January February, 2004





Small Log Conference on Utilization
Focuses on
"Doing Something"

International Small Log Conference, March 31-April 2, 2004, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

By Barbara Coyner

As cinders rained down on sun-kissed Southern California beaches last fall, and flames overpowered whole forests, more than a few of the state’s residents questioned their preconceived environmental leanings. Wildfires up close and personal aren’t quite the same as the naive “save the forests” mantras recited by many urbanites. As favorite mountain retreats and homes burned, some warmed up to the idea of managed forests, forest thinning and even, dare we say it, logging. “They need to DO something,” one woman from La Mesa insisted as the huge fires edged closer to her home. Meanwhile, Christmas mudslides followed the wildfires in San Bernardino County, again reminding people of the need to “DO something.” Once President Bush signed the Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI) into law in December, members of the timber industry knew the opportunity was at hand to do what it does best — problem solve.

With Western forest industry leaders and innovators revved up and ready to move, they’re invited to circle March 31 to April 2, 2004 on their calendars and line up reservations for Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The industry-driven “Small Log Conference on Utilization” is no bureaucratic love fest, but rather an international gathering aimed at bringing all the players to the table to explore solutions. Speakers to-date include: Duane Vaagen, Vaagen Brothers Lumber, Inc. Todd Brinkmeyer, Plummer Forest Products Timo Riihelä, Finnforest Corporation Jim Petersen, Evergreen Magazine James Riley, Intermountain Forest Association Sponsored by TimberWest and featuring a Suppliers Showcase, the comprehensive conference reaches out to all forest-based businesses, public and private forest leaders, machine manufacturers, biomass innovators, indeed anyone looking for answers on what to do with the small-diameter logs and biomass threatening our forests. With another round of catastrophic wildfires fresh in the nation’s memory, forest industry people know the time is right to “DO something.”

Public Awareness
“There was really a sense of horror once the people recognized the seriousness of the problem, and they recognized how cleverly they’d been deceived,” said Jim Petersen, editor of the nationally acclaimed Evergreen Magazine and conference dinner speaker. “The public won’t accept wildfire. The people now know what’s possible and they’re not willing to accept fire when the alternative is thinning the forests they want to play in. The cat is out of the bag and people are beginning to see environmental activists for what they are. We need to move ahead, concentrate on stand density and vegetation management. If we don’t do something, we’ll lose large parts of the forests that the public treasures.” Petersen, who initiated the Evergreen Foundation in the mid-80s, has “ground-truthed” more of the nation’s forests than probably anyone else in the country and knows the conditions firsthand. Many credit him with first pointing out the seriousness of forest health issues back in 1990, starting the ball rolling for HFI. As a key speaker, he plans to share his perspectives on the magnitude of the problem and some possible directions, adding to the rallying cry to “DO something.” He notes that the public now gets its news and information from a variety of sources such as the Internet and cable news, and says citizens today are more wary of mainstream news sources and the frequent bias in favor of environmental extremism. Because of personal impacts from the fires and the new skepticism, Petersen anticipates that the public will be more receptive to industry-driven innovation. Yet industry has its troubles.

Creating Capacity
“The problem is a lot of the West’s manufacturing capacity is gone now, often because of the federal government’s empty promises. More public pressure is needed to get programs going and HFI offers some new hope. But if we don’t find ways to commercialize forest restoration, healthy forests will remain a distant dream. So long as we only have pilot programs, whether they’re funded either publicly or privately, we’re nowhere. We need a bigger scale to address the magnitude of the problem, and we need a viable free market and a solid infrastructure. Without those, even all the gold in Fort Knox can’t solve things for us.” Echoing conference co-chair Duane Vaagen, a Washington state sawmill owner, Petersen knows the technology to deal with small-diameter wood has been around a while. He also sees potential in biomass and in solid or fiberized wood, and figures the markets are ready for such products. Popular opinion, too, is developing. One big question mark, however, is the attitude of the government, which has often been manipulated toward doing nothing. “The government needs to get serious. We need a stable adequate supply of fiber. We might have to start over now and find the new markets and new people in the industry, because we have a loss of some of the old players who say they’ll never do business with the government again.”

Moving Forward
With more average citizens fluent in the lingo of forest health and wildfire danger, Petersen and other conference organizers plan to capitalize on the favorable climate and put things in context. Yes, the public wants and deserves clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat and recreation from its forests. Yet, as Petersen explains, “If we do the work necessary, that the public wants, wood becomes a byproduct of that quest.” No doubt conference backers expect Petersen to do what he does best: collect and present the facts, then motivate his listeners to decide for themselves. Beyond that, the connect-the-dots conference will offer a variety of experts and leaders in small-diameter log utilization, with each throwing out creative and well-researched angles on “doing something” with the abundance of small wood. Conference coordinator Jan Raulin says the stage is set for both organized discussions and casual and productive “down time,” maximizing opportunities for networking and problem solving. She says she’d also like to see politicians and rural developers jump into the mix because public policy continues to dictate much of forest management. Those wanting to register for the conference, participate in the Suppliers Showcase or get further information can contact Raulin at tenaj@telus.net , or by calling 1-866-221-1017 or (425) 778-3388 or by faxing (425) 771-3623. You can also log onto www.forestnet.com/slc 


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