the East Coast. The last of the eight loads of logs should go to the FSC certified timber mill in Oregon City next week, but once the mill workers cut each of the logs to the right specifications, the wood still has to be dried before it is shipped across the country.

In all, the city of Astoria will send 30,000 board feet of logs to the mill at a net price of $270 per thousand board feet, twice as much as the price for regular, non-certified logs. This is only a pilot project, Mitchum said.

Still, the city will thin 30 to 50 acres of the watershed a year for the next three or four decades to comply with its management plan. And while it will continue with its thinning program regardless of who is buying the timber, Mitchum said the city is trying to move in the direction of increasing the number of sales that will be marketed as environmentally friendly, FSC certified timber.

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