Lee Peterman stands next to the first-of-its-kind electrically powered Timbery sawmill.Lee Peterman stands next to the first-of-its-kind electrically powered Timbery sawmill.

Small Woodlands Owners – Finding a Niche and Shaping the Future

Lee Peterman and Shirley Jolliff co-own 80 acres of mixed woodlands near Scio, in Linn County Oregon. Members of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association, the two are managing their land in what, today, might be seen as a paradigm-breaking fashion. Someday, however, they may be viewed as pioneers of innovation, helping to create the new forest and forest products industry, surely to be seen in the coming decades.

Lee and Shirley are preparing for a future in which fundamental change in the nature of the West’s forested regions is likely. From the use of solar power for home and forestry operations, to their purchase of the first-of-its-kind electrically powered Timbery sawmill and their hands-on restoration of a 22-acre boggy area to something like pre-settlement condition, Lee and Shirley epitomize the forward-looking attitude that may be necessary as the forest industry is reshaped to meet community desires and needs in decades to come.

Working with Different Wood

“Bogwood,’’ Lee and Shirley’s farm, is an 80-acre rectangular former woodlot comprised of what they describe as five “vaguely separate” forest types. “The northwest corner consists of about eight acres of predominantly Ponderosa pine, with mixed hardwoods like bigleaf maple, Oregon ash, and a few Oregon white oak. The nine-acre northeast corner is predominantly Douglas-fir with some scattered hardwoods. A 22-acre boggy zone contains scattered stands of conifers interspersed with plentiful Oregon ash and many Oregon white oak. A two-acre tall trees section escaped harvest in the late ‘90s, so trees in that stand are about 65 years old and are 90’–120’ tall. The South Forty is predominantly Doug-fir with quite a bit of bigleaf maple.”

On purchasing Bogwood, Lee says with a grin, “We inherited 20 years of benign neglect.” Short on knowledge about forests, the couple did have three important assets to bring to the table: an innovative outlook based in proactive environmentalism, a seemingly insatiable thirst for learning, and a dedication to restoring the health of their forest.

Lee PetermanPeterman and Jolliff use solar to also power their home in addition to their sawmill operation.

Leading the Way

Today, as president of the Linn County Small Woodlands Association, Lee writes, “I never thought I’d be the incoming president for the Linn County Small Woodlands Association; I never thought I’d be a “tree-guy” in Linn County either, but people rarely make big changes until events force them to, and life has a way of presenting one with opportunities that cannot be ignored. Bogwood . . . has been the very embodiment of the big change in my life, and the purchase of it has most certainly been the point at which my learning curve about white oak and wet-prairie restoration and all-things forest went from zero to stratospheric.”

Reaching Out

Going from “zero to stratospheric,” Lee says, involves a lot of time and effort. Over time the couple has tapped many sources. “OSU Extension forester Brad Withrow-Robinson and the Master Woodlands Managers in the Linn County chapter of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association generously provided a tremendous wealth of knowledge,” says Lee. “Shirley and I have also done a great deal of reading on our own, both online and using good ‘ol fashioned books, pamphlets, and handouts from lectures and presentations we’ve attended.”

Lee PetermanAll Electric

An early, successful, and easily replicable innovation Lee and Shirley believe may be an important approach to managing small woodlands in the future, was to go, so far as possible, 100 percent electric.

“When we purchased the property, it seemed a crime to subject it to additional abuse,” says Lee. “We decided to use no heavy equipment unless absolutely necessary, and we’ve not needed it yet. Shirley researched and had a 7kw solar PV system installed in 2015; it has enabled us to power all the tools and our home. The equipment we did purchase allows us to work without fumes and without further environmental degradation. A Polaris UTV powered by electricity is used to pull logs; a Greenworks 40V lithium ion battery-powered chainsaw and an electric chipper/shredder handle cutting and residue management; and most recently, a Timbery M100 5 hp electric sawmill was added to process logs into timbers, lumber, and other wood products.” Small logs are muscled out of the woods using a LogRite Junior Arch. “It works great and is easy on the soil,” adds Lee.

A foundational concept behind the couple’s approach was the idea that, “The light touch on the land is the right way for us to do the work, even if it is not necessarily the fastest, or easiest, way to do things; we, as small landowners/operators, can take our time to do things the way we want. At least in our case, not looking for the quick profit is liberating.”

120-Year Rotation, Starting in Five Years

Making extensive use of the non-log forest resource is a second innovation likely to play a big part in the forest industry’s future. “We have no plans to harvest in the traditional sense of timber production,” says Lee. “We tell folks ‘we’re on a 120-year rotation, starting in five years.’ But we do intend on thinning and cutting wildlife corridors through various stands and to release oaks where we find them. One viable commercial product from our land are broom handles, which we cut, trim, and sell so the fellow in Eugene at BroomMagic can produce the final product.”

Last year Shirley and Lee cut and bundled in excess of 2,600 sticks and delivered them to Eugene to be dried in a commercial kiln. “We’re also looking at cutting forest greens for local florists, as well as possibly seeding for mushroom stock,” says Lee. “We have massive quantities of Ponderosa pine cones and needles for Native American ceremonies. And with the Timbery, I’ll be milling for lumber used to build bird, bat, and owl nest boxes. We might possibly procure a still and distill essential oils from the various conifers, and I’ve sold suppressed Doug-fir trees as lodge/tipi poles to mountain man re-enactors. I’ve also made more than a few dollars selling walking sticks from de-spiked [invasive] English hawthorn.”

The “big guys” in the forest industry, Lee points out, tend to focus on production logging of a small number of species. That means a wide open, and sometimes quite lucrative, marketplace is available to open-minded and inventive owners of non-industrial forests.

Adapting to Change

Perhaps the most important impact Lee, Shirley, and their fellow small woodlands owners are likely to have on the future is in working their forests today to be adaptable to change. Adaptability, Lee says, is a key to the resilience and health of the West Coast forest of the future. Reporting to his association membership on recent think tank presentations, Lee wrote, “The clear and oft-repeated theme from nearly all speakers was greater diversity in riparian areas and forested land; mono-cultures like ash forests and even-aged Doug-fir plantations will be doomed either through infestation or the warming climate.”

Lee continued, “There is unambiguous evidence that climate change is causing both plant and animal species to relocate northerly. Species of trees from northern California and southern Oregon are poised to fill niches soon to be vacated by Willamette Valley natives as they die off here.” Lee also notes that the emerald ash borer is moving west and is projected to devastate ash throughout the region.

“What we’re doing at Bogwood by thinning and restoring stands is helping to keep our trees healthy and to regain some balance in the local eco-system. By creating a haven for a diverse population of flora and fauna, we’re helping, even in a small way.”

Lee points to his recent purchase of the electric Timbery thin-kerf sawmill as an example of his contention that “Going green is easy.” While he has no intention of logging commercially, he says, “We knew we’d have to do something with the culled/thinned trees we’re removing for forest health. Most are too small for a commercial mill to take. I have dozens of projects I’d like to accomplish. By having the mill set up as it is, I can fell/thin trees as necessary for forest health and fire resistance, and then I can use the milled lumber immediately for projects.”

Change is often the handmaiden of opportunity. At Bogwood, Lee and Shirley are successfully demonstrating at least some aspects of the change the forest industry is likely to experience in the coming decades. 

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