Collins Pine harvests their second billionth board foot
By Kurt Glaeseman
1: Collin Pine in Chester, CA 2: Jay Francis, Collin Pine Forest Manager, by The Tree 3: Collin Pine Forester Brook Darley 4: Eric Schooler, president (CEO) of the Collins Companies 5: Maribeth Collins, Matriarch of Collins Family
6: Members of the Jim Froome Logging Contractor Crew
Bah? Humbug? Not exactly. The Big Event for Collins Pine in Chester, Calif., may have taken place in the Humbug Valley, but skeptics and cynics were not to be had. On the morning of September 25, 2000, a group of Collins Pine employees, Collins family members, historians, television crewmen, reporters, and representatives from several environmental and silvicultural groups met at the main office in Chester. They caravaned to the Humbug Valley to witness the falling of a 130 year old ponderosa pine that would produce the two billionth board foot of lumber for this highly respected lumber company. Long watched and admired for their sustained yield timberland and the family's philanthropic social views, Collins Pine (officially The Collins Companies) has championed a thinning and conservative cut program with 556 growth plots closely monitored over the last half century.
It is only natural that current timberland owners and foresters look to Collins Pine for information and direction. The two billionth board foot through the Chester mill proves that their system is working. As sawmills go, Collins Pine is pretty much an oldtimer. The company started in the 1850s in Pennsylvania, where there is still a hardwood mill with about 125,000 acres of timber. E.S. Collins came to the West at the turn of the last century and bought large tracts of land in Oregon, Washington and California. The Chester mill, near the popular Lake Almanor resort area, was finished in 1943, and it supplied logs to the Red River Lumber Company in 1941 and 1942. The Collins family was never afraid to experiment. As the mill grew larger, E.S. Collins' son Truman added a flakeboard plant which operated from 1961 to 1985.
Today the mill still operates from the original tract of timberland, from which it gets a sustained yield of about 30 million board feet per year. Another 2530 million board feet comes from the outside - from private and Forest Service sales. The Collins holdings are about 94,000 acres, of which 8687 thousand acres are timber. Interestingly, about 54 percent of this is owned by the Methodist Church, willed to the Church by E.S. Collins to subsidize retirement for Methodist missionaries. The church has no daytoday say in the management of this property; it is planned and administered by the Collins Pine professional personnel. Another sign of the responsible social role Collins Pine plays in the community is their sponsorship of an Almanor Scholarship fund, which makes money available to any graduate of Chester High School who carries at least 12 units per quarter and maintains a 3.0 or better undergraduate GPA. One of the keynote speakers for this two billionth board foot celebration was Wally Reed, the Collins Pine Forest Manager from 1941 to 1978 and a real legend with the company.
He remembers when logging began in 1941 in the Collins Almanor Forest, when they first cut 25 million foot for the Red River Lumber Company. "It was different then. We cut no fir, only pine - and that down to a minimum of 24 inches dbh. But already Truman Collins was wary. We learned early in the game that the onecut system wasn't the way to manage a multiple species forest, so Collins started putting in plot systems for individual studies. We learned in ten years what we ought to be logging and what we ought to be keeping. And now you see us here today with the fourth harvest on the same piece of property." "Collins Pine was dedicated to offroad logging, which was one of the economies that made our system work," adds Reed.
"We also cut a million foot of dead pine trees, killed during the drought. Truman was in favor of what we called 'sanitation logging' - cutting dead, distressed or high-risk trees. We operated a whole winter on this salvage logging, for the lumber in the sugar and ponderosa pine was still good. Not all folks saw the logic of this, but Truman was a very progressive thinker. He felt he had an obligation to manage the forests for future generations. Of course it was not always easy converting clearcut loggers into selective loggers. Today Collins Pine no longer retains their fleet of off highway logging trucks, but many locals still remember the "monsters" - mostly Kenworths, ranging in vintage from 1938 to 1957. With their 10 to 12 foot wide bunks, they could carry a gross weight of over 200,000 pounds, or 15,500 foot per truck, compared to 4,500 to 5,000 foot on a standard highway rig to today.
Now the road building and maintenance on the 700plus miles of Collins roads are contracted out, and Collins no longer has a traditional road crew. Another change that old timers notice is the elimination of the 40acre log pond, long a part of the indigenous scenery in Chester. Environmentally the log pond had become a real liability. In the summer months, the combination of the warm water and the wood sugars, serving as nutrients, stimulated the growth of an unappealing slime bacterium. When water containing this bacterium was discharged into the North Fork of the Feather River and ultimately into Lake Almanor, it was feared that the resulting slime would settle on the gravel and interfere with fish spawning. The bacterium could be controlled with copper sulfate, but that in turn produced hydrogen sulfide with its objectionable odor.
A second reason for the demise of the pond was that the mill was getting more and more smaller logs, so management decided to develop a new infeed system. Modern thinning strategy produces a lot more small logs, but the celebrated ponderosa pine cut for the second billionth board foot of lumber was a big, healthy tree around 130 years old. It stood 130 foot tall, and 120 foot was retrieved as logs. The logging contractor was Jim Froome from Red Bluff, Calif. After a photo session with Collins Pine personnel and the Collins family and legendary figures like Forester/Logger Wally Reed and Logger Bill Howe, faller Dave Davidson and wedgeman James Brown dropped the big tree precisely where marked. Brook Darley, Forester with Collins Pine, who handles a lot of the logging details spoke highly of the loggers used by Collins Pine, "Some of the same loggers come back year after year.
Essentially we train them, and they are knowledgeable about wildlife and soil and watershed and political issues. They know what we require of them, and they make it easier for us to maintain high standards in responsible forestry." Froome uses a combination of CAT D5H High Track grapple, a D7, a 518 rubbertired skidder, and a Komatsu PC 300LG loader. Darby Strong, operators a D5 High Track Grapple. "It's a real great machine, good for speed and finesse," says Strong. "It gets in tight spaces and works steep ground really well. It's great for small timber, but also does well with big stuff. And we get good service from the Peterson Company in Redding." When the big tree was cut and loaded onto a waiting truck, Bill Howe, retired Forest Manager and Logging Superintendent who worked for Collins for 23 years, drove it back to Chester to the mill.
The caravan returned to the Collins Pine park in front of the mill, where guests were treated to soft drinks, sandwiches and a commemorative cap. Jay Francis, present Forest Manager for Collins in Chester, coordinated the event and served as emcee. He adroitly turned the attention from the tree itself to the contributions of the Collins family, who pioneered responsible forest stewardship and leadership in thinning trees to promote a high sustainable yield. He paraphrased Truman Collins' philosophy succinctly, "Once you cut it all and it's gone, you don't have as many options. We are looking at a forest planned for the future, one that will exist in perpetuity."
And when family matriarch Maribeth Collins responded, she thanked everyone and ended quite simply, "If Truman were here, he would have been very proud to see how the forest looks today." In the meantime the logs from the Big Tree had arrived at the mill where they were to begin their ultimate journey: a 60 inch Nicholson Debarker, a Salem or a Klamath Machine Works Carriage, Portland Iron Works Edgers, a converted Sherman Gang, a Klamath Iron Works 8foot Resaw, and an Irvington Moore Trimmer. Because this lumber comes from a Certified Forest, it could go to highly specialized and demanding markets, like a European certified lumber mouse trap, or could end up in a new California house.
Buyers trust the lumber standards from Collins Pine, because those standards are an inherent part of the company. Throughout the mill are posted no nonsense signs with bold black print on a white background: QUALITY IS WHAT THE CUSTOMER SAYS IT IS. Nothing goes to waste at the mill. Although most of the logs cut are white fir and ponderosa pine, there are some Doug fir, lodgepole pine, sugar pine and incense cedar.
A specialty shop at the mill does some finger jointing, creates blocks, and manufactures cedar pencil stock. In 1986 Collins Pine built a state-of-the-art 12 megawatt cogeneration facility, complete with wet electrostatic precipitator. By using their own hog fuel, barks, chips and shavings, the facility is almost self-sufficient, but the company has to meet ever more stringent pollution requirements. Then too there is a question about the economic effectiveness of the facility. It can generate about 10.5 to 11.5 megawatts of electricity, but the mill needs only about 4.
The idea was that the balance could be sold to Pacific Gas & Electric, but with varying prices and a variable natural gas supply, Collins Pine at one time almost gave the electricity away. But the underlying theory is a good one - burn what was once considered waste and make steam to create energy that was not previously available. It's the Collins' way. Bill Howe, who worked 23 years for the Collins family, recognizes the legacy they have created, "One great thing about logging for this family was that you could always be proud. The owners were the ones who developed the philosophy. The family made sure the forest was not destroyed forever. Everyone knew Truman Collins. His stories floated like whiffs of campfire smoke through my career as a logger and forester. And here we are today, standing among living proof of a sustainable forest." Today they're hard at work on their third billion.
This page was last updated on Monday, November 10, 2003