Marketing “Character Wood”

In an effort that could be replicated across the region, one county in Minnesota is trying to encourage growth of hardwood forests. They think sawmills and related enterprises that use hardwoods will create good long-term jobs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill has more:


In an effort that could be replicated across the region, one county in Minnesota is trying to encourage growth of hardwood forests. They think sawmills and related enterprises that use hardwoods will create good long-term jobs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:

Forests throughout the Great Lakes are economic powerhouses. In Minnesota alone, the timber industry contributes nearly 8 billion dollars to the economy. Pulp and paper mills dominate the industry in Minnesota. They cut a lot of aspen to produce paper and chipboard. Three fourths of the wood cut in the state goes to these mills. Most of them are owned by big, multi-national companies. Sawmills are much smaller, and they’re usually locally owned. They use a variety of wood, including pine and spruce, maple and oak, to produce paneling, flooring, and trim.

(Car doors slam)

Aitkin County foresters are visiting a logging
site about 50 miles west of Duluth. Most of these trees are about 80 years
old. There’s sugar maple, basswood, and red oak. Such forests provide
prime habitat for a broad range of species. Forester Mark Jacobs says it’s
time to cut some of the trees down, to give others a chance to grow
faster. He wants to do it as much like nature as possible.

“The type of disturbance that would happen in here, since it’s kind of protected from fire, would be individual trees falling. Through mortality or if a windstorm would go through, a small group of trees may fall down in the natural cycle.”

Foresters imitate nature by choosing mainly smaller, diseased or mis-shapen trees to be cut. Joe Jewett has the logging contract to thin the woods. He examines each log to figure out how it can best be marketed.

“The higher grade lumber is around the outside of the log and then here this is the heart, this is the sapwood, and the higher grade is out here.”

The small trees have lots of branches, so the wood will have a lot of knots. So it’s hard to sell, because most people want clear-grained wood.

“Howdy, how’s it going?”

Dan Haugen is visiting Jewett to see if he can help sell the wood Jewett has cut. Haugen is a middleman. He buys wood from loggers and sells it to lumber yards. He’s trying to create a demand for wood with knots and color variations. Haugen calls it “character wood.”

“If you go into most homes, the millwork, the cabinets and the flooring, most of it’s clear. And you can look around in the forest and see all these limbs, and that’s just not how God makes these trees. And so we really need to find some markets for character grades of forest products.”

(Saw, sfx from processor)

Aitkin Hardwoods buys some of Haugen’s wood. The small factory is filled with the smell of freshly cut boards. Stacks of lumber reach to the ceiling. The oak, maple, ash, and aspen boards will become paneling, flooring, and trim. Manager Rich Peterson says he’s found a market for character grade lumber. He says people building lake cabins in the area want informal-looking wood to build their casual second homes. They find clear wood too boring.

“They haven’t seen any mineral streak, there are
no knots, and all of those things today are considered beautiful.”

Peterson employs four workers and sells about 40 semi-loads of lumber each year. He’s expecting his business to grow. He says Aitkin County’s long-term approach to forest management will eventually produce more, and better quality lumber. Some day, he hopes furniture could be produced here. That would bring more jobs, and better profits than paneling and flooring.

Hardwood manufacturing in Aitkin County is growing slowly. The raw materials are growing slowly in the woods, and entrepreneurs like Rich Peterson are slowly building markets. It’s a different scale from the pulp mills that employ hundreds of people and cut down thousands of acres of trees every year. And that’s fine with Aitkin County’s land department. Forester Mark Jacobs says the local economy will still benefit from a growing hardwood industry –slowly but surely.

“Some smaller sawmills expanding, maybe a kiln-drying facility, maybe some secondary manufacturing, and in total it could be several hundred employees.”

And Jacobs says in the meantime, people who live in the county, and people who have cabins here, enjoy the hardwood forests.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

Scientists Improve Tree Inbreeding

The timber industry specially breeds trees to increase their value.
Trees are worth more when they grow straight, tall and fast. Inbreeding
trees within the same family can increase the frequency of these traits,
but now a new study shows it can also be fatal. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Todd Witter has more:

Commentary – Recycling at Risk

In recent months, the country’s solid waste companies have been engaged in what amounts to a battle of the giants. As corporations like USA Waste and Waste Management merge and gain power, small, independent waste haulers are being swallowed whole. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Gayle Miller believes the frenzy in the solid waste industry spells bad news for recycling:

Logging Controversy Continues

A 100-acre tract in the Superior National Forest is the latest battleground in the ongoing war over how public lands are managed. It’s been the subject of court rulings, blockades, and protest rallies. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports, the conflict is stirring up an emotional debate that so far has taken the usual line of jobs versus the environment: