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Logging & Politics
Bob Luoto takes logging story to D.C.
By Bob Bruce
The father and son team of Bob and Kirk Luoto, of Cross and Crown Logging, have been spending a fair amount of time back in Washington D.C. these last few years knocking on doors and meeting with various senators and congressmen. A couple of those trips have been sponsored by John Deere. Other times, they have made the trip because Bob is Past President of the American Logger’s Council, and Current Chairman of the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) Board of Directors.
One of the key topics that the Luotos like to target is sustainable forestry. Not necessarily the warm fuzzy sustainable forestry of the eco warriors, but rather the kind of forestry that is sustainable because the industry that engages in forest management, harvesting, and production is allowed, and even encouraged, to remain healthy and profitable.
Bob and Kirk Luoto of Cross and Crown Logging
Disconnect in D.C.
The problem, according to Bob Luoto, is that there seems to be a real disconnect between what a lot of federal legislators think is going on within the timber industry and what is truly taking place out in the brush.
The concept of “just in time” resource scheduling has been around for some time in the manufacturing segment of the economy. It owes its popularity to the idea that by following the JIT philosophy, a company does not need to tie up a lot of money in inventory but can instead work lean and mean by bringing into the factory only those raw materials or subassemblies they need in order to cover the production requirements of the next week, for example.
In recent years, that concept has morphed into “agile” or “on demand” production, where the materials pipeline is only activated as needed. Part of the idea with agile production is that supposedly everybody downstream in the supply chain wins because the “produce on demand” workflow extends to everyone and nobody needs to maintain a large inventory of materials or subassemblies.
Of course for people in the timber industry, this model does not really make sense. The idea that if you need a load of lumber to build a house, you can just put in a call and the logger cuts down a tree (or two), the mill processes the logs into dimensional lumber, and a few days later, a flatbed delivers the lumber to the job site… well, that’s just nuts.
In spite of cost pressure and market expectations, the timber industry is not a commodity that the customer can switch on and off like a light bulb as needed.
“On our most recent trip to Washington with John Deere,” says Bob, “we were talking about things such as point source pollution that affect everyone in the logging industry throughout the country. We also talked about what are some of the things it’s going to take to keep our industry going, to sustain it; what it’s going to take to establish a stable infrastructure in our industry.”
Sustainable Forest vs. Sustainable Industry
Cross and Crown normally run three sides. That requires a variety of equipment, including this 350 Zaxis.
According to Luoto, it is important for lawmakers to understand that while thinning to reduce fuel load, replanting, and mitigating soil damage and runoff are key to sustaining healthy forests, they are not the same elements that will create a sustainable industry.
“I think they were a little bit taken aback when I explained to them how much infrastructure was leaving the industry and how difficult it would be to bring it back,” he says.
There are a lot of pressure points that are impacting this loss of infrastructure. Locking up Federal forest lands results in less domestic timber available to log. The plummeting new house construction industry results in less demand for lumber. A smaller market with lower prices means more mills close. Fewer trees being logged means more loggers go out of business.
The danger is, according to Luoto, when enough loggers quit and enough mills close, the logging industry could diminish to the point that instead of being an engine for economic growth, it may even hinder our economic recovery.
Connecting the Dots in D.C.
“When we go back to D.C., one of our goals is to help the lawmakers connect the dots between these various pressures affecting our industry. We try to put a face in front of the congressmen and senators. We are small business people, we employ people here in our country, and we are valuable. At the same time, our industry is starting to disappear, and that’s hurting the recovery of our country economically.”
If it seems odds that a successful logger would be spending his time and money mingling with politicians rather than working in the woods, Luoto says it’s because times have changed. “Thirty years ago, we were busy in the woods, we accepted what we had, and we thought we’d continue operating like that. But now that’s not the case.”
“Thirty years ago, we were busy in the woods, we accepted what we had, and we thought we’d continue operating like that. But now that’s not the case,” says Bob Luoto. Today, part of the job is communication to those outside the woods.
One big thing that has changed over the years – aside from the recent economic problems – has been the acceptance and adoption of global standards such as LEED that define sustainable forestry from the ecological and crop production standpoint. And that, in his view, is running counter to the goal of sustainable forestry from an industry viability standpoint.
“The LEED program, which was set up by the United States Green Building Council, currently only recognizes the FSC certification program,” he says. “The problem is there are very few mills who certify FSC wood in the United States, so they have to go overseas to get that wood, and that takes jobs and manufacturing dollars out of our country.”
Luoto isn’t advocating that we dump FSC certification as a means to solve that problem, only that LEED expand their criteria to include SFI and American Tree Farm System wood. “We’re saying a standard is fair, but let’s put all of us in that standard. It’s not a standards problem – the SFI is as tough, if not tougher than FSC.”
“SFI is the largest certification body in the world. We certify more land than anybody in the whole world, but the LEED guys are not looking at it that way. They are saying that our standard is not as good a standard as FSC, but that’s not true. They’re saying we are industry controlled. Well, our board is made up of 18 members; six are from the forest industry, six are from the environmental and conservation sector, and six are from the social sector.”
Fortunately, Luoto feels the message is getting through. “I think we’re getting the message out,” he says. “We have a lot of people back there in D.C. talking to them, but getting it done politically is going to be the tough part.”
There is hope for a solution. “It doesn’t do our environment any good when we’re skirmishing over ideology rather than doing what’s right for certification and the forests. What we’re hoping to do with these trips is let the lawmakers know what’s happening in our industry, and that if we lose too much infrastructure on our end, it’s going to be difficult to rebuild — and that will make it even harder to bring back the housing industry, the paper industry, etc.”
Cross & Crown generally runs three sides – two tower sides and one shovel side.
On the first tower side they have a Madill 6255 yarder with an Eagle carriage, a Cat 320 loader, a Hitachi 350 with a Waratah 624C head, and a D7 Cat.
The second tower side has a 172 Madill with a Bowman Z7900 skycar, a 2554 John Deere shovel, a Madill 2850C with a Waratah 624 head, a D8 Cat, and a D6 Cat.
The shovel side has a 350 Hitachi Zaxis shovel logger, a Cat 322 stroke delimber, a Cat 320 log loader, a Cat 300C, a Linkbelt 240LX, a John Deere 959K buncher, an 870C Tigercat hotsaw, a John Deere 690 shovel, a John Deere 650 dozer, and a Cat 518 skidder.