Big Energy Around Small Wood

Third Small Log Conference Delivers the Goods…Again

By Barbara Coyner

A pre-conference tour showed what is happening on the ground with both harvest techniques and milling. Jeff Webber and Stimson Lumber presented a short course on mechanized logging of small-diameter wood on some of the company’s 330,000 acres of inland forests. From there, Russ Vaagen showed off Vaagen Brothers’ new small log stud mill at Usk, Wash.  

This March, the Small Log Conference delivered the full meal deal as forest products specialists, conservationists, agency and tribal members, biomass experts, community development gurus, and timber industry innovators came together again to deliver varied perspectives. Because the two-day Coeur d’Alene gathering concentrated on the big picture, topics covered everything from new small log technology, to supply and market trends, to the new alternative energy emphasis.

Woody Biomass: The Sleeping Giant?
The global energy situation took center stage, and Alaric Sample of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation in Washington D.C. spelled it out. “If we’re creative, we can discover opportunities that didn’t exist ten years ago. The future of forestry is determined not by traditional forest policy, but by energy policy.”                       

Sample described the evolving biomass facility at Lakeview, Ore. — a partnership between Collins Wood Products and DG Energy — that put a new 13-megawatt plant online. The plant will utilize area biomass, without cutting into traditional supplies for lumber. Phil Latos of Weyerhaeuser echoed biomass themes, acknowledging that there are now more market options for converting residuals to marketable energy.                       

Ed Gee, National Woody Biomass Utilization Team Leader for the Forest Service, brought the government perspective. “There has been a mission shift in public values,” he said, citing the influences of drought, wildfire, global climate change, and the Baby Boomer migration on federal forest policy.                       

The need for ecosystem restoration has instigated a call to action, said Gee, mentioning four main goals: reliable supply; partnerships; biomass utilization and increased markets; and a communication plan among players such as Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, and Department of Agriculture. “It used to be that we cut, piled, and burned, but now we have new uses for the material,” he said. Dinner speaker Marcia Patton-Mallory, Forest Service Biomass and Bioenergy Coordinator, emphasized the government’s need to integrate programs and not hamstring innovation.

Dealing Efficiently with Small Logs
The conference stuck to its mission of serving up a comprehensive look at small log utilization, with forestry specialists Vinny Corrao, Steve Henderson, Peter Ince, and Mike Covey covering market trends.                       

French forestry specialist Christian Lallia increased international understanding with a presentation on a successful small log mill in France, and British Columbia mill specialists Rod Gronlund and Bryant Hollins showcased high-speed small log mills in B.C. “We are on the doorstep of looking at the whole internal structure of a log, and that will be especially helpful withall the bug kill up north [in British Columbia],” Gronlund said.                       

In a presentation on a new stud mill at Centralia, Wash., Rusty Dramm of the Forest Products Lab stressed the need for mills to buy at lowest prices, improve harvest efficiency, utilize the best available equipment, and stick with single pass systems. Forest Service researcher Rob Rummer highlighted equipment breakthroughs, including a proposed hybrid called the “harwarder,” noting, “What we had as solutions five years ago aren’t what we’ll have in the future.” Two equipment profiles illustrated such evolution. Montana forester Craig Thomas presented his roll-off bins and bunks as solutions for handling woody biomass and small logs in tighter, road-less areas. And Washington sawmill owner Duane Vaagen touted the portable HewSaw sawmill he’s brought on board to take the milling process to the customer. The mill can process 8,000 to 9,000 acres of timber per year.

New Partners Change the Game
Community developers continue their symbiotic relationship with small log utilization, and stewardship contracts and tribal partnerships seem to be breaking new ground. Moderators Larry Potts and Jim Erickson both agreed that the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004 opened up thinning and biomass projects on tribal lands.                       

“We know who our public is, we know who we are, and we know we can get it done,” said Erickson, a Coulee Dam, Washington consultant. “With the Tribal Forest Protection Act, if a tribe proposes an action, the Forest Service can’t just say no. They have to negotiate in good faith.” Bernie Ryan, a BIA forest manager, detailed the Sixteen Springs Stewardship Project, a tribal partnership in New Mexico, as an example of how things are progressing in tribal forestry.                       

Although many conferees expressed doubts about cooperating with the Forest Service, Steve Campbell, an Arizona extension agent, laid the groundwork for successful collaboration with government entities. From there, Elaine Zieroth, forest supervisor for Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, tag-teamed, presenting an actual case study. The White Mountain Stewardship Project, a ten-year contract to thin 150,000 acres, is in its third year of success. “It doesn’t hurt to have a wildfire present a good teachable moment,” Zieroth said, noting that devastating fires brought groups together for solutions.

Ever Changing Industry
During Potlatch CEO Mike Covey’s presentation, the audience saw a new direction for large timber companies, with shorter rotations of 15 to 20 years instead of 30 to 40 years. As one conferee observed, industry’s direction toward real estate investment trusts (REITs,) instead of vertically integrated companies, sometimes redefines community as a group of shareholders rather than residents of a geographic area. Bill Ginn of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) said his organization continues to focus on biodiversity and forest health, yet he sees potential when people realize that healthy forests and healthy profits don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The fact that TNC’s Ginn and Bennett Forest Products CEO, Scott Atkison, co-chaired the Small Log Conference illustrated that small log challenges are finally coaxing diverse groups to work together.


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