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Small Log Conference
Living Locally, Surviving Globally

March 25-27, 2009 • Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

By Barbara Coyner

The fourth Small Log Conference, “Living Locally, Surviving Globally” clearly summarizes the forest industry’s current state of affairs. The connections between local logging contractors and mills, and the world beyond, have changed, sometimes drastically. Chalk some of that up to the big push for energy independence that seeps into everyone’s talk these days. Woody biomass has never looked so good, and with western forests needing a good dose of thinning out, biomass is there for co-generation, Fuels for Schools, gasification and cellulosic ethanol.

“There’s so much talk about woody biomass, but this conference is about so much more,” says conference manager Jan Raulin. “There is still a need for traditional wood products and lumber. People are looking for new ways to do things and do them better. We are all about thinking outside the box at this conference.”

Raulin points to a new optimism in the industry these days, singling out HewSaw’s North American division, now in the process of a major manufacturing expansion. “Clearly the HewSaw people feel good about the future or they wouldn’t be doing this major expansion,” Raulin adds.

Canadian HewSaw CEO Ed Mayer agrees, citing several reasons why his company will be the title sponsor for the fourth conference at Coeur d’Alene. “This is the only conference I know that brings together various industry related parties to have constructive presentations and discussions for overall enlightenment,” Mayer says. “Being a global, diverse company, we see that North America has the greatest potential worldwide for the wood industry, and we also see areas where it can improve to reach and maintain this potential. The conference is well worth the effort and we have seen positive results from previous years to encourage us and all other participants to keep the momentum going for everyone’s benefit.”

The small log utilization summit was initiated in 2004 by Timber West Magazine to encourage small log entrepreneurship. The well-established forum is now directed by the Montana Community Development Corporation, which runs the popular Smallwood Utilization Network’s online site, www.TimberBuySell.com. Based in Missoula, the website connects various small log products with national and international markets, and also updates readers on local and international markets and trends, as well as conferences and equipment development.

“We started out with two subscribers six years ago – my boss and me – and now we have over 10,000 subscribers,” says Craig Rawlings, Smallwood Utilization Network director and the brains behind the website. Rawlings is also a major planner for the upcoming Small Log Conference. “The conference is a natural fit for us. It is a good addition to what we do on the website.”

The conference speakers list reflects expertise in forest health, industry innovation, worldwide perspective and conservation interests. Such varied groups as the National Alliance of Forest Owners, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Future Forests LLC have joined the roster, bringing in business knowledge, science, equipment development and market trends. Neil Sampson, a nationally recognized forest consultant, kicks off the sessions on March 26, talking about how the public views forestry practices in the age of 24-hour news cycles.

“Forestry is increasingly more visible, and challenged to satisfy a broader audience than ever before,” says Sampson, who heads up the Sampson Group out of Alexandria, Virginia. “We do things to the forest that are instantly visible, but that have effects that take decades to fully unfold. The public is increasingly attuned to instant impact news, and that becomes a problem. If a forest harvest looks ragged today, but sets up an emerging forest that will be much better in 30-40 years as a result, how do we survive the instant criticism of the public?”

Among invited conference guests is tentative dinner speaker Chuck Leavell, conservationist and tree farmer at the Charlane Plantation in Bullard, Georgia. Keyboardist with the Rolling Stones, Leavell is co-founder of The Mother Nature Network. There will also be talks on the alphabet soup of REITs and TIMOs and how the national wood basket is filled. And small log mill owner Russ Vaagen, and cellulosic ethanol developer William Roe will talk about the various sides of who gets the woody biomass in today’s competitive markets.

A pre-conference tour on March 25 will showcase the Vaagen mill at Colville, and the nearby Avista wood waste energy plant at Kettle Falls. Both long-established businesses have sometimes competed for the same wood sources for over two decades, showing that the industry is flexible for a number of businesses.

As Craig Rawlings promotes the upcoming conference, he sees a venue that can help refine the wood products industry. Steeped in a wood products background that includes running sawmills and manufacturing sawmill equipment, Rawlings knows the players and the challenges. “When I came on as the smallwood coordinator, the market was like it is now, so people were willing to talk and consider new ideas. If a guy’s running a mill or post yard and you can show him how to make something new out of it, he’ll make the capital improvements necessary to stay in the game.”

The conference will present a whole new menu of ideas to add value to wood products, capitalize on the public mood, and promote forest health. Additionally, the Supplier’s Showcase will exhibit the latest in equipment and business concepts. To register for the conference, reserve exhibit space or get more information, contact Jan Raulin at tenaj@telus.net or 406-529-3352.