Big and small mills lobby for piece of the timber pie

An article from E&E News today, added to the NCFP library as a PDF….

Tucked deep in Congress’ bill to fund the government in 2015 was a request to the Forest Service: Get moving on a long-stalled rule that could aid the survival of America’s small timber mills.

The report language “strongly encouraged” the agency to write a directive that could ensure small mills are not bullied out of federal timber contracts by larger, better-capitalized corporations.


23 thoughts on “Big and small mills lobby for piece of the timber pie”

  1. “bullied out of federal timber contracts’ … More likely bullied out of federal timber contracts by those opposed to cutting trees – period! My county alone had at least 15 small, local, family-owned mills go out of business during the years when the “timber wars” were at their highest. The largest of the three that still remains had a series of small. local, family owners who could not get federal logs; ultimately, it was taken over by a very large conglomerate whose owners are much reviled by the political left. Sometimes, actions have unforeseen consequences!

  2. Small mills are losing the battle(s) of efficiency, scale, market share, labor costs, location, access to markets, etc. This has been going on for ever. It’s nothing new. Most of the “small mills” closed long before the spotted owl became news. Know your history.

    • Most of the small mills in my area went out of business as the harvest from the Mt. Hood National Forest declined. A local logger I know, who runs a 2- or 3-person crew, once asked me, “Why can’t the Forest Service give us local small operators a piece of the pie?” Good question — and I had no good answer.

      • Hi Steve,

        So does the Society of American Foresters have a position regarding there being no small business set-aside with the Forest Service’s stewardship contract timber sales, which as the article pointed out have been increasing?

        “From 2004 to 2014, the portion of national forest timber sold through stewardship contracts rose from 5 percent to one-third [33%], according to federal data.”

    • My 50+ years of forestry hereabouts began before the spotted owl ever became news. Further, I’ve known and worked with those families and watched their mills disappear. When the fed’s quit producing logs, these families had to pay astronomically high log prices in an attempt to stay in business – an unsustainable business practice. When they went out of business and there were fewer mills (and less competition for logs), prices dropped back to more reasonable levels. Most of my county’s logs are now shipped elsewhere. I’ve lived this history.

      Any time a landowner, including the federal government, possesses a part of the local community, they have an obligation to support that community. Where they are a major landowner, their obligation is even greater. The federal government’s switch to supporting low-paying recreation jobs just won’t cut it.

      For instance, much of Oregon’s countryside is federally owned. The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis shows that urban Oregon’s employment has recovered from the recent recession and is actually 2% better than at its peak in 2008. Rural Oregon (where the federal lands are and where many of the closed mills were), on the other hand, has increased 3% from its low point (2011) but it is still 5% BELOW 2008 levels. This is where the federal lands are shirking their obligation to our rural economies.

  3. The key is shifting from a “buyer” paying for stumpage, to a stewardship contractor who submits a bid to cut and move roundwood and is PAID to do the job. More if you’re interested…

  4. Want small sawmills? Want to help the local rural economies? Small timber sales of large diameter trees of all species. It’s that easy.
    Stewardship contracts seem to be a little suspect. Who gets to bid on these contracts? Who decides who gets them? It seems somewhat elitist. Plus why should the American taxpayer foot the bill again when our public land contain the some of the most valuable natural resources in the world? We should be able to figure out how to make them profitable.
    I like a public oral auction. If you want to buy it here is an opportunity. I just wish there were more small sales of a diversity of products so more people could participate.

  5. If you want “elitist” use timber sales and require large bid deposits, embedded road construction requirements, and so forth that eliminate the small operator. Big companies buy the stumpage and then squeeze the hell out of the small logger/trucker to ensure a profit. There’s no “footing the bill” — roundwood is sold just like any other wood product. Pvt industry is extensively using this model already, i.e. Starker Forests of Philomath OR.

  6. And who designs the sales? I believe the Forest Service does,(and the Siuslaw is no exception.)
    So you are either a large sawmill or you are “Oregon Wild”, and if you’d like to buy a few of the dead trees along the road for your sawmill you can just go,,, away.

  7. Yes, FS designs sales, but I am a proponent of designation (for cutting) by description which the Siuslaw uses; purchaser actually decides which trees to cut based on FS guidance. This works well in reasonable situations that lack complexity. eg ponderosa pine, doug fir. Some mixed conifer/hardwoods might be tough — but I think payment incentives work well: 100% payment if within +/- 5% of prescription target, with steadily punitive reductions the greater out of compliance. Yes, Siuslaw is on steady diet of thinning small regen, but that is not true elsewhere. Jerry Ingersoll and I have discussed what happens next on Siuslaw, and I think it’s time to begin encountering the future.

    • It is interesting that the Siuslaw is mentioned. I attended a recent meeting in which it was clearly stated by most (all?) of the panelists (current and former Forest Supervisors, Oregon Wild, and AFSEEE director) that the Siuslaw is going in the “right” direction: i.e., wildlife, restoration, and recreation [needless to say, the very urban audience ate it up]. Supporting the well-being (jobs and taxes) of the county ….? Supplying raw materials for the local/rural economy and the American consumer for the long term ….? Not so much.

      The small stewardship sales, thinning projects, etc. mostly seem designed to accelerate the forest’s acquisition the necessary characteristics for late-successional reserves; i.e., restoration and wildlife. There are a lot of folks who wonder what will happen when LSR status is acquired. Many have concluded that, when these characteristics are acquired, the last person out simply locks the gate as they leave.

      By the way, the way, the Siuslaw was once a major supplier of raw materials to those small, local, family-owned mills that were forced out of business during the last 2-3 decades. Inefficiencies, etc. may have been a factor, but, when they are forced to pay high prices for a very limited source of logs as they struggle to say in business, it is pretty tough to make necessary upgrades. A couple of those families had actually done exactly that when they built new mills. But, no logs means that even those new and more modern mills closed.

      • Dick’s comments are squarely on target. The Siuslaw and other westside forests have totally ignored the first “principle of the Northwest Forest Plan: “Never forget the human and economic dimensions of the issues”. In their single minded drive towards late successional reserves Oregon’s national forests have reduced their average annual cut to 6% of the growth. This while mills close, workers are idled and families disrupted, communities die, and school districts and counties face bankruptcy. The noble maxim, “Caring for the land and serving people” is now a tragic farce.

  8. I beg to differ — STRONGLY. The NW Forest Plan decreed the vast majority of Siuslaw NF to be late-successional and riparian reserves, allowing clearcutting in small remnant pieces of timber matrix — almost certainly occupied by owls and marbled murrelets; thus a non-starter, biologically and politically. The expectation was a probable sale quantity of 7 mmbf per year.

    Siuslaw has now been producing 40 mmbf per year reliably, without controversy, for nearly 20 years. I agree this is far below annual growth, but the growth is going nowhere. It will be sitting right there for future decision makers to decide its fate in another 20 years, when the thinning cycle is completed.

    This is a far different scenario than the former prospect of 80% of the Siuslaw NF reduced to plantations on a (at most) 70-year clearcutting cycle. This is not an industrial private tree farm, although it emulated one for many years. Get outside your bubble and ask those (like you, owners of these public lands) who were fed up with the timber regime from 1950-1990 if the FS honorably represented their notions of caring for the land and serving people?

    • Meanwhile, those mills, jobs, and taxes are gone and, unless our elected officials get some political gumption, they are probably gone forever. And then, to replace those, we’ve increasingly turned to imports, especially from the northern, old-growth, boreal forests of Canada! There is an ethical problem here but we seem pretty comfortable just sticking our head in the sand.

      Meantime, I once calculated it takes the Siuslaw maybe ten times more federal employees to produce a million board feet of logs as does private enterprise. Further, it seems as though those private “plantations” are incapable of providing fish, owls, water, recreation, etc. — hogwash.

      I get that the American public wants old trees, owls, water, fish, recreation, etc. but I also get that those same people want wood and are huge consumers of wood! Thus, why couldn’t the federal lands be intentionally managed on a long rotation? I’d think that the coastal Oregon Doug-fir forests could be nicely managed on a 200-year rotation. For the first 100 years, manage the daylights out of it: plant, spray, pre-commercially thin, and commercially thin it so that, at age 100, it is set up to quickly acquire old-growth characteristics. For the next 100 years, just walk away and let it be old-growth.

      At some point, fully half the forest would be old growth; far more than we currently have and,most likely, far, far more than has EVER existed. Thus, we have our cake and we’d get to eat it, too.

      At age 200, harvest it. And here comes the rub – there are some very vocal “conservation” groups who would howl in protest since these stands of trees would be, as always, “the last remnants of pristine temperate rainforest”! Would our elected officials have the political gumption to stand up and carry forward or would they cave? They’ve already answered that question.

      I agree, the Siuslaw is harvesting well below its annual growth and it is accumulating timber for future use should the public ever decide to use it. Would our elected officials have the political courage to harvest it? Again, I’d expect howls of protest and our federal land managers (i.e., our elected officials) would cave.

      An important point —– People like to throw bricks at how the national forests were “reduced” to plantations. What they forget is that, when I was in college (1960s), the best thinking of the day was to get rid of those old, decadent, low-producing forests as quickly as possible and replace them with young, vibrant, fast growing forests. In retrospect, that may/may not have been a mistake but it was the best politics, economics, and science of the day. That was our nation’s policy!

      As an aside: several years ago I went to a national SAF conference where the Forest Service had a huge and very elegant display. There was a lot about owls, water, restoration, etc. but one had to look very hard to find anything about national forests serving people and communities.

  9. I like the idea of a long “rotation”, although that is timber talk. I sense when the trees are 200, you’d clearcut them again. I would not. I would opt for systems that maintain continuous mature/OG cover — like selective cutting or small group selection. Some would argue this can’t be done in Doug Fir. To which I say it needs to be done, so figure out how to make it work.

  10. Timber talk? Actually, that is biology. Doug-fir must have sunlight if it is to successfully regenerate and thrive. Small openings would not do it since the surrounding trees would cast long shadows and little openings would be shaded too much of the time.

    Here is a question: since Doug-fir is shade intolerant and western hemlock and western red cedar are shade tolerant, then it is well established that, in the coastal PNW Doug-fir region, hemlock and cedar are the climax species. Further, since these species can reproduce in their own shade, then why is it that Lewis & Clark, David Douglas, Archibald Menzies, and others found vast Doug-fir forests; the concept of plant succession says they should have found vast forests of hemlock and cedar instead? My conclusion is that the Doug-fir region had constant disturbances; some were natural (wind, volcanoes, etc.) but many (most?) disturbances were human-caused (Zybach established this in his PhD dissertation).

    In other words, pre-settlement, the Indian was a very active and intentional manipulator of their environment. Why? Because, like us, they liked to eat! They understood that the deep, dark forest did not provide a plentiful supply of foods to gather and that the deer and elk they depended on didn’t find much forage. However, open up the forest, get lots of sunlight on the ground, and the food supply was vastly improved.

    That is not to say that every acre had been kept as an open forest but it does say it was a managed forest at the time of the Euro-American settlement. There were certainly drainages that had been not been burned for many decades or even centuries.

    Likewise, without the Indian’s management of the Willamette Valley, I’m convinced the settlers would have found conifer forests on the more upland soils and riparian forests on those soils prone to winter flooding. Early explorers complained about the lack of grass for their horses because of Indian burning. In other words, our “native” oak savannas and woodlands were actually created by people. That, of course, brings up the question, what is native, natural, pristine, etc.? And I must ask; isn’t the desire for LSR really a value construct?

    My thought for 200-year rotations is that there’d be a continuous supply of both early and late seral forests. And, yes, at age 200, I’d harvest though unit sizes wouldn’t necessarily have to be huge – maybe only 20-30 acres in size – unlike the large harvest units of the past. That simply means the forest would be a mosaic of parts that would be continuously moving about the landscape in both time and space.

    It also means our national forests would be both caring for the land AND serving people.

  11. The (long) march to today’s well-developed clearcutting systems in Doug fir had to overcome numerous challenges along the way. Why do we rely on planting, herbicides etc to restore cleared areas if sun-loving DF is easy to grow back? It’s not. Or at least it doesn’t tend to grow back naturally at densities of 400 trees per acre. It took dedicated work over decades to perfect industrial forestry in the Coast Range.

    The forest practices on pvt land should not be duplicated on public lands because they have differing missions. I am not aware that anybody has SERIOUSLY tried to develop what I’d describe as “continuous mature/OG forest cover” silviculture because of the dogma suggesting it’s not possible. Somebody (FS?) should take this on. I get your sarcasm, Dick. It’s novel because it would demonstrate you don’t have to destroy OG forests in the process of harvesting OG trees.

  12. The sarcasm was unintended; it is just that no one seems to believe that old-growth can grown/managed/harvested as part of a viable forest.

    Prof. Newton, OSU, has been growing and managing a stand of old-growth for quite some time and it seems to have all the elements of old-growth right outside town on the OSU forest. He says it is growing a tremendous amount of high quality wood. Further, it is nowhere the age of classic old growth. Why can’ his model be implemented on a larger scale? With sufficient vision and political will, it can be done.

    Doug-fir is pretty easy to establish. However, in the Coast Range, there are many competing species that are equally easy to establish and they do so much more quickly then the conifers. And, yes, it did take scientists quite a long time to figure out how to get past that competition and more quickly establish a new conifer forest.

    Further, we rely on replanting because the law requires it! Left to nature and all the competing species, regeneration is simply too risky and, even if it is successful, may take too many years. Owners who must turn a profit, employ people, pay taxes, and provide raw materials to the consumer, simply cannot ignore the law or take that risk.

  13. I’m not aware of any true OG on OSU forest… It may “look” like it though. But Newton is apparently striving to do what I’m describing — keeping continuous mature/OG cover while removing volume. I believe DF can be reestablished in such stands by carefully planting in selected microsites. Dick — are we agreeing on something here?? Amazing!

    BTW I know why planting is done — it was kind of a barbed rhetorical question. Humor apparently failed — not the first time for me.

    • At the time of settlement, there was several hundred (700?) acres of conifer on Mac Forest – half of it (160 or so years later) is still there. The rest of the forest was either treeless or oak savanna (i.e., had been intensively managed by the Kalapuya); the early surveryors sometimes went a quarter mile to find the nearest tree to mark as a bearing tree.

      Newton’s “OG” is to the east of Lewisburg Saddle and, if I’m not mistaken about 140 years old. He’s been managing this stand for the past 40 years or so and I’d defy anyone to say it looks like anything other than OG. His problem is that he has trouble convincing people that it has been managed and is still quite young; he really has trouble convincing people that it could serve as a viable model for long-totation management.

      He has removed some over-story and, to make sure there was a new generation of conifer understory, it was replanted. As I recall, the competing brush species have overwhelmed the conifer seedlings and there is a beautiful crop of Himalaya blackberry!

      The Siuslaw, at the upper end of Woods Creek, did some sort of harvest 35-40 years ago with a very different reforestation scheme. It regrew into a beautiful “crop” of vine maple and alder with a very minor component of conifer. My hunch is that there has been so much turnover of personnel on the forest that no one has any idea of the origins/intent for that area.

      [I remember an instance when OSU was going to do some sort of research project at the SW corner of Mac Forest and the neighbors were all up in arms. They regarded this as “their” forest; i.e., their kids and dogs roamed there and they saw it out their windows. I asked one fellow what it was that he really wanted; he replied that he wanted it to look as it did when the settlers arrived. If that was the case, I said he was the logger’s best friend. He, of course, was horrified by the very thought. It was pointed out that the trees he saw as “OG” were only about 90 years old and, therefore, didn’t even exist when the settlers arrived. He then thought that those original OG trees must have been logged to which I said to look around as, if that was the case, surely there’d be evidence of old stumps, logs, snags, etc. None of that was there but we did see evidence of a previous oak savanna/woodland. If he truly wanted the original forest, then those conifers had to go and periodic burning would be necessary to reacquire the oak savanna. My conclusion was that most people seem to think what they see in the forest has always been that way and that it will always be that way. In other words, their vision of time is too short to allow for the idea of an ever-changing forest.]


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