Forest Products Industry Must Build Bridge to Next Century

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Oregon Logging Conference – Cut-to-Length Seen as Gaining Acceptance in NW

Cut-to-Length Featured Prominently at Oregon Logging Conference, Seen as Gaining Acceptance in NW
By Jack Petree
Contributing Author

EUGENE, Ore. — The Oregon Logging Conference has a theme each year. The theme this year, “The Bridge to the 21st Century Will Be Wood,” was selected to emphasize the continuing need for wood products and the bright future ahead for the forest products industry. The bridge concept was emphasized in addresses and seminars presented throughout the 62nd annual Oregon Logging Conference.

“The basis for the theme came to me as I thought about how far we have come in this industry and how incredibly important our efforts will be well into the future,” said Mike Randall, timber manager for Swanson Brothers of Noti, Ore., who came up with the concept. “The idea of a bridge seemed to visually depict a spanning of the timber industry into the next millennium as we continue to progress, refine, and develop wise forest management practices.”

Perhaps just as important in demonstrating the commitment of the forest products industry to the future was the emphasis of its suppliers on new technology. An estimated $150 million worth of equipment was displayed and demonstrated at the event. Anyone strolling the grounds would have been compelled to realize that the industry has become one that is intensely interested in conserving natural resources. The emphasis clearly was on conserving forest resources in concert with timber harvesting operations. Cut-to-length technology and other advanced approaches were much in evidence at the show and drew a great amount of interest.

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If there really is going to be a bridge to the 21st century made of wood, then it is up to the forest products industry to build it on a foundation of trust and truth, said Robert Dr. Robert G. Lee, a professor in the college of natural resources at the University of Washington. Robert, a specialist in the sociology of natural resources and a well known champion for timber communities, was the keynote speaker for the conference.

The idea of a bridge is important because while most of society wants to consume the goods that are produced as a result of the activities of the forest products industry, people also want to see themselves as being good environmental stewards, Robert said. If the industry wants to become healthy and viable for the long term, then it must not only be able to harvest and process wood fiber, but it also must be able to do it in a way that society can look at as fulfilling society’s goals for responsible use of the resource.

The forest products industry must build up its stock of social capital, according to Robert, convincing society that it is an industry providing products that are important to consumers and doing so in a way that improves natural resources rather than harms them.

A bridge, Robert noted, is only sound if the bedrock it is built on is solid. The timber industry likewise needs to strengthen the bedrock of its bridge to the future; it must be viewed by society as an industry that can be counted on to keep commitments, that reciprocates honorably, and avoids unbridled opportunism.

Truth is built when people can face facts and recognize self-deception and collective deception, said Robert. The timber industry is viewed as being honest when it demands sound science and acts on it; it is considered worthy of trust when it is seen as being actively involved with society in collaborative problem solving that benefits society ahead of itself. If the industry builds its bridges based on truth and trust, it will be rewarded.

Society has a real stake in the future of the forest products industry, Robert pointed out. The importance of the forest products industry to producer communities has been much discussed, but not as much attention has been paid to the equal importance of the industry to consumer communities. “The cities are really more dependent on wood products than the timber communities are,” he said.

Convince society that the industry is beneficial, and society will come to value and support it, Robert argued. Now is the time to be building that bridge, he said, because a gulf is growing between traditional opponents of the forest products industry and society. Studies show that public trust is declining in large institutions like the media, government, the military, corporations, education, and environmental groups. At the same time, public trust is growing in community-based government, small groups, collaborative decision making, and small business.

Advocates of the forest products industry can strengthen the bedrock of truth and trust and built social capital by joining and forming associations and focusing on the human scale, challenging deceptions and the denial of reality, affirming people and businesses as stewardship resources, and knowing and supporting sound science and religion, said Robert. These activities will help the industry to foster public trust and to develop the necessary social capital to position itself as an enterprise that society considers to be valid.

While the forest products industry needs to communicate to society what it is accomplishing to conserve and sustain natural resources, it is even more important to ‘walk the walk.’ The industry’s commitment to advance timber harvesting technology that will improve stewardship of natural resources was very much in evidence at the Oregon Logging Conference. Many suppliers exhibited the latest in environmentally-friendly logging

Cut-to-length technology was featured prominently at the event. Dealers such as PBI Machinery, Totem Equipment, and Pacific North Equipment showed off cut-to-length options, such as Valmet’s 921 harvester and Timberjack’s line of forwarders.

The presence of cut-to-length systems at the conference was significant because the Northwest has been one of the slowest regions in the country to adopt the technology. However, the reluctance toward cut-to-length in the region is changing rapidly, according to Rene’ van der Merwe, sales manager for Totem Equipment, a Valmet dealer servicing much of the Northwest. “People are realizing that if you want to be logging in an environmentally conscious world, you’re going to have to go to cut-to-length,” she said. “In much of the world the majority of the logging is done using cut-to-length. We’re beginning to slowly see that become the rule in the Northwest as well. The industry is discovering how important full utilization of the resource and environmental preservation is to the bottom line.”

Kent Stevens, a territory manager for PBI Machinery, dealers for Valmet, Timbco, and other manufacturers of cut-to-length logging machines, said that public acceptance of the forest products industry has become very important. “The best opportunity to gain that acceptance,” he said, “is by managing the forests better through thinning of dead, diseased, and surplus trees, and cut-to-length is the best way to accomplish that. So acceptance of cut-to-length is developing throughout the Northwest.”

Cut-to-length is proving to be the leading technology for the next century, according to Timberjack’s Tim White. The only real obstacle to rapid acceptance of cut-to-length in the region is the preference that Northwest mills have for receiving tree-length logs, he said. The preference is partly based on the fact that the Scribner log scaling system, which is still widely used by mills to scale logs, will find that a long, tree-length log contains less lumber than an equivalent tree that is already cut up and delivered to the mill in shorter segments; the mills get more production over-runs from long logs than short ones. “That’s changing rapidly though,” Tim said. “Cut-to-length is here, and you can clearly see that at this show.”

As the forest products industry embarks on a new century, it must build a bridge between the old ways and the new as well as a bridge between the industry and the people it serves. At the Oregon Logging Conference, members of the industry were given the tools to learn both how to build that bridge and to cross over it and forge a new relationship with the society it does so much to support.