May June 2005




Small Log Conference Fires Up Participants

By Barbara Coyner


Jim Doran, right, of the Northwest Washington Forestry Coalition, discusses important issues with Mark Rey, Under Secretary of Agriculture and conference speaker.

This April, the Log Conference, "Creating Capacity to Compete," gathered a diverse group, bringing business leaders, international forestry experts, community developers and innovators together for two days of up-to-the-minute information on small log utilization. Conference goers left the Coeur d’Alene Resort not only better informed, but also ready to launch several new ideas.

Pulling Together Information
"The content of the conference was the reason I attended," said Kathy Robles, a representative from the San Bernardino County Department of Economic and Community Development. "There just wasn’t anywhere else I could get the information I wanted and needed." Most everyone remembers how hard the San Bernardino Mountains got hammered by wildfires a couple of years ago, but probably few know that most of the region’s timber infrastructure has dried up and blown away. The area has a problem, a huge problem. How do you find people to thin out acres and acres of diseased trees and overstocked forests, when loggers are in short supply? And what do you do with all the wood if it is logged, when mills closed their doors years ago? Kathy Robles traveled to the North Idaho conference as a fact finder, and she went home armed with names and numbers. "I expected to learn the basics of the industry at the conference, from milling to transportation to permitting," said Robles. "I went on the mill tour to see a mill in action and I saw exactly that. Vaagen’s high tech mill was amazing, and Stimson’s mill in Coeur d’Alene was just as amazing. Additionally, I wanted to learn how the Northwest was dealing with the Forest Service and the environmentalists. I wanted to meet equipment companies and wood products manufacturers. I met a company from Canada that sells mobile mills, which was very interesting. I made great connections, from Pony Lumber in Washington, to Four Corners Consulting Group out of New Mexico. They were very helpful and easy to talk to. I learned a lot about the industry, which is one of the big reasons I went to the conference."

Optimism for the Future
If Robles brought curiosity to the conference, Elaine Zieroth, Supervisor of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, brought hope that the Forest Service can move beyond gridlock. Zieroth helped forge the White Mountain Stewardship Project, the first large-scale 10-year stewardship project in the nation. The project focuses on forest restoration and wildfire reduction, with 5,000 to 25,000 acres scheduled for treatment each year for ten years. The project even earned the support of local environmentalists who emphasized the need for forest thinning especially around the urban interface. Rob Davis presented the business side of the White Mountain project, explaining that his pellet enterprise teamed up with a mill, a logging contractor and other value-added interests to bid on the timber. Collaboration was a huge part of the package, and according to Davis, "Everybody sat down and talked and got to know each other before coming to middle ground. Not everyone got all they wanted."

"Collaboration" has been a frequent buzzword, but does it work? Many conference attendees know the game and some have actually bulldozed through old prejudices, gaining momentum for action. Several rural community collaborators actually wanted to test speaker Mark Rey, Under Secretary of Agriculture, to see if the Forest Service is finally willing — or able — to collaborate, especially as disease and wildfire threaten western forests. "We want to focus national policy through the prism of locally developed plans," Rey said during his morning presentation. "One of the most important factors in our current situation is a greater, deeper public involvement in what’s needed and what is being done. Fires were the red flag and now there’s more public awareness, but time is also a critical component."

Panels & Key Players
If Rey talked of collaboration and outcomes in the abstract, the dinner panel showed an actual case study. There on one platform were the key players: Jim Doran, an attorney from Twisp, Washington, and Executive Director of the Northwest Washington Forestry Coalition; Mike Peterson, head of the Spokane-based Public Lands Council, and an admitted ex-Earth Firster; Lloyd McGee, a land and log buyer for Vaagen Brothers Lumber of Colville; and Rick Brazell, Supervisor of the Colville National Forest. "We wanted to have an authentic dialogue, and do something that wouldn’t get appealed," said Doran of the group’s initial goals. "The timber wars haven’t done any good. We are problem solvers in our group, because we’ve seen the ecosystem falling apart, communities hurting and we know that our communities need wildfire protection plans. We want a can-do attitude, we want 30,000 acres dealt with and we want to keep the receipts for improvements." The dynamic panel clearly showed that collaboration is a building process, but with dedicated players, the outcome benefits everyone. As Mike Peterson noted, "You can’t fix things by stopping things."

Jeff Webber of Stimson Lumber talks over the fine points of saw blades as Mark Knaebe of the Forest Products Lab, and Ken Lozeau of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, listen.

Looking for Answers
The conference toggled between regional solutions and the big picture, with presentations from international experts such as Ed Pepke of the United Nations, as well as a stellar lineup of economists, wood products entrepreneurs, industry innovators and tribal leaders. Mill interests such as Bill Mulligan of Three Rivers Timber (Idaho), Loren Rose of Pyramid Lumber (Montana), and Ken Judge of Plum Creek (Montana) talked honestly about investment in small logs, each sharing a specific angle, as luncheon speaker Jim Riley of Intermountain Forest Industries brought home the importance of keeping such processing capacity in place.

Mill tour participants check out Vaagen Lumber’s hard-working crane

During the breaks, networking continued full bore with exhibits on the latest equipment, community development coalitions, and value-added ideas. Exhibitor Ron Ricketts of New Growth Interior Alaska spread the gospel of Alaska’s business opportunities, while Tricon Timber of St. Regis handed out samples of its handsome larch flooring. HewSaw, a conference sponsor, eagerly shared its progress in installing a new unit at Ponderay Valley Fibre at Usk, Wash. And Catherine Mater, Mike O’Halloran and Duane Vaagen painted the real picture on supply and capacity, both in the Northwest and in the nation. The sold-out mill tour contrasted a conventional mill at Stimson and a small log mill at Vaagen’s, demonstrating how wood is handled, and in the case of Vaagen’s, how wood energy enhances profits and utilization. Specialists from the Forest Service Wood Products Lab in Wisconsin, meanwhile, presented real figures on wood power.

TimberWest’s Jeff Pearce and Craig Rawlings of Montana Community Development Corporation climb down from the top of the crane.

Back in 2007
According to Conference Manager, Jan Raulin, attendance was up over the last year. And the confernce will now go to an every-other-year format — slated for Coeur d’Alene in 2007. "It was great to see all the energy combining from the speakers, exhibitors and delegates," Raulin said. "People came from all over, from the Yukon and Arizona, from overseas, New Mexico, California and Canada, because they all want to connect and work together. We truly are connecting the dots." For more information on the 2007 Small Log Conference, please contact TimberWest or log on to our website for future postings.


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This page was last updated on Sunday, August 14, 2005