One logger hangs up his saw
EAGLE COUNTY – One Colorado logger, Tom Olden, is preparing to get out of the logging business because, he said, of a combination of too little profit, too many U.S. Forest Service regulations, too few sales and a lack of mills to process what is cut. The latter drives the price downward, he said, by controlling the price of what is offered for logs, leaving a profit margin finer than the edge of a whetted ax.”The industry is in bad shape,” said Olden, who owns Pine Marten Logging in Eagle. “I can’t sell it to the one and only saw mill because it costs me more as standing timber than I can sell it for. It’s a virtual monopoly. They can set the rate.”There is only one mill within an economical driving distance capable of handling the smaller diameter logs typically found in salvage sales, he said.When there were more smaller mills, he said, he could sell the smaller logs.”It was my bread and butter,” he said. Changing market conditions and other factors caused smaller mills to disappear, and it caused Olden to change what he did. He went from a small logging operator to a larger, mechanized logger bidding on larger sales where volume cut is the name of the game, he said.Olden now uses a $500,000 tracked feller-processor vehicle that allows him to cut, strip and process nearly 700 trees a day into lumber lengths.When he started logging nine years ago, Olden said the 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest sold an average of 22 million board-feet of timber a year. That has since dwindled to about 6 to 8 million board-feet a year through the next five years, said Ken Cunning, a Forest Service timber sale specialist.The two timber sales in Eagle County this year are the first since 1997, Olden said.”Part of it is (the Forest Service’s) own doing,” he said. “There used to be six local mills that have since closed.””It comes down to staffing,” Cunning responded. “In a perfect world we would have all kinds of people and projects. Staffing dictates what we’re going to offer.”Timing is crucial to the success of salvage sales, Olden said. When standing logs are left too long before they’re cut, they develop weather checks or cracks that diminish their value, he said.
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