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TimberWest January/February 2011

January/February 2012

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Riding out the Tough Time
California’s Lewis Logging

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California's Lewis LogginRiding out the Tough Times

California’s Lewis Logging

By Kathy Coatney

Lewis Logging, based in Fortuna, Calif., got its start after World War II when Edward Lewis, returned from service. He started working in the woods and eventually started up his own logging business. Today, Edward is gone, but his son Ed runs the operation.

Ed and younger brother Dean own two businesses. “The second, we call a tourist trap. It’s a novelty shop in an RV park,” says Lewis. “Dean manages the shop, and I run the logging operation.”

In the woods, Ed works alongside his youngest son — Ed Jr. “The plan is for him to take over as soon as I stumble,” Lewis jokes.

Lewis likes keeping the business in the family. “You see very few people that come into the logging industry from the outside. Somebody doesn’t just wake up and say, ‘oh, I think I’ll be a logger today.’ It’s either their family or somebody brings them into it,” he says.

Lewis believes that it’s hard to get started logging if you aren’t in it already, in part because of the expense and uncertainty.

Surviving the Ups and Downs

Lewis has seen the logging industry shrink in the decade or more since his father retired. Fifteen years ago, the company handled 50 million board feet of lumber. Currently, they are down to about 10 million board feet.

The drop was due to a couple of factors. One was the change in ownership of Pacific Lumber, which Lewis was working for. The second factor was the downturn in the economy. During this time, the company went from roughly 80 employees down to about 45 employees.

Lewis keeps his crews busy nearly year-round. Good weather and successful bids can keep his men in the woods 10 to 12 months a year.

Export Market

The export market has provided a much needed boost to Lewis and other coastal loggers. Lewis says the exports started late in the summer and fall of 2010, with most of the lumber going to China and Korea. Many small land owners that hadn’t been logging before are logging now because of the increased demand.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm out there right now,” Lewis says, and he sees the effects of the robust export market all up and down the coast, including Oregon and Washington.

Another benefit of the improved export market is the demand for lumber that the sawmills haven’t wanted. “They’re (export market) wanting a lot of white fur and spruce, which in the last 10 years, we had to export to Oregon in order to get somebody to buy it,” Lewis says.

It’s a double win for landowners, says Lewis. They can harvest this wood and have somewhere to sell it.

Mad Rush for Permits

In Lewis’ neck of the woods, spotted owl surveys normally start in March, but many landowners hadn’t been doing the surveys because there was no market for the timber.

“All of a sudden, the market opens up, and they’re not ready to go,” says Lewis. “Now, the big, mad rush is to get the permits.”

Because of this improved export market, U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson representing California District One advocated a one-year survey. This allows the permit process to go through faster.

“Typically it’s a two-year process to get the permits,” Lewis says, but that would have meant no one would be ready to harvest when it was time.

For about a decade, Lewis ran a chipping side using a Morbark chipper. “We got out of the chipping market about eight years ago,” he says. He’d still be chipping, but Pacific Lumber brought in someone else who could do it a little cheaper.

When Pacific Lumber hired the new chipper, Lewis sold his equipment and now focuses strictly on harvesting.

Ed Lewis of Lewis Logging says one of the benefits of a better export market is that there’s a demand for lumber that mills haven’t wanted.

Move to Thinning

For nearly 50 years, Lewis worked primarily for Pacific Lumber Company, but he recently transitioned to Humboldt Redwood Company. “Humboldt doesn’t do clear cuts and is all about thinning,” says Lewis.

A focus on thinning hasn’t meant much of a change in operation for the Lewis Logging Company. “We’d always thinned second growth redwood. That’s something we’d done for a long time,” he says. The company did, however, purchase smaller thinning-type yarders. He currently runs two Thunderbird TMY45 yarders with motorized carriages and four Edco Mustang yarders.

Lewis also uses Caterpillar (Cat) 325 log loaders. He prefers Cat equipment because of the reliable Cat dealer in his area. “They have a good rental program when we need to pick up equipment that we don’t have,” he adds.

Lewis also runs Cat D6H dozers too. “We have a D6H, a fixed boom grapple, and then we have another one that’s a swing boom grapple. We also have a couple of Cat skidders, 518s.”

Lewis does his own cutting and most of his chainsaws are 44S Stihls. He prefers Stihl in part because of their good, dependable dealership.

2011 Season

The 2011 season was a much better year than past years for Lewis, due for the most part to the robust export market, and he’s grateful for that.

“It’s a lot better than it’s been the last four or five years since the downturn of the housing market,” he says. And he’s optimistic about the year ahead.