68TH Annual Olympic Logging Conference... Trees ­­­are the Answer

Empress Hotel
Victoria, BC

by Mike Crouse

A large and diverse crowd of roughly 250 were in attendance at the recently completed 68th Annual Olympic Logging Conference held at the Fairmount Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC Canada in early May. This was the first joint conference including the Forest Resources Association, Inc., which brought some additional diversity and wealth of information to an already great conference.

Attendees arriving a day early had the option of taking a Madill/Nicholson factory tour in nearby Sydney, B.C. The factory provided bus transportation, food and drinks following the tour of the manufacturing facility, and had hand-on machines as well.

The official conference was brought to order by OLC Chairman Pat Tagman, and following housekeeping duties, Tagman had those in the audience stand and introduce themselves and the company they represented.

The opening session was “What’s new in the timber industry,” and the first topic was the recently formed Logger Safety Initiative to address the extremely high hourly rate for logging employers in Washington state, well in excess of anywhere else in the United States. Washington Labor and Industries spokesperson David Bonauto presented the historical record of injuries over the past decade that required those rates to cover claims.

Norm Schaaf (Merrill & Ring, Inc.) outlined goals of the Logger Safety Initiative of promoting safety, Reducing frequency and severity of workplace injuries and fatalities, and increasing proper reporting (or more to the point enforcing proper reporting).

Ed Bryant (ENB Logging), noted, “...we think it started with training,” starting with cutters at the stump, and a strong training program for new hires in the industry. “Support from industry has been phenomenal.”

Over the summer the group will design programs and a system to audit performance to test the results by 2014. 

Bonauto noted one area of particular interest from the state L&I is “leveling the playing field for those who are doing things right (reporting, paying, following the rules), and finding firms that are out of compliance. 

Mike Duch (Cascade Trader) and Josh Krauss (Price Log Pro) presentations were on debarking systems and improved efficiencies available in those systems, in addition to a log merchandiser system with multiple saw heads used in mills to quickly, and efficiently merchandise raw logs. 

Garth Redifor (Power Service Products) presented the various fuel additives his company produces that address issues raised with today’s fuels, reducing problems that have surfaces with contaminates, including microbes and water, which can and have severely impacted todays machinery.

The second session prior to lunch gave a series of reports.

WCLA’s Jerry Bonagofsky also noted significant impact the manual base rate for logging from L&I Insurance of $19.61/hour and the work of the Logging Safety Initiative addressing that issue. Additional impacts also in escalating operating costs, the aging workforce, wage competition from other industries and trucking capacities.

Gordon Culbertson (Forest2Market) presented an economic overview of the ever changing market picture at present in addition to looking towards the future. The overall picture is very favorable through 2014. (Their web site is at www.foresttomarket.com)

Jim Girvan (MDT Ltd. And Pacific Logging Congress) outlined the impact the beetle kill has had on logging in British Columbia. “Half the trees in the BC area are dead,” said Girvan. And while the forecast clearly shows a decline in harvest, “...we’ve seen increased pressure to stop logging!” That pressure comes from (to no one’s surprise) the eco-industry (our word). “They’ll attack anybody. Reality doesn’t matter when they’re trying to increase the furor, yet what Girvan’s group finds most surprising is, “...media’s attention to the claims.”

“I encourage you all to continue to push back.”

Dr. Patrick Moore, the Sensible Environmentalist, was the keynote speaker immediately after lunch. Moore was one of the founders of Greenpeace but has long since stepped away from them as their interests have continued to grow more radical at opposing a broad array of issues and topics. For the past few decades Moore’s been a strong advocate for “Wood is Good,” renewable, biodegradable, and sustainable.
His many examples, views, and solutions resonated well with the audience.

The Bio-Fuel discussion was led by Dr. John Sessions (Oregon State University), pinpointing the work being done on jet fuel made from wood. “Making aviation fuels out of wood is slightly easier than making gold out of lead,” Sessions noted, adding that there are many different groups involved in the project, then outlining the particulars of the OSU part of the project.

Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands, Dr. Peter Goldmark spoke on the effects of climate change on forest health and carefully considering tree species distribution in the changing landscape, and considering more disease resistant species in light of the recent infestations on some of the state’s lands. He framed the issues asking, “what species will survive best?” He’s placed that before an “...advisory group of scientists to advise as to what is prudent and still conservative in the future.”

In closing Goldmark noted, “the take home message: Forest health is a combination of: host, pathogen, environmental conditions that favor the pathogen. The best approach is to keep those forest stands healthy, maintain them in healthy status, and hopefully their normal immunity can help it.”

Perhaps the most innovative program of the year came in the last session Friday, titled, “Where are we going and how do we get there? Round Table Discussion.” Bill Hermann (Hermann Bros.) and Pete Foley (Weyerhaeuser, FRA) moderated the discussion, which worked to involve anyone in the room. An array of topics surface through the discussion including the cripplingly high L&I rates, bringing new loggers into business, and having them be able to make a profit (commensurate with the risk), finding working capital, longer term contracts you can “take to the bank” in addition to others. Thirty, if not more, people were involved in bringing those issues to the forefront and addressing them.
Bill Hermann summed it up as the session closed saying, “It’s encouraging for me to see how many people here are the next generation foresters/loggers and to know this is all working and one way or the other will work out. There are challenges, especially in the finance part of it.” Then he emphasized, “... what I see as most critical, is where you can bundle together a piece of paper with a plan, take that to a bank and that gives them confidence to loan more money.”

Pat Tillman closed the conference with a challenge. “Don’t leave today thinking this is the end and we’ll return to our jobs. All of you find ways to continue to tell our story, and why trees are the answer.”