Ice storm, trees, urgency : Translation

PHADRUIG phadruig at
Sun Jan 18 21:12:18 EST 1998

Karl and All,

Spokane & vicinity in eastern Washington state had the dubious honor of having
gone through a similar ice storm that occurred in late November 1996.  The
damage was not near as extensive and not quite as severe as it seems to be in
the Northeast, however, thousands of people were without power in sub-freezing
temperatures for a week or two.  

The major damage affected only an area of perhaps 100 square miles, and this
area not all forested or all damaged.  To my knowledge no federal land was
involved.  Most stands of smaller (<12" dbh) Ponderosa Pine, and Lodgepole Pine
were virtually wiped out and some larger trees severely damaged. 

Co-incidently, due to the strangulation of the National Forest timber pipeline
by environmental appeals and the spotted owl "fantasia" further west, the
Spokane area actually had an excess of logging capability and a strong log
market with  prices having already more than doubled since '92.

Record breaking snowfall following the ice storm precluded serious salvage
efforts until after "spring breakup" or about April.  Thereafter, activity
picked up momentum until by mid summer a steady stream of loaded logging trucks
was common on the highways leading out of Spokane towards sawmills, or a
chipping plant, some 40 to 75 miles distant.  Quite a switch from the "old
days" when there were big mills in Spokane and all the loaded trucks were going

By the end of the summer, small log inventories at all sawmills were choked and
as expected, log prices had dropped down to less than half of winter prices.  I
have seen no figures on the percentage of timber that was salvaged but from
observation would estimate it to be roughly 50%. 

Due to the rapid deterioration of Pine the remaining material will no longer be
suitable for lumber, however some pulpwood salvage may continue this coming
season.  Pulpwood yields little to no return to the landowner, especially where
its recovery is difficult as in the tangled "jack-straws" of ice strom damage. 

I refer to this as the "first after phase" since there was no way that
salvaging could be prompt or thorough enough to prevent the buildup of bark
beetles, and already there are "red tops" appearing amongst the surviving Pine
in the area.  We will be very lucky if all the remaining Pine are not wiped out
by the beetles before this is all over.  The loggers, many of whom were about
to be reposessed before the ice storm may get yet another reprieve as a surge
of beetle killed Pine salvage begins this coming season.

Just as you have pointed out, Karl, a major problem confronting this salvage
job was the limited availability of proper equipment.  While mechanical logging
is now quite popular in this area, that equipment is very expensive and its
purchase requires a job stability not integral with a one or two season ice
storm salvage.  Most of the loggers possessing such equipment were involved
with other long term commitments on industrial timberlands, and the extemely
small piece size of most the salvage material made even their larger mechanical
equipment unsuitable from a economic standpoint, on many tracts.

In conclusion, a lot of good future Pine logs have been lost, and many
landowners have taken a great financial loss not only due to minimal returns on
the salvaged material but also because of expensive slash cleanup problems, in
some cases without any marketable salvage.  In addition to beetle kill, many
areas will still present a serious fire hazard until cleanup is completed.  

On the plus side, some landowners, especially those who decided to go ahead and
thin out their larger timber while they were at it, put some money in their
pockets.  Some loggers, as mentioned, managed to stay off the welfare rolls a
little longer.  Mills were able to satisfy their small Pine log needs, and for
those who burn Pine firewood it was, and still is, buyers market.  

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