Monday, March 2, 2009

'How can you put a price on something nobody wants?'

From KATU:

The timber market on the North Coast has deteriorated to the point where industry experts say they don't even know how much a log is worth anymore.

How can you put a price on something nobody wants?

The depressed housing market has stunted demand for lumber, leaving just a trickle of business for local sawmills and little reason for loggers to harvest additional timber in Clatsop County.

Local sawmills have curtailed operations while the market slumps, sending workers home for weeks at a time while the industry waits for a recovery.

But aside from some hope for construction triggered by federal stimulus funds, there's no reprieve in sight.

"It's brutal," said Jay Browning, owner of J.M. Browning Logging in Knappa and a companion trucking business. "I really have to wonder about my company. Where will my company be a year from now?"

Browning said his payroll went from $1 million a month at its peak to $170,000 last month. He's had to lay off around 90 people.

"Right now I doubt you could get a price from anybody because very few mills are taking logs at this time," said Ty Williams, a unit forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry's Astoria District. "The markets are flooded. All the wholesalers, their warehouses are full. Mill yards are at capacity. They can't take any more logs in their yards. They're starting to stack up in the woods. It's real bleak."

The department is putting extra effort into marketing timber for utility poles, which could see a bump in demand as federal stimulus money funds more infrastructure and clean energy projects.

Utility pole timber has a much higher value than lumber, but it's also held to higher standards of size and shape. Only 15 percent of the available volume in the Clatsop State Forest will meet utility pole specifications, said Williams.