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Thread: A Day with a Forester

  1. #1

    A Day with a Forester

    Every few years I get a Forester in and we walk the woodlot. I didn't have time to walk a lot of it yesterday with one, but we covered about 300 acres and overall he gave it a clean bill of health. This was surprising because a forest pathologist had written off some of my Hackmatack Tree plantations as being over run by a bark beetle infestation. It seems this was contained to only 3 acres of a 12 acre plantation. Another acre will have to be removed but of 12 acres, 2/3 of it seems very healthy and growing vigorously.

    I actually got him on-farm because I need to expand for my sheep and I was leery at putting the saw to some very big Spruce in this one area of the woodlot. The trees are massive, 100 years old or so, but the overstory has shaded out the soil and very little regeneration has started. In other words its nice wood,. but old and not growing or reseeding. After reviewing everything he felt it was better to harvest that acreage and use for pasture then to cut the tree plantations. From a logistics point of view such as access and fencing, this was great news.

    But the majority of what we talked about was marketing and this a lot of woodworkers will relate to even if you don't have a few acres of your own. The market here on forest land has tanked, and in a 20 mile ride from my house I know 10 farmers that are clear-cutting and putting in bigger fields. The problem is the papermills have closed up, and the few that remain are taking hardwood pulp. My woodlot is mostly softwood.

    Softwood made for really good newsprint...but with online newspapers, paper newspapers are a thing of the past. Last year I harvested 12 cords of softwood pulp and got 880 bucks for the load. This Spring I got 400 dollars for 12 cords of softwood pulp. My last two loads of wood (12 cord a piece) got me 210 bucks and 213 bucks for 12 cords of wood...and I was darn lucky to get rid of it. Spruce logs tumbled from 400 per thousand to 200 per thousand and I have TONS of that. Hemlock is not much better, but it is holding its value only because it was so low to start with it did not have far to fall.

    But Hardwood is downright scary. Both the forester and I see a very dire outlook for Hardwood Logs destined to make lumber. Here the papermills have figured out how to make paper with hardwood and they are buying it up at higher rates then firewood or the sawlogs. At the same time the wood coming from abroad is bigger, cheaper to harvest and transport, and is flooding the market.

    The wife just bought 2 end tables that were made of solid wood, well made, no funny fasteners and look darn good...for $30 bucks. It is made of monkey wood, but closely resembles cherry...I could not buy the finish for that much less domestic hardwood. Where are the domestic hardwoods going to go in a few years. In Maine we have already lost the turning industry that turned White Birch, Yellow Birch and Beech into spools and whatnot. They are all used to make paper now. With the demand for that so high...landowners will start low grading which is harvesting their wood on shorter cycles and not letting their trees get big. Why should they if the hardwood market is lost and hardwood pulp is paying so much. The days of 30-40 year harvesting cycles are over and I am seeing lots harvested as short as every 15 years now.

    But there is an even bigger threat looming on the horizon. Maine is 90% forested and oil is expensive. Biomass is growing and more and more trees are being chipped and burned. With wood chippers able to take 3 foot trees at once, more and more logging outfits are simply chipping the wood. The price is low but it is faster and easier to blow a tree into a chipper then it is to sort it out into logs and get marginally better prices for it. As that price erodes more and hardwood logs lose their value...more hardwood lumber is going to be blown into the back of a chip van and burned to make electricity for the grid. Quite sad indeed.

    Overall despite the gloomy outlook on Maine's forests, the day was encouraging. He liked the way I have harvested wood over the last 20 years and overall the forest is very healthy and productive. More importantly it has a nice mix of big, small and medium diamters with good diversity between the species of trees. That means for the moment it is better to maintain the woodlot as a woodlot and limit the conversion back to farmland to a few small areas. The key word there is "for the moment". Him and I both agreed that there needs to be a new market for the long fibered softwood trees that blanket my farm and most of Maine. Newsprint had a 100 year run, but that is over.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  2. #2
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    Travis,

    I think the market for all domestic species is way down. here is AZ where we don't have any hardwood except for mesquite and Ironwood I am seeing prices lower then I've ever seen. I can buy 8/4 white oak 12 in wide in 12 ft. lengths for 4.25 a bd ft. red oak is going for 3.25 bd.ft. I just picked up some 8/4. pine 12 in wide for 1.99 bd. ft..
    This is good news for the woodworker but it realy hurts the folks who make there living in the lumber industry.
    The woodworkers only use a small percentage of the wood. I guess that is a sign of the times.
    Last edited by Don Baer; 07-01-2009 at 04:30 PM. Reason: typos
    "Thereís a lot of work being done today that doesnít have any soul in it. The technique may be the utmost perfection, yet it is lifeless. It doesnít have a soul. I hope my furniture has a soul to it." - Sam Maloof
    The Pessimist complains about the wind; The Optimist expects it to change;The Realist adjusts the sails.~ William Arthur Ward

  3. #3
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    Looks really odd from here seeing your comments of wood prices going down, while in here it is exactly the opposite, transport from US to Europe increases the cost obviously but if you knew how expensive is US black walnut here you'd be surprised.

    Most of the wood that is consumed here is imported, local forest explotations are mainly pine and eucaliptus and are used for paper pulp or pallets.

    Oak, Cherry, Basswood, Hard Maple, Poplar, Beech and many others are all imported.

    Here wood is sold by the cubic meter, so when you buy a board the calculate its volume and give you the price.
    Best regards,
    Toni

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    I also dream of a shop with north light where my hands can be busy, my soul rest and my mind wander...

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Toni Ciuraneta View Post
    Looks really odd from here seeing your comments of wood prices going down, while in here it is exactly the opposite, transport from US to Europe increases the cost obviously but if you knew how expensive is US black walnut here you'd be surprised.

    Most of the wood that is consumed here is imported, local forest explotations are mainly pine and eucaliptus and are used for paper pulp or pallets.

    Oak, Cherry, Basswood, Hard Maple, Poplar, Beech and many others are all imported.

    Here wood is sold by the cubic meter, so when you buy a board the calculate its volume and give you the price.
    Tony, It pretty much the same here you take the width,length and thickness in inches. Mulitply them together and devide by 144 and thats the number of Board Ft.
    Last edited by Don Baer; 07-01-2009 at 08:38 PM. Reason: clerify my formula
    "Thereís a lot of work being done today that doesnít have any soul in it. The technique may be the utmost perfection, yet it is lifeless. It doesnít have a soul. I hope my furniture has a soul to it." - Sam Maloof
    The Pessimist complains about the wind; The Optimist expects it to change;The Realist adjusts the sails.~ William Arthur Ward

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Baer View Post
    Tony, It pretty much the same here you take the width,length and thickness in inches. Devide by 144 and that the number of Board Ft.
    So, that's the way is done! thanks Don! Now I've learnt something, I always had a hard time figuring out what was Board foot, I always thought it was length unit not a volume one!
    Best regards,
    Toni

    __________________________________________________ __________________________________________________ _________________
    web site:http://www.toniciuraneta.com
    I also dream of a shop with north light where my hands can be busy, my soul rest and my mind wander...

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Toni Ciuraneta View Post
    So, that's the way is done! thanks Don! Now I've learnt something, I always had a hard time figuring out what was Board foot, I always thought it was length unit not a volume one!
    Yep, a board foot is a volume measurement. It's 12" x 12" x 1". It's one 1/12 of a cubic foot.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

    workingwoods.com

  7. #7
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    That is a dismal report Travis, isn't any better here.
    At least you have Hemlock available. around here the amish saw it like crazy. You can build with it green and not worry much about shrinkage. I can buy rough sawn for $.50 a BF. kinf of sad when you think about it
    Throw Apples out the Windows, but make sure not to hit the Penguin.

    If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it canít be done.

  8. #8
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    Us city folks haven't noticed too much change because everything we buy is imported from somewhere. In fact, the market got really tight for hobbiests or small craftsman. Stuff was difficult to come by - all but unavailable through regular retailers. Even local lumber yards had very little variety / selection. Most of the wood i (or any others like me) get comes from cottage industrialists - milling, drying, selling wood not to support themselves, but to make some side money. Whaddya know, someone figured out that if you cut, mill, and dry local wood, you can make some money.
    Finding good sources takes a bit of work, but there's a good collection of very reliable and reasonably priced sources other than the Woodcraft/Rockler route or the Borg options.

    paulh

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Mickley View Post
    That is a dismal report Travis, isn't any better here.
    At least you have Hemlock available. around here the amish saw it like crazy. You can build with it green and not worry much about shrinkage. I can buy rough sawn for $.50 a BF. kinf of sad when you think about it
    Yes it is. You have a few generations of Johnson's that have worked hard to sustainably harvest wood and I am ending up with a high volume, high quality, highly diversified forest that is practically worth nothing.

    People are complaining about their house values dropping...well that is nothing compared to what I have lost in the last year. I figured last year I was at $1500 per acre of forest value (30 cord per acre at $50 per cord...a conservative number really). The forester said it was now more like $500 per acre. That is a $1000 dollar loss per acre, so with 1488 acres in forest, that is a 1.5 million dollar reduction in my property value.

    Of course that is only what the current woodlot is worth now. I really have not lost that much money until its actually cut, but the depressing part is that the future does not look good. With the forester recommending lots of harvesting to improve the forest stand, and with me having plenty of time to harvest it since I am on lay-off...well its tempting to do a lot of harvesting and unfortunately make that loss a reality.

    I would like to see Maine somehow make a use for our vast amounts of softwood with resinous wood. Here the price of hot top is so expensive that the state is starting to go back to gravel roads on non-important roadways. At one time it was cheaper to pave a road then to maintain a gravel one but no-more!

    Personally I think it is silly to pump oil out of the ground, haul it from all over the world, and then drive on it. What happens if we developed a use for all that resin in softwood? The papermills might be dead but we could convert them to a resinous/chip type production. Imagine driving on a semi-permeable roadbed that was sustainable, smooth and was not laden with potholes or nasty dust in the summer, or ice in the winter like gravel roads? What a concept! It can be done, we just need another product for softwood trees!

    (Remember you heard me say it first!) (LOL)
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Johnson View Post

    (Remember you heard me say it first!) (LOL)
    So when your rich, will you still come around?
    Throw Apples out the Windows, but make sure not to hit the Penguin.

    If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying it canít be done.

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