ACLT Requests MNDNR Take Action Regarding Weather Impacts to Winter Harvesting

Doug and Forrest,

If you would share this e-mail with the Commissioner I would greatly appreciate it.

I know that Doug and I spoke about this issue a couple of weeks ago and he indicated that the MNDNR was going to be monitoring the weather situation and would look to make a decision by the middle of February, but that will be too late to have an impact on this years timber harvest season.

John Gephart has done an analysis of winter freeze up patterns since the early 1900’s.  The data shows what typical or average winter subzero patterns are.  I think he should made a presentation of his analysis to you either down there or up here.

The logging industry is getting nervous and is beginning to panic as they look at current and forecast weather.  Not many are operating and those that are are operating summer sales.  The uncertainty of the weather and what the land managers are going to do is causing loggers to not be able to establish their harvest plans.  If they are forced to attempt to freeze down sites because of timber permit expirations they will be significantly increasing costs, reducing productivity and may ultimately not succeed in accessing or completing a sale.

As the lead and largest forest management public entity it is imperative that the MNDNR issue a position statement so that loggers know what to expect.  I would strongly recommend that the MNDNR policy should state that;

The MNDNR, in response to the current, forecast, and potential unseasonably warm weather that will preclude access to many winter harvest permits, will provide Adverse Weather Conditions timber permit extensions if the historical consecutive subzero periods are not realized by January 1st, 2016.  The timber permit extensions will apply to all current winter harvest permits.

The reason for applying the timber permit extensions to all winter harvest permits is because pushing this years permits into next year only creates another problem by doubling the number of permits scheduled to expire next year.  The typical MNDNR timber permit duration was five years.  In an effort to accelerate timber harvesting and land treatment prescriptions the duration of most logging permits was reduced to 3 years.  Extending them all one year would not be anything extreme considering prior MNDNR timber permit duration policy.

If by chance the weather patterns from El Nino do not materialize and the conditions prove suitable for frozen ground timber harvesting then nothing will be necessary.  But loggers deserve to have an idea of what the MNDNR is prepared to do so that they can plan and adjust their harvest plans for this winter.  Otherwise they are stuck waiting on the weather and the MNDNR before they can figure out what their options are.  As one logger put it, “without some immediate statement from the MNDNR we can’t make harvest plan decisions.  If they were to provide some direction then we would have the flexibility to plan our winter harvest operations.”

The current weather conditions have already had an impact on mill inventories.  Boise quit chipping tree length wood on Monday and Tuesday because they did not have enough.  They attempted to chip 100 inch wood but that did not workout.

Also, take a look at the link below that came out today.

I look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

Scott Dane
Executive Director
Associated Contract Loggers & Truckers of Minnesota


House Passes Bipartisan Nolan Measure to Permit Logging Trucks to Use I-35 Around Duluth

Click here to read the press release.

Swamp Logger Bobby Goodson To Speak at ACLT Banquet

speakerMark your calen­dars on April 14th, 2015 for the ACLT Annual Meeting and Banquet. This year’s keynote speaker will be Bobby Goodson of All Terrain Logging, and of the Dis­covery Channel Swamp Logger fame.
Attend the Business Meeting at 4:00 to hear about the past year’s accomplishments of your Associa­tion; issues and challenges facing the timber industry; election of 2015 Directors (Seven positions will be open); a report on the financial position of the ACLT, and other presentations.

At 5:00 the “Break­up” Social Hour will be held with a cash bar and compli­mentary appetizers sponsored by the many fine corporate sponsors of the 2015 ACLT Annual Meet­ing and Banquet. But save room for the sumptuous Prime Rib and Walleye Buffet to begin at 6:00.

swamp loggersDuring dessert, the ACLT will recognize and honor the “Guests of Honor” for their posi­tive contribution to the timber in­dustry. These select few have been invited based on their lifetime of commitment to various elements of the timber industry and the respect they have earned from their timber industry peers.

swamp loggers2This annual event is also a major fundraiser for the ACLT. A silent auc­tion will be held with many gener­ous dona­tions from ACLT mem­bers. Like a timber auction, you are guaranteed to be the winning bidder if you are willing to outbid your timber industry rival.

Also, for a chance to win part of the $5000 cash raffle, be sure to buy a raffle ticket. Many ACLT members have raffle tickets to sell between now and the event. If you need to know who has them in your area, give the ACLT a call at 218-780-5927. The prize levels are Grand Prize – $3,500, 2nd Prize – $1000 and 3rd Prize $500. Tick­ets are $20.00 each. The drawing will be held at the conclu­sion of the evening (9:45).

swamp loggers3This event has become so popular that the Fortune Bay Resort Hotel sells out. The ACLT has a block of discounted rooms available, but the rooms at this rate are limited so it is recommended that reservations be made as soon as possible. Call Fortune Bay Resort at 1-800- 555-1714, ext. 7600 and ask for the ACLT room block.

For those attending MLEP training you are also eligible for a dis­counted room rate by ask­ing for the MLEP room block.  After a long winter log­ging season, make your plans to attend the ACLT 2015 Annual Meeting & Banquet and celebrate.

The Director’s Desk

In conducting some research about the logging industry I was amazed to discover how some things never change.

“In 1937, at the height of the Great Depression, Minnesota’s timber workers triumphed over daunting odds to launch two successful strikes, achieve union recognition, and negotiate unprecedented improvements in wages and living conditions. Their success arose from a collective resolve to gain control over their lives.”

Up until then, loggers were always kept in check by the threat of termination and that another logger was waiting for the job as well as substandard wages that kept men in debt to the company.

“We are the Minnesota Lumberjacks … the most exploited group of workers in the state,” wrote Fred Lequier of the newly formed Minnesota Timber Workers Union in January 1937. “The lumber barons of the Northwest have dealt with us as ruthlessly as they laid waste our great natural resource, the Minnesota forests. Never receiving a living wage from the lumber industry, never earning enough to maintain a home and raise a family which is the right of every man … neglected and unorganized, [we] have been forced to migrate, `following the woods’ in abject pauperism, homeless and disinherited.” Concluding his appeal for aid in the Minneapolis Labor Review , he announced a surprising turn of events: “Un – able to endure these conditions any longer, we have gone out on strike.”

Timing was everything. The lumber barons did not take the loggers seriously and their demands were met with ridicule, but they were caught off guard when the timber industry drew to a halt. In the midst of winter and concerned about getting the wood moved before breakup, the lumber companies agreed to the demands of the loggers which included an eight hour day and increased piece rates.

The agreement was only for nine months and as the expiration approached the loggers became more organized and the lumber companies also organized, forming the Minnesota Timber Producers Association (MTPA), which represented 85 percent of the state’s lumber production.

The two sides came to the bargaining table and after seven weeks of negotiating, the lumber companies offered a proposal that withdrew many gains won in the first strike. In response, representatives of the loggers traveled from camp to camp to take a strike vote. The tally was nearly unanimously in favor, and within a few days 4,000 Minnesota woods workers again walked off the job.

Lumber companies launched a campaign to convince the public that their proposal was reasonable.  Fred Bessette, secretary of the MTPA, and former state legislator from St. Louis County, told the Duluth News Tribune that workers were offered “a general increase of 33 percent over wages a year ago.” He failed to mention that the increase wouldn’t apply to the majority of workers, who were paid by piece rate.

“Such an arrangement would make it possible for an employer to exploit hundreds of men to clear poor strips of timber at little cost to himself,”

The MTPA also attempted to split the farmer-labor alliance that had strengthened the workers’ cause. Farmers, who had been drawn into purchasing deforested land from lumber companies only to discover that the soil produced meager crops, identified with the timber workers’ struggle.

The MTPA tried to convince the farmers that the organized loggers threatened their livelihood. Leading the timber industry’s efforts was Frank T. Ronkainen, who presented himself as a humble farmer, but was actually a contractor for International Lumber.

The loggers won a longsought clause granting a 10-day guarantee for piece workers, and an 18 percent increase in piece rates. Regular workers settled for a raise of $75 a month. The eight-hour day and 48-hour workweek were retained, and workers would no longer have to pay their own employment fees. The agreement, scheduled to remain in effect until Sept. 1, 1938, also forbade discrimination against strike participants.

Minnesota’s timber workers accomplished what seemed impossible: They organized a poor, unskilled, and widely scattered workforce in an industry that for decades had dominated its workers. The strong commitment to collective action, support from the people of northern Minnesota, and Gov. Benson’s unwavering support proved essential to their success.

It seems like today’s loggers are experiencing some of the same issues as the loggers of 1937. It comes to a point where a man’s pride and dignity have just had enough. Then he has to decide if he are going to stand up and demand a fair wage for his work and investment or just continue to keep shipping wood at a rate that fails to allow him to provide a competitive wage, reinvest in equipment, show a profit, and have something to pass on to his children.

Most loggers haven’t seen an 18% increase in pay ever, in fact most loggers are being paid the same rate as they were 10 years ago (although the price of equipment has doubled, fuel has tripled, and stumpage is more). Most work more than an eight hour day and a forty-eight hour workweek. They fear retaliation or blacklisting if they attempt to push for better pay and benefits. However don’t underestimate the ability of a grassroots group of determined loggers and truckers willing to collectively stand up for themselves, just like Minnesota loggers and truckers did over 75 years ago.


Reference Info: Minnesota Historical Society website http://www.mnhs.org/market/mhspress/minnesotahistory/featuredarticles/5605262-277/.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

When the housing industry collapsed in 2006 the ACLT reviewed the wood portfolios of the mills, particularly the mills that closed. The common denominator was that Weyerhaeuser and Ainsworth had the highest cost wood portfolios respectively. Compared to the average cost of the logger wood portfolios, Ainsworth averaged $25/cord higher.

With the housing industry collapse, timber permits were overvalued and many permit holders had to forfeit or have adjustments made to their timber permits. Permit values were 1/3 to 1/2 of the original value. Now, eight years later timber auctions are seeing a spike in bid values approaching those experienced prior to the 2006 collapse. Leading this run up in timber auction prices have been Minnesota mills.

An examination of recent auctions reveals the following examples:

Koochiching County:

  • Boise bid up Aspen to $107.00 per cord on one tract.

Itasca County:

  • Intermediate Auction average bid up 40.44%
  • Regular Auction average bid pp 93.60%
  • SAPPI highest bidder averaging between $50 and $60 per cord

U.S. Forest Service:

  • Repeater Sale Bids:
    • Rutar Logging: $49,189.60
    • DeLack Logging: $63,379.67
    • Boise: 201,459.90

MNDNR:

  • Statewide Sealed Bid Auction
  • Mills were the successful high bidders on many permits averaging approximately $60 per cord. The average combined mill bid up was 247%. SAPPI was the highest average overall bidder at 285% bid up securing nine tracts. Blandin secured 4 tracts at an average bid up of 236% and Boise secured 4 tracts at an average bid up of 222%. Mills purchased 1/3 of the offered tracts. The average non-mill bid up was 91%. But after removing Carlson Timber Products, the average drops to 70% (less than a third of mill bid up). Carlson Timber Products bid up averaged $187% on 7 tracts.

Saint Louis County:

  • Mills proved to be the unquestionable high bidder on many of the sales. The average mill bid up was 140% compared to the average logger bid up of 53%.

The highest bids were Boise on one tract to $68.00 per cord for Aspen followed by SAPPI at $58.00 per cord for Aspen.

Clearly some of the mills are driving the run up in stumpage prices, while at the same time claiming that if they paid loggers more they would just waste it on bidding up stumpage. The facts do not support this excuse. Even if it did on some occasions, mills are able to monitor bid results and specific permits and address loggers/incidents if that appears to occur. Other times they say that they cannot afford to pay any more for wood, but then turn around and pay $20-$30 per cord more for wood at auction.

The recent bid results are not sustainable and will prove detrimental to the entire timber industry in the long run. Unfortunately, with public land managers reaping millions in additional revenue they have no short-term motivation to offer more wood to lower the price of stumpage. The combination of these two trends, high stumpage prices and low timber volume offered, along with continued below cost prices paid to loggers, will result in very negative impacts to the Minnesota timber industry.

Before accusing loggers of spending any additional money received from the mills for delivered wood on stumpage, some mills need to look at who’s leading the run up in stumpage prices.

Paying more for stumpage will not solve the mill wood shortage problem. Paying loggers the additional money being wasted by mills on buying stumpage will strengthen the wood pipeline and capacity and enable loggers to support mill needs.

Where’s the Wood?

The current mill wood shortage is not solely a result of the severe winter weather and wet spring/summer weather. The current situation is a result of a combination of years of wood procurement practices and price structures that have taken advantage of a supply/demand imbalance. This has allowed mills to keep wood prices at a point that prohibited profitable logging operations for many. Additionally, public land management agencies have failed to provide sufficient timber to meet supply demand, thereby increasing competition and price for limited timber. This combination of factors has squeezed the loggers in the middle, forcing many out of business, and eroding logging capacity to the point that it cannot support mill demand.

As an example, Turnboom Logging was a SAPPI supplier. They produced 20,000 cords annually, but like many logging companies they were only keeping the bills paid and the payroll covered. Owner Craig Turnboom approached SAPPI and told them that if they were willing to pay an additional $2.00 per cord, he would be able to draw a modest salary from his business. SAPPI denied his request, so he shut down his business, sold his equipment and went to work in the mines.

Additionally, when Packaging Corporation of America took over the Boise operation the first thing they did was cut the price to loggers as they prepared to go into the winter season. Along with this price cut, Boise reduced the amount of timber stockpiled and eliminated the stockpiling compensation for some loggers. Many open market loggers took their wood to mills that paid a better rate. Then they wonder why they are running short of wood. Now, they have reinstated the price cut (after loggers lost thousands during the winter harvest season) and they seem to be able to pay three times (more on occasion) the appraised value of timber at auction.

It is an unfortunate testimony to the impacts of these wood procurement practices when a loyal, two generation logging family, for Boise is forced to go out of business because they cannot afford to replace a buncher lost to fire. Bob Ranisate stated that during the boom times of OSB he would drive past Ainsworth, who was paying more, and loyally bring his wood to Boise. But last year, when his buncher burned, he shut down his business and said, “What did that loyalty get me?”

Some foresters philosophy is that loggers are like pencils, when you break one, you just get another. This attitude has contributed to the current logging capacity shortage and low woodyard inventories.

You’ve broken too many loggers and if you look around there are no more to replace them.

There are select loggers who have enjoyed more lucrative contracts than most loggers, but they are the exception, not the norm. Most loggers have not received any substantive increase in gate price rates for the past eight years. During this time, equipment has doubled in price and fuel has peaked at over twice the price it was eight years ago. It doesn’t take an economics business major with a Masters degree to figure out that doing business this way is not sustainable.  The results are evident.

Now, after all of these years of not providing a fair rate for delivered wood that would have allowed most logging companies to operate profitably, be able to reinvest in equipment, and retain employees with competitive wages, the mills clamor that their situation was caused by the weather and that they need the public land management agencies to put up emergency timber sales.

With the closure of numerous mills, it would be expected that there would be an oversupply of wood. The public land managers defend their wood offering volume by stating that they have remained consistent. However, private timber land ownership accounts for 47% of the land in Minnesota. During the housing industry boom, private timber land contributed a disproportionate (56%) of harvested timber. With the collapse of the housing industry and subsequent drop in timber value, private timber land has lost the monetary incentive to actively manage (harvest) their land which has created a significant net loss of available timber.  Note: without a timber industry there will be no forest management or timber revenue.

The limited timber volume offered by public land managers has created heavy competition for the available timber and consequently rising stumpage prices. This revenue generation appears to be the shortterm objective of the public land managers instead of forest management and support of the timber industry.

As an example, the recent St. Louis County Auction had an appraised value of $848,269.22 but resulted in a bid up value of $1,850,510.96 – for an additional $1 million in revenue.  The public land managers jumped when the mills said jump, and offered approximately another 150,000 cords of wood this fall.  Unfortunately, all of this wood was pulled forward from future timber auction schedules, which is only going to result in less wood offered in the future and subsequently higher prices.

Unfortunately, some mills wood procurement practices have already done damage. The question is, are they going to learn from their shortsighted mistakes, and change the way that they treat this vital supply component of their mill operation, or continue on until the damage is beyond repair and there is not sufficient logging capacity to keep the mill in operation, and ultimately the mill closes.

The mill wood shortages are not simply the result of weather, or loggers, or truckers, or wood availability, but more a result of forest management policy by public land management agencies and the wood procurement practices of some mills.

Northern Long Eared Bat – Minnesota’s Spotted Owl

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is proposing to add the Northern Long Eared Bat to the Endangered Species List. The bat is being killed in high numbers by the white nose syndrome. The listing of the Northern Long Eared Bat on the Endangered Species List will place vast restrictions on activities that might disrupt the habitat of the Northern Long Eared Bat – specifically forested areas.

Although it is not logging or other activities that are causing the deaths – it is the white nose syndrome (see story about the White Nose Syndrome here) – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposes to address potential habitat disruptions such as logging operations during non-winter months, (although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife has also noted that clear-cutting as conducted during winter timber harvest operations may also negatively impact the bat habitat) based on the following explanation:

Obviously WNS is the main threat to these bat species, but under the ESA, all threats to the species must be considered. On top of that, it is not just population level affects that are considered, but affects to individuals. This is what brings forest management and harvest activities into the mix, because of the potential to “take” (harm, harass, injure, kill) A SINGLE BAT during these activities.

Note: The documented killing and injuring of Bald Eagles, also listed on the Endangered Species List, by wind generators have not resulted in any restrictions to the windmill industry.

Many of these bat species are ubiquitous in forested landscapes, and therefore the potential exists to “take” a bat in most places. This begs the question of likelihood/probability of take and all kinds of variables must be brought into consideration (forest type, species of bat present, bat population density, tree species present, preferred tree species for bat roosting, topography, etc.). I think many of these things are still being considered and analyzed, and will therefore hopefully inform the final decision.

It is my understanding that from a biological perspective, such a restriction might be put in place to reduce the threat to bat pups (young) during the time of year when they are non-volant (not able to fly). If bats are roosting in a tree that is being harvested, the adults may be able to fly to safety, but that wouldn’t be an option for the pups… There might also be concern about removing a roost tree that isn’t currently being used but might be part of a maternity colony. Bats have rather sophisticated social structures, and generally roost in multiple trees in an area, particularly when the bats are grouped into maternity colonies. Removing roost trees whether being used or not, could potentially disrupt the colony, and could cause it to fracture altogether. These are just a few things that come to mind immediately when thinking of reasons why a seasonal harvest restriction might have been put forth as a recommended conservation measure.

-Brandon Hartleben, Regional TES Biologist, USDA – Forest Service, Region 9

Department of Natural Resources from Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin submitted a letter of concern to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife stating:

On behalf of our respective state agencies, we write in regard to the proposed addition of the northern long-eared bat to the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife due to the spread of the white nose syndrome. If approved, this listing would become effective in November of 2014. For the reasons stated below, we request that the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) delay listing of the northern long-eared bat until such time that the concerns regarding the draft guidance can be adequately addressed and discussed with your state partner agencies.

If these measures were applied to all forested lands, they could impact hundreds of thousands of landowners managing their forests and have a crippling effect on our forest product industries.

The Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife responded with the following position:

Your letter requests that we delay listing to provide enough time for a reasonable and appropriate conservation strategy and Habitat Conservation Plans to be developed for the species. The ESA provides that a listing decision may only be extended when “ there is substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to the determination.1” 6.U .S.C. 1533(bX6XBXi). We are carefully examining the scientific information available to us, including all information received from States, Tribes, and other sources, with an eye toward determining whether an extension is appropriate under this standard. If so, we may extend the deadline for up to six months. We welcome your direct input into helping us understand from a States perspective, any “substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data.”

In summary, the response from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service pretty much said, “Thanks for your input, but we are going to do whatever we want, and if we determine that your concerns meet our criteria for consideration of a delay we may allow a delay for up to a maximum of six months – but it is going to happen one way or another!

Since this is a federal issue, the only way to reign in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will be for our congressional delegation of Congressman and Senators to intercede and direct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to delay the listing and implementation of measures that would place devastating restrictions on the Minnesota timber industry, public and private forest management efforts, critical infrastructure projects and multiple use recreational utilization of public lands.

Loggers hold numerous timber contracts to harvest county, state and federal timber. These permits were purchased and have been secured by substantial financial investment and security. Additionally, these timber permits were purchased years in advance as required to establish an adequate timber portfolio to support harvest plans based on economic and market conditions.

If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service impose timber harvest restrictions as part of the inclusion of the Northern Long Eared Bat on the Endangered or Threatened Species Act, the ACLT will support mobilizing a number of logging companies and collectively operating and harvesting the timber permit – in direct opposition and protest to the unreasonable threat to the logging industry. Otherwise the listing of the Northern Long Eared Bat, and timber harvest restrictions, will prove to be Minnesota’s Spotted Owl and be the final straw that breaks a struggling industry.

Six-Month Extension and Re-opening Comment Period on the Proposal to List Northern Long-eared Bat as Endangered

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced a six-month extension on the final listing determination for the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) and a reopening of the public comment period on the proposed rule to list the bat as endangered.

“We are taking this action based on substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency and accuracy of the available data relevant to our determination regarding the proposed listing.”

“We have received many comments that offer different interpretations of our data and question our interpretation of the data. Commenters have questioned our analysis of the northern long-eared bat’s population levels and trends, our projection of the rate that white-nose syndrome may spread and the threat posed by white-nose syndrome to this bat.”

Once published in the Federal Register, the six month extension opens a 60-day public comment period to allow opportunity for agencies, groups and interested people to comment on the proposal and provide us with new information. While such an extension is not used often, it is a legal part of the rulemaking process under section 4(6)(B)(i) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Congressman Nolan, at the urging of the ACLT, submitted a strongly worded letter to the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service directing them to “consider the unintended but severe economic impact of an abrupt halt in forest management practices and summertime timber harvesting” as part of their evaluation and proposals regarding the Northern Long Eared Bat status.

Editors Note: The push back has obviously succeeded temporarily, but it must be noted that the delay to April 2015 really does not remove the threat to the timber industry because the issue of concern would be the restrictions on logging activities that would occur between April and October. If they had listed the bat as originally scheduled in November of this year, those activity restrictions periods would not have gone into effect until April of 2015 anyway. By delaying the listing until April 2015, it does not delay any potential summer time implementation of the period of restrictions. It does give some more time gather additional information and hopefully persuade the U.S. Fish and Wildlife NOT to list the Northern Long Eared Bat.

Attack the Source

The Enemy of my Enemy is my Friend.  A new hope in the battle against WNS?

By Chris Cornelison

For the past six years, the “silver bullet” sought by scientists battling White-nose Syndrome has been an ecologically acceptable tool for destroying or disabling the Geomyces destructans fungus, which causes this scourge that is killing millions of bats. But the search has been frustrating. While some chemical fungicides will kill the fungus, their use would likely devastate complex cave ecosystems and could contaminate water supplies.

Several teams, including ours, are exploring another, potentially more benign, option: biological agents. Now initial results from our research at Georgia State University suggest we have found a very promising candidate: a natural bacterium that in the lab is able to inhibit the fungus without actually touching the bats or the cave. Results suggest that Rhodococcus can prevent the initial colonization of healthy bats, and also slow progression of the disease in already-infected bats – and increase their chance of survival. More research is required to confirm this approach, but the evidence suggests we may be able to save bats and spare the caves.

Early results are promising and provide optimism that the Rhodococcus control agent will give wildlife-management agencies a potent new tool to prevent the spread of WNS and begin the re-colonization of hibernacula that have been devastated by this disease.

CHRIS CORNELISON is a Ph.D. candidate in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Fast track for logging trucks through Duluth?

http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/291673/