The Joseph Timber Co.
mill yard, looking south.
by Tim Buckley
Strange bedfellows you might think
- a small non-profit organization with environmental leanings - being wed to a
traditional saw mill operation. But as they say: "If necessity is the
mother of invention, then resourcefulness is the father." The evaporation
of jobs and infrastructure in Oregon's northeast counties began many decades
ago. Neither mining nor agriculture could support the number of settlers and,
today, there are fewer people in Wallowa County then there were 80 years
The most recent employment crisis
came on the heels of listing salmon as an endangered species. Timber sales went
endangered, too, along with sawmills, timber support businesses, and community
jobs. Unemployment rates reached 20 percent this past winter. Necessity prompted
county officials and community leaders into action, dredging up all available
resources to rescue sagging industries, especially those that could support
Wallowa Resources is the
non-profit corporation started in 1997, in Enterprise, to tackle the economic
adversity head on. After a thorough inventory of the best remaining forest jobs,
their focus began with manufacturing. "Part of our mission is to protect
and promote forest health while maintaining jobs, but it is also to broaden the
understanding of the links between the forest and the community," said Nils
Christoffersen, project manager of Wallowa Resources.
"Nothing we found would have
more immediate impact on community stability and forest health than helping the
timber mill to stay open," Christoffersen added. "Our mill provides
year-round jobs at above-average wages, and has been retooled to handle the
smaller-diameter material that needs to come off our forests."
Overview of the small
timber value-added project at Joseph Timber. Logs will be kicked left of
right of the conveyor, depending on their best purpose - either studs,
flooring, or post and rail segments for decorative fencing.
Funded initially with a grant from
the USDA Rural Communities Assistance program and assistance from Sustainable
NW, Wallowa Resources quickly discovered that keeping the timber industry alive
in northeast Oregon meant the following things:
o Finding a reliable source of
marketable timber. Much of the private lands there are owned or managed by Boise
Cascade, and a majority of those resources are shipped to Boise's timber and
pulp mills elsewhere;
o Working with smaller, private
landowners to realize more value from their timber, while also finding a market
for products made from smaller logs;
o Promoting better forest
management techniques, to maximize forest health and the reduction of
o Helping Joseph Timber Company to
establish a better marketplace for its products by broadening its product mix.
During most of 2000, Joseph Timber
Company squeaked by, despite soft prices for dimensional lumber and the
increased difficulty of finding timber. According to Dave Shriner, the company's
recently retired general manager: "We processed 780,000 logs and produced
44 million feet of lumber in the past two years.
The average diameter was 7.2
inches," he said. Over the years, Joseph Timber Company had invested many
millions of dollars to modernize the mill around smaller logs. "We have
about the best technology you can buy," Shriner said, "including
Inovec scanning, positioning, and controls." In fact, the mill is equipped
with Oregon-based Inovec's "LogMaster" and CantMaster"
optimizers, which makes the most of each log's one pass through the
multiple-head saws. Shriner said computerization, lasers and robotics take most
of the decision-making away from operators. "We're getting to within a
1/1000 of an inch on both positioning and sawing," he said.
Yard waste recycling
machinery. Material is loaded at the left; conveyor belt takes it through
the Trommel screen (big tube in center of photo) where the
"fines" (sold for potting soil) drop out. Rocks exit out the
back to the right, into a truck; larger woody material exits the other
side, through a wet bath tank, and is later ground into mulch or hog fuel,
Other recent mill improvements
include an upgraded boiler, whose new steam reduction valve increases consistent
pressure and a steady rate of burn for the dry kilns. Regardless of upgrades and
efficiencies, however, the mill shut down in October, 2000, idling 67 people
simply because of dismal market conditions and scant log supply. "There
have been no public timber sales in this county for three years," Shriner
complained. For several years, Wallowa Resources had been using some of its
grant funding to research the prospect of bringing "Smartwood"
certification to interested private landowners as well as to the local
Smartwood is a designation for
timber that has been harvested based on a management plan tied to healthy
forests and sustainable logging practices. Vermont-based Smartwood has made two
trips to the Joseph area; the Joseph mill is now Smartwood certified, as is at
least one landowner. The Smartwood land audit and certification process can cost
landowners between "twenty cents and several hundred dollars an acre,
depending on the lot size," said Christoffersen.
Lining up rough cut
boards for re-saw in the Inovec CantMaster.
He tried a novel approach where
smaller wood lot owners could get certification costs reduced through an
"association" of owners. In the meantime, Wallowa Resources subsided
the cost of land audit and certification - as well as helped landowners with the
development of land management plans. They also worked on marketing - working
with developers, builders, retailers and consumers - to increase demand for
Smartwood products. When the mill reopened in May, it had a new profit center
based on a log yard waste reduction idea hatched by a broad-based government,
non-profit and industry study group.
As part of the plan, Joseph Timber
agreed to begin recycling 19 years worth of log yard residual. "We have
between 90,000 and 100,000 cubic yards of stockpiled waste," said Shriner.
"Frankly, it was amazing and gratifying to have the combined resources,
energy and effort from the Forest Service, EPA, Oregon DEQ and Economic
Development, working together with Wallowa Resources and us on a positive
solution to a common problem," he added. The heart of the reclamation
equipment is a Trommel screen and a wet bath tank.
It separates the dirt and
pulverized wood from rocks and larger chunks of wood, and deposits each onto its
own pile. The "fines" are mixed with ash from the mill's boiler and
sold to an Idaho company for potting soil. The "overs" are chipped up
into mulch or hog fuel and sold for a variety of purposes. The reclaimed rock is
used in road repairs. "The operation pays for itself," said Shriner,
and he estimates the backlog of accumulated materials will be gone in about six
What also helped the mill reopen
was a small investment by Community Solutions, Inc. (CSI), the for-profit
subsidiary of Wallowa Resources. The contribution helped Joseph Timber purchase
new equipment, owned by CSI and leased to the mill. The mill has agreed, as part
of the agreement, to have CSI as an equity partner in the business as well as a
partner in management decisions at the mill. Since Shriner retired in August -
after 23 years with the mill - CSI's president David Hockett has stepped in as
interim general manager.
The new star kicker
assembly, part of the post and pole project nearing completion.
This year Wallowa Resources
secured a National Fire Plan grant to purchase "Post and Pole"
processing equipment which will be leased to Joseph Timber Company and
integrated into their Chip and Saw system. "We're the only mill in the
county able to make a value-added product with small diameter pulp logs,"
said Hockett. "Adding the post and pole equipment makes us unique in the
Northwest." The project will also help landowners and managers, including
the Forest Service, reduce the buildup of fuels associated with devastating
wildfires in recent years, he added. Logs as small as 20 feet with a 3-inch
diameter - too small for most mill purposes - will now be sorted for new
On one side of Joseph Timber's new
log deck, the chip and saw system (Adco-West saw with Lindsay heads) will
produce studs, 4x4's, and eventually vertical grain flooring. On the other side,
the post and pole equipment will cut and shape the posts for use in decorative
fencing - flat on top and pointed at the bottom, with mortise holes drilled for
the 8 - 10 foot rails.
Precision Sawmill Systems, Inc. of
Superior, Montana, designed and manufactured the small log-processing center for
Joseph Timber. It will include two accumulation log decks, a Morbark log peeler,
Precision's Two Saw Trimmer, Mega Drill, Automatic Pointer Capper, and Double
End Tenon machine. From other sources, Joseph Timber is adding a step feeder,
WGBM scanner, and a star kicker.
Precison's part of the package
cost about $150,000, including freight and manpower, according to Precision's
Senior Project Manager, Michael McDonald. "Precision is the name of the
game with very small logs," said Shriner. "A few thousandths of an
inch makes the difference between a saleable stud at a 'standard or better'
grade - as opposed to a downgraded stud that's essentially worthless."
Creating new markets for the mill depends on a couple of things. First, Shriner
and Hockett believe that the post and pole operation will provide for new
customers in the west and southwest US, and that the products will be less
expensive than Canadian exports of a similar nature - all things except
transportation being equal.
The second value added piece - the
production and shipment of Smartwood certified lumber - depends on the number of
landowners that sign onto the program, as well as how the concept is accepted by
the consuming public. Christoffersen said he's optimistic that the mill and the
landowners will both profit from the new ventures. But perhaps the most notable
byproduct is the partnership itself. "I think other communities and mills
should look at this model," Christoffersen advised. Without the
partnership, Joseph Timber Company would most likely be closed. With the
partnership, the mill has hired back more than 40 employees, with additional
jobs pending the success of the post and pole operation.
Besides a net gain for the economy
and the community, Christoffersen said "we've been able to get past a
traditional impasse between environmental groups, the industry and the
communities. Everyone now believes that higher standards of forest management
can translate directly into a healthier forest and a healthier forest
industry," he concluded.
The success of Joseph Timber
was short lived. Since the writing of this article, the mill has been shut down
or various reasons. We are, however, running this article, to commend all those
taking creative and innovative stops to keep the timber industry alive in their
communities. Although they may not all be successful, only by taking bold steps
forward can we succeed.
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