Why Do Log Prices Differ Between Eastern and Western Washington?

You can almost always make more money selling timber west of the Cascade crest — Take a look for yourself on the Washington DNR log price tracking site. West side Douglas-fir #2 saw prices are regularly 50 percent higher than east side camp run sales, often more.  In fact, with the recent peak, coast market prices have been as much as 94 percent higher in 2018.

So why is there such a consistently large difference? The answer has everything to do with infrastructure and distance. If you look at what it takes to sell a log on the east side versus the west side, it’s easy to see why the eastern landowner is making less money at the end of a harvest.

This map shows the regional divide used by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources when determining average log prices.

First and foremost, there are simply fewer mills available to landowners east of the Cascades. More mills have set up shop on the west side, where timber yields are higher and there are more forested acres. What does this mean for east side landowners? Well, transportation is often the most expensive part of a logging operation. As a result, landowners in Eastern Washington incur greater costs when shipping logs from their forest to the closest mill, which can often be over 100 miles away.

On the west side, where there are more mills, transportation is equally as expensive but hauling distances are usually much shorter, ultimately putting more money in the landowner’s pocket. An analogous situation on the west side occurs when a landowner tries to sell oversized logs. Because only a few mills in the region are equipped to handle big logs, landowners incur greater costs to ship them and ultimately make less money.

This line graph shows average Douglas fir prices from January to November 2018 in the coast and eastside marketing areas. (Washington State Department of Natural Resources)

Furthermore, when eastside mills try to tap into the more lucrative export markets on the coast, they’re severely disadvantaged. Selling logs to the export market requires mills to re-sort logs on arrival and set some aside until they have enough to ship over the mountains. The extra sorting and hauling costs dig into landowner profits and often makes it economically nonviable.

These costs occur on a spectrum, with landowners closer to the foot of the Cascades incurring lower shipping costs than their counterparts further east. As such, some in Central Washington may be able to get away with shipping to coastal markets and make a little more money but will still make less than a landowner on the coast. This applies to shipping via railways as well, with any logs shipped and sold on the west side having to be severely discounted at the purchasing end to remain viable.

In a nutshell, log prices are lower on the east side because there is greater cost incurred by loggers and mills to make the most of them. Because a mill’s first concern is keeping its doors open, the brunt of that cost has to be carried by the landowner.

Patrick Shults, Extension Forester, Washington State University, patrick.shults@wsu.edu

Announcements, Events and Other News

Forest Health Seminars

Learn what makes forests healthy or unhealthy and how to recognize when there’s a problem on your property. Topics include insects, diseases, and drought, including their environmental roles and the important interactions between them. Learn about what property owners should do (and not do) to increase tree resilience and mitigate impacts.

Forest Stewardship Coached Planning

If you own wooded property, our flagship course will teach you how to assess your trees, avoid insect and disease problems, and attract wildlife. State experts will help you develop your own Forest Stewardship Plan to keep your woods on track to provide enjoyment and income for years to come.

  • Spokane: Wednesdays starting February 20 (details coming)
  • Camano Island: Wednesdays starting March (details coming)
  • Orcas: Saturdays starting March 16 (details coming)
  • Olympia: Mondays starting April 1
  • South Prairie: Spring/summer 2019 (details coming)

Keep an eye out for more details at forestry.wsu.edu.

Ties to the Land

Ties to the Land is an award-winning succession planning workshop offered by WSU Extension. Workshop participants learn about the legal and economic aspects of transferring a farm, forest, or ranch from one generation to the next.

  • Chehalis: Saturday, March 9, 9 a.m-4 p.m.

Forest Owners Winter School

The Forest Owners Winter School is a hands-on, interactive educational event for families who own forestland in Washington. Whether you live on your land or are an absentee owner, this is a great opportunity to learn how to gain more benefits from your family forest no matter where it is located in the state.

  • Spokane: February 9, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
  • Auburn: February 23, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

2019 Family Forest Field Day

The annual Family Forest Field Day attracts hundreds of landowners from all around the region to learn about a variety of forestry topics in a hands-on setting, including forest health, wildlife habitat and management, thinning and pruning, chainsaw safety, noxious weed management, and many more.

The field days are scheduled for summer 2019, but the dates are still pending.

Can’t find the event you were looking for? Visit forestry.wsu.edu or contact Extension Forester Patrick Shults at patrick.shults@wsu.edu.

Where’d That Big Hole Come From?  Creating Tree Cavities for Wildlife

The tiny screech owl looked out from a cavity in a cracked, hollow cottonwood tree near Yakima. It was amazing how cryptic the bird was. I wouldn’t have noticed it if I had not been looking up, admiring the gnarly stem of that big old tree. That cottonwood, with broken branches and a rotten core was a great example of a “Wildlife Tree”.

Wildlife Trees can refer to those with some sort of “defect” allowing animals to get inside and use the central portions of  tree stems as secure habitat for nesting, roosting, or denning. These are crucial habitat for about 40% of our forest species in Washington. The solid woody cylinder that makes up a tree bole is usually unavailable as habitat for the numerous species that utilize cavities. These critters include small mammals such as bats, insects such as wasps and bees, numerous birds including owls and the iconic wood duck, and larger mammals like raccoons or black bears who can den in hollow trees.

These cavities only exist when certain conditions occur. First, a tree has to grow large enough to provide the woody mass needed for a cavity large enough for the species. Then, something must happen to subsequently hollow it out and create the space within the wood. Random events, such as weather related broken tops, followed by heart rot infestation, or pre-existing heart rot in a main stem (say, for example, in a large cedar) followed by a branch breaking off, (then more rot and insects) could create these cavities. However, these events are generally rare in the forest and are less likely in managed forest settings, as we tend to remove dead and “defective” trees from our stands.

And then there are woodpeckers. These keystone species create cavities as a regular part of nesting and courtship behavior, carving perfect and appropriate hollows in rotten stems to meet their needs. They leave some cavities behind as they make new ones each year to meet their biological imperative. They need standing dead wood that has been dead long enough to get soft enough for the woodpeckers to dig it. These types of standing dead trees can be rare but hold great habitat value.

Humans can make cavities too, using arborist techniques of climbing and creative chainsaw work to hollow out stems for wildlife to use.  I had a recent opportunity to visit past Wildlife Tree work and inspect the outcomes after 12 years.

In 2006, wildlife tree creation pioneer and expert, Tim Brown of Snoqualmie, WA, worked with the U.S. Army, U.S. Forest Service Research Lab, and the Nature Conservancy on Fort Lewis (near Olympia, WA) to create cavities. This work had the goal of providing habitat for nesting wood ducks, Western gray squirrels, pollinators and other wildlife. Earlier this summer, (June 2018), we returned to look at these cavities to assess what sort of use had occurred. Tim climbed up to some of these old cavities and looked inside.

What we found was fascinating: Nesting material was present in every single cavity examined, along with eggshells, indicating successful hatching of wood ducks. One had a failed clutch of 3 wood duck eggs (we examined them and determined they had been in the cavity for a long time and were dead). Others had evidence of mammal use (squirrel) and yet another had a colony of honeybees.  All inspected cavities were intact and functioning.

Creating the cavities is relatively straight forward, but highly skilled tree climbing and chainsaw work is necessary. A shallow section of the tree, perpendicular to the up-down axis, (a face plate – see photo) is cut on the tree surface, removed and lowered carefully to the ground. Then, a saw is used to hollow out an appropriate sized cavity in the tree (approximately 12” x 12” x 18”) mimicking a pileated woodpecker cavity. An opening is cut into the faceplate of about 3” or 4” in diameter, at an appropriate height from cavity bottom. Then, this cavity cover is returned to the hole and attached with nails or screws. Simple, and it works as we observed on Fort Lewis.

Location is important. Brown cut these cavities into open faces of large trees facing small lakes and wetlands on Fort Lewis, seeking optimal positioning for the wood ducks and other wildlife. Tim pointed out that cedars are preferred due to their ability to grow over the wounds, thus sealing the edges of the cavity faceplate. Several of these cavities had marvelous healing evidence over the carved entrance holes.I asked Tim Brown some questions about this work:

What sort of wildlife were you hoping to attract? 

“The project was aimed at all species that use cavities, including wood ducks, small owls, squirrels, bats, and all of the other animals that use cavities. I’ve seen them get lots of use over many years and they can really last a long time. The best cavity is one that outlives you.”

What sort of trees are best for cavities?  
“Cedar families are the best, as they heal over and the trees can live for centuries. True and Douglas firs are ok too, if cedars aren’t available. Some hardwoods are okay, but they often don’t last as long.”

How long have you been doing this sort of work?
“I started making wildlife trees over 40 years ago. I’ve worked all over North America, including Canada. I love doing this work and seeing how it helps wildlife.”

You can call Tim at (206) 271-2020 to talk about his copyrighted work. The substantial value of these wildlife trees as habitat cannot be overstated. Practitioners now make habitat trees all across North America, and many of these techniques originated and were refined in the Pacific Northwest by Tim Brown.

If you have questions or stories about creating or protecting wildlife trees on your own forest property, please send some pictures and stories to: ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov Thanks! And keep on protecting wildlife trees!

Ken Bevis, Stewardship Biologist, Washington Department of Natural Resources, ken.bevis@dnr.wa.gov

Eastern Washington Landowners Get New DNR Forester

This spring, the Washington DNR Small Forest Landowner Office got an addition to the stewardship team. Rob Lionberger is now the Stewardship and Technical Assistance Forester for eastern Washington, and is available to help small forest landowners with their forest management needs. Read the interview below to get to know Rob a little better, and feel free to contact him if you’re in his region!

Tell me a little about yourself.

I was born and raised in North Idaho, but a short part of my early childhood was in Texas where my dad is from.  I spent a great deal of my time outdoors and camped with friends and family as often as possible, and I still do when I can.  My love for the forest was a gift from my dad, who worked for the US Forest Service until his retirement several years ago.  I owe him a great deal for that, since it shaped my life and career path.

My wife and I are empty-nesters (with two adult sons) who call Colville, WA our home.  We love to travel, hike, camp, and explore the beautiful area around where we live.  I enjoy good food, and will gladly give reviews and dining suggestions to anyone unsure of where to eat.  I also enjoy cooking, home brewing and meeting interesting people.

How long have you been working in forestry? Why did you go into this field?

I have 30 years in forestry related work, beginning with a fire crew in Priest Lake, Idaho.  While fire was our reason for being there, we spent much of our time doing forestry projects like pre-commercial thinning and tree marking.  I fell in love with the job and asked my boss how I could do this for the rest of my life.  He wisely told me that a four-year degree in Forestry would be needed to fill his job when he retired, even though he didn’t have one.  I started taking forestry classes the following year and switched from a Psychology major to a Forestry major shortly after that.  I have tried several other lines of work along the way, but nothing brings me greater satisfaction than helping others to grow to love the forest the way I do.

What sort of jobs have you had? Schooling?

This is the hardest question yet…  I have had a job since I was about 8.  When I have to boil it down to just forestry related positions on a resume, it still takes a couple of pages!

Starting with forestry related jobs, I have worked for the Idaho Dept. of Lands, Montana Dept. of Natural Resources and Conservation, US Forest Service, Oregon Dept. of Forestry, Washington Dept. of Natural Resources and a few private companies.  My duties in these jobs included firefighting, timber cruising, timber marking, reforestation, road construction and maintenance, prescribed fire, pre-commercial thinning, fire prevention, tree nursery labor, logging, and finally, helping small forest landowners as they take on some of these same tasks.

A few of the other jobs I’ve had are an appliance and electrical salesman, everything from janitor to manager in food service (concurrently, while in college!), used textbook buyer,  landscaping laborer, small engine repair, pastoral intern, sound engineer, facilities maintenance and changing irrigation pipe.

I got my Forestry degree from the University of Montana in Missoula.

What do you emphasize when talking to small landowners? 

I try to emphasize that this is their land and that their objectives are what should drive the decision making process on their property.   I love to help small landowners take what it is that they value about their land, whether that is wildlife, aesthetics, recreation, a healthy forest and/or extra income, and building an action plan to move toward their goals.  The key is, regardless of what your particular values, the target condition of your stand of trees will require action over time.  None of the objectives that most landowners value lead to a plan of leave everything like it is.  There is always work to do to create, restore or maintain your forest in a condition that is consistent with your goals.

Why do you think our work is important? 

I believe our work is one of the most important in the forest health arena.  Small forest landowners make up a significant portion of the forested land in our state, so the condition of their lands are naturally going to have a great effect on overall forest health in our state.  We are in a position to be able to influence this essential part of the solution to our existing forest health crisis.  I take this very seriously and try to seize any opportunity to help influence the small forest landowners in Eastern Washington to move their forests to a healthier and more resilient condition.

What is your favorite kind of tree and why?

Western larch is my favorite tree for many reasons:  it is the most insect, disease, and fire resistant species in most of the areas it grows, it is the only deciduous conifer in our area, the vibrant greens in the spring and the golden color in the fall are unbeatable, it makes top notch lumber and firewood, it is an extremely important wildlife tree with value throughout its life, old age and many years after its death, and it shares my home range.

In particular, I love the fire adaptive strategy of larch.  Like a ponderosa pine, they have thick bark to insulate from the heat and a deep taproot that is safe from the hottest fires.  They can sustain a 100% crown scorch and survive as long as their fire resistant, thick buds are not killed.  They lose their needles every fall anyway and will put on their new needles in the spring as if nothing happened if the buds survived.  More amazingly, they could repeat this process every year for several years in a row since they carry a three to five year supply of food in their roots!  After the fire, they are often one of the survivors in a stand, and their light, easily wind-blown seeds disperse into the surrounding newly exposed dirt and quickly create a carpet of seedlings that can help stabilize the slopes and prevent erosion.

I really could go on about larch and the other fire adaptations, but I need to save something for my site visits.  I am looking forward to working with you and the landowners of Eastern Washington.

Rob can be contacted at (509) 703-9988 and through his email at rob.lionberger@dnr.wa.gov and would be glad to help you shape and protect your piece of paradise.

Landowner Questions:  What’s a tool that “saved your bacon”?  

Restoring riparian ecosystems at Wild Thyme Farms with the help of a lawnmower.

Garrard Creek is a large salmon-bearing tributary of the Chehalis River in southwest Washington State. Wild Thyme Farm sits astride the creek, less than a mile before its confluence with the river. For most of the past century, this reach of the creek has been free of trees, utilized by cattle grazing up to its banks without fences or buffers. In the mid-1990’s, we coordinated with the Chehalis Indian Tribe as they installed fencing on both sides of the creek, 35’ from the bank. They also installed “nose pumps” for the cattle to access creek water without entering the buffer zone, and finally planted native trees within the buffer. Unclear as to our role in the maintenance of the buffer, we did no follow-up tending of the newly planted trees and were rewarded with a mortality rate exceeding 95%. Thick brush and canary reed grass ensured that there would be no easy transition to a forested riparian buffer.

In 2000, we enrolled in a 10-year contract with the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). A detailed plan was drawn up to plant 3,000 trees and shrubs in approximately 6 acres on the north side of the creek, nearly all of which was in the flood plain. In the fall of 2000, we hired a Hygro-Tiller to drill several thousand planting holes: 3 feet wide, 3 feet deep and 10 feet on center. The Hygro-Tiller is an attachment at the end of an excavator arm that breaks the sod and loosens the soil without removing it. The following winter and spring (2001), we enlisted family and friends for repeated work parties to get the trees and shrubs in the ground. Eight plots were defined, containing a mixture of native species in patchy groves. Red Alder was the most dominant species at around 30%, followed by Oregon Ash, other hardwoods and conifers.

The first two years passed without incident, as we continued the old pattern of sitting back and watching the trees grow without much intervention. By the third year, it was clear that the resurgent grass was starting to take a heavy toll on our seedlings, and mortality began to increase. Voles discovered new habitat and cover from their predators in the tall grass, and their population exploded as they girdled hundreds of our young trees. The prospect of constantly weed-whacking six acres of thick grass seemed unbearable, and we were not willing to use herbicides at that time. Nevertheless, we were contractually obligated to keep the trees alive, maintaining an 80% or greater survival rate. NRCS/CRP paid in full for the planting costs in addition to an annual $85 per acre lease fee, and it was our job to ensure success.

A new Kubota tractor with a belly-mounted mower deck was the tool that turned the tide. With up to five times a year and ten hours per mowing session, the ground re-appeared, and the voles were vanquished. After about five years of intensive mowing, most of the trees were free to grow, and the mowing became lighter and more intermittent, ceasing completely by year ten. But by then, a much larger rodent had discovered our project and moved in to feast on our trees. “Build it and they will come” speaks to the ideal habitat we created for the flat-tailed beaver, and they were here to stay. Hundreds of small trees were felled annually by the beaver, but we noticed that their most preferred targets were “coppice” style trees that regrow easily, like cottonwood, willow and ash. Our solution was to mass-plant those species to saturate their demand, and it appears to have worked, eighteen years into the project. Beavers remain permanent residents, but their population has stabilized, and they take far fewer of the now larger trees.

Flooding of the site is routine during the winter, and it appears to have minimal effect on the trees. In the early years, an annual task was to remove flood debris and straighten up small trees that were pushed over by the rushing floodwater.  Re-planting dead holes was another annual task to maintain the required stocking levels. Nearly all trees are planted with protective plastic collars and cedar trees are permanently caged against beaver. Over the years, we have increasingly planted conifers for a longer-term trajectory towards the Desired Future Condition outlined in state forest practice regulations.

Starting with 3,000 plantings, we estimate that we have ultimately planted twice that to keep up with mortality. The site is now fully stocked, but with fewer trees than originally planned due to the wider spacing required by larger trees. Some natural thinning occurred, especially among the species planted between the aggressive red alder.  Beaver depredation provides small openings for a shrub layer to develop and is great habitat for birds. The most successful stands now have trees at 15 to 20 feet spacing, growing vigorously at year eighteen.

An ecological regime change from grassland to forest (afforestation) is much more difficult to implement than the natural cycle of re-forestation after a clear-cut. Grasses and their allies such as voles actively resist and suppress tree growth, so intensive tree care early and often is the key to success. As with conventional forestry, once the trees get established, there is not much more to do except for the occasional thinning.

After our CRP contract expired at year ten, we re-enrolled in the more extensive Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Along with initial funding for some replanting closer to the creek amongst the canary reed grass, the annual lease fee is much higher, at approximately $300 per acre. When the CREP contract expires in 2020, we will have a fully established forest ecosystem in the riparian zone. Although the termination of our contract with this federal agency technically allows us to mow it all down and return it to pasture, it is unlikely that the state Department of Natural Resources will allow this new forest to be harvested at any time in the future, as it is nearly entirely within the boundaries of the Riparian Management Zone buffer.  Although the income from the CREP program might be enticing, the landowner needs to be aware of future land use implications at the end of the program.

For more information about our riparian project, please visit this page on our website: http://wildthymefarm.com/ripcrprogram.html