One of the things I like about our world is that you can come back in 40 years and people are sometimes talking about the same thing. In the early 80’s, I worked in south central Oregon, on the Deschutes, Fremont, Winema and Ochoco National Forests. We had a serious mountain pine beetle epidemic. One of our silviculture folks suggested that instead of dealing with all those dead trees, we should just put in a large fuel break around the town of Chiloquin. That idea was certainly thinking outside the box, but at the end of the day many of the dead trees were removed by Weyco (as I recall). The other idea that was much spoken of in those days was getting an OSB plant in Chiloquin. The problem at the time was that the Forest Service couldn’t provide assurances of its share of supply.
Flash forward to today. We’ve talked here before about the difficulties of fuel treatments in California (and elsewhere) because there are small trees to be removed, and there are no markets for small trees. Meanwhile, many environmental groups don’t want big trees removed. The fear is that fuel treatments will take all the big fire-resilient trees or that areas will be clearcut. The solution, perhaps, is to find markets for small trees.
So perhaps it seems like a win-win to establish an OSB plant in California. Having driven through California recently, I see that indeed many Californians use OSB. If we look at the map above of current OSB plants, we can see that these heavy products would have to be transported shorter distances potentially leading to fewer carbon emissions per OSB unit at point of use. And if California’s environmental restrictions on the plant are greater than elsewhere, and if a company can meet those restrictions, wouldn’t that be an improvement over other parts of the country?
Here’s part of the Beck Group’s analysis.
Our raw material supply analysis found that topwood from ongoing sawtimber harvests, small diameter trees from forest health treatments, and sawmill by-products such as lumber trim ends, slabs, and edgings could supply nearly 2 times the prospective plant’s annual raw material requirement. An additional consideration is that the recent wildfires in California, while unfortunate, and tragic may have created a situation where community and political leaders are ready to fully support a large wood products manufacturing facility that can utilize the fuel that has built up in the region’s forests.
At a production volume of 750 MMSF (3/8” basis) per year we estimate the nearby annual OSB market size is nearly 4 times larger than the capacity of the plant. We also estimate that a Northern California OSB plant would enjoy an average of about a $35/MSF finished product freight cost advantage over other North American OSB producers, which is about 15 percent of the long-term average OSB sales value.