By Roy Keene
Forest conservationists contesting public timber sales will reach a larger, more sympathetic public if they begin to expose or at least comment on the bogus economics. It’s more about the economy these days, less about endangered species.
For starts, public timber shouldn’t be for sale in this low market, period. Especially not when industry is sitting on over 2 billion board feet of public timber already under contract.
A major weakness with State Forest timber sales is that they are routinely purchased by the same large corporations. Comparatively low award prices reflect a lack of competition which fosters collusion and price fixing. Scott Timber (Roseburg Forest Products) and Swanson, two of the largest public timber sale purchasers, were the only “qualified bidders” listed for Elkhorn. Scott bought the sale for $273.52 per MBF for the Doug-fir, the bid species, and Swanson was second at $272.88. How conveniently close! I’m aware of nowhere in open timber markets where a concentrated stand of high quality, mature DF timber could be purchased for less than $425 as “stumpage”. This lack of real competition and price fixing also devalues future state forest sales which are appraised, in part, based on previous sales.
Of course raw logs from these state timber sales can’t be exported, but marginally processed logs (cants, squares, slabs, etc) can be and are routinely exported, especially when processed from 130 year old timber. Pseudo processing also provides profitable over runs on Scribner Scale, where a 1000 bd.ft. of scaled logs can typically produce 1500+ board feet of sawed wood.
Viewing air photos and applying simple empirical growth tables to the high growing site and average age class of Elkhorn’s timber suggests per acre volumes closer to 100MBF. This is nearly twice the implied sale volume at about 55MBF per acre. The basal area (stand density) calls in the Pre-operations Report are unusually low. Was basal area physically measured or is this seemingly low stand density a refection of a computer evaluated (SLIP) stand inventory?
Since this sale is being sold based on MBF aboard truck prices, the total sale timber volume was probably not cruised. The point is that there could be a lot more volume coming off Elkhorn than the reported 5,189 MBF. Since I haven’t physically viewed this sale, I won’t try to pin this overrun, but it could be significant.
Did we get a fair price for the 130 year old, low defect, high quality Doug-fir? Of course not. After purchaser credits and biased logging costs and scaling are considered, we’ll receive about half of what we should of. Especially had an experienced forester managed the loggers, conducted the sale, and prudently marketed the logs in our behalf… like it’s done in the private sector. If we could manage our own logging and export our logs the way industry exports theirs, we’d get nearly three times as much.
This implies that schools could receive the same funding from selling half or even a third of the current State Forest timber sale volume at fair value. It’s about the school kids, right? And, if the industry had to pay fair market value for our timber, they wouldn’t press so hard to purchase it.
Roy Keene is a forest consultant and private timber broker in Eugene