Darrington lumber mill hopes state will release more public lands to harvest timber

DARRINGTON, Wash. - The wood supply processed at Hampton Lumber Mills in Darrington will end up at many of our local hardware stores.

“This sawmill here today is by far the largest employer in Darrington,” CEO Steve Zika said.

For Hampton Lumber, land is the most important economic opportunity, and Zika says they need more of it to survive.

“We are sustainable, we are good stewards of the land,” Zika said.

Washington's Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz does not dispute that.

“Part of what you see behind is one of the most significant mills we have in Washington state,” Franz said.

During her visit to the rural community, Franz listened to Zika’s concerns.

“We are concerned about the timber supply,” Zika said.

The 170 jobs at the site will depend heavily on what the Board of Natural Resources decides will be the new harvest calculations for the next 10 years.

The vote is expected to happen in December.

But that calculation is not possible without first dealing with what will happen to the 175,000 acres locked up because of the Marbled Murrelets, which are endangered seabirds.

“The Marbled Murrelet is a key bird that’s going down in population of 7% to 8% a year, could be extinct down the southern part of this range within 20 to 30 years,” Peter Goldman with Washington Forest Law Center said.

The non-profit says they use science to help protect the state’s 10 million forested acres.

“It’s a very difficult economic decision today on how to manage our forests,” Goldman says.

Goldman says the old days of the lumber industry are gone and that mills will have to find different ways to survive.

He says switching over to cross-laminated timber, mixing wood with other ingredients, could be one solution.

Zika says his company is looking into that but they do not have the technology for it right now and the practice could cost millions.

For now, the state is tasked with balancing a complicated relationship of preserving the environment and the economic livelihood of rural communities.

“The spotted owl decision happened and we know what that did to communities overnight, people didn’t have jobs,” Franz said.

Not only will the decision impact Hampton Lumber, but it also affects basic services in Snohomish County. That’s because some of the state money generated by Hampton Lumber’s purchases goes to Snohomish County.

The county then turns around and spends it on basic services like roads, libraries and schools.