Forestry company exec laments loss of harvesting

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — An executive with a local forestry company blames a drop in timber harvest in the Olympic National Forest on a “migration of values” that has left the U.S. Forest Service uninterested in aggressively managing the forest.

That has left logging activities about one-eighth of what they could be, Tom Swanson, area manager and vice president of northwest operations for Green Crow Corp., told about two dozen people Tuesday at the Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting.

“There’s a value system that has infiltrated the management ranks of our public agencies, the Forest Service, the Park Service,” Swanson said.

“There has been a migration of values from active management to inactive management in public agencies, primarily the Forest Service,” he added.

As a consequence, he said, the timber harvest has dropped to 20 million board feet in the more than 633,600-acre national forest, which borders Olympic National Park, while logging roads are deteriorating or being abandoned.

The forest has supported harvests of 250 million to 300 million board feet, he said, adding that “societal values” are on the side of “recreation, views and water.”

“Biologically, that forest would easily support 150 million board feet,” Swanson said.

“We are moving out of active forest management in the national forest,” he said.

“That’s not something that’s going to change rapidly. I don’t agree with that, but that’s the reality. It’s tantamount to a let-it-burn policy.

“It’s tragic, really.”

Forest Service reply

Tim Davis, acting natural resources staff officer for Olympic National Forest, said later Tuesday that the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan emphasized forest restoration and supporting threatened and endangered species habitat, a direction national forest managers have since followed.

“We are still very actively managing [Olympic National Forest],” he said.

“There are just different products being produced,” he said.

“The outcome was not what some people wanted, but that’s what was the end product of that analysis and public participation process.”

Green Crow operations

Swanson outlined Port Angeles-based Green Crow’s operations and some of the changes it has gone through since it was established in 1983, when the company began with an initial purchase of 16,000 acres — and when log exports were a primary activity.

The acres managed by the company — 50,000 acres of its own, 80,000 acres managed for other owners — have remained constant in recent years, Swanson said.

The company has about 75 employees — including 50 in the Port Angeles area and 10 in Concord, N.H. — and owns a sawmill in New Zealand.

Founded by David Crow of Shreveport, La., Green Crow provides “timberland investment management services to institutional, family and individual investors,” according to its website, www.greencrow.com.

“At this point in my career, I find myself managing relationships with the clients and the representatives of owners of the timberland,” Swanson said.

He added he also spends time with land-use regulators in federal and state agencies, among them the state Department of Natural Resources.

Green Crow is largely subject to “external forces” over which it has no control, he said.

The company’s export business declined beginning in the early 1990s with the drop in available timber and the strength of the Japanese timber market, which primarily seeks 70- to 80-year-old timber compared with the abundance of 40- to 60-year-old growth harvested these days on the North Olympic Peninsula, Swanson said.

The company also took a hit in 1990 when the northern spotted owl was named a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, Swanson said.

“That was a sad time in this neck of the woods,” he said, an assertion echoed on the company’s website, which said timber harvest on federal lands dropped more than 95 percent as a result of the listing.

But what’s the biggest issue for Green Crow?

‘Biggest headache’

“For us, water is the biggest headache we have,” Swanson said.

“It’s the biggest asset we have, but it’s also the biggest headache.”

Trucks that haul logs down gravel roads create mud, mud goes into water, water goes into streams — and it’s illegal to put mud into streams, Swanson said.

“We spend a lot of time and money managing runoff from our roads,” he said as a slide from his presentation expounded on the topic.

Swanson held out hope that biomass in the form of wood slash would be profitable for the company, especially given Nippon Paper Industries USA’s plans for a $71 million biomass facility upgrade slated for completion by April 2013.

One bone-dry ton of biomass can create the same British thermal unit — or BTU — content as a barrel of oil, he said.

“With [Nippon] starting construction of the boiler, it’s a great thing for the community,” Swanson said.

A construction permit for Nippon’s project, as well as a $55 million biomass upgrade under way at the Port Townsend Paper Corp., mill, have been appealed in Thurston County Superior Court by environmentalist groups.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 21. 2012 5:37PM
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