Opinion: Lack of Timber has Always Been the Issue

Here’s Jennifer Phillippi’s response to a radical activist who recently attacked her family over the recent closure of their Rough & Ready sawmill, the last in Josephine County. This piece originally appeared in the Grants Pass Daily Courier:

Andy Kerr’s May 1 Guest Opinion about my family’s announcement to close Rough and Ready Lumber after 91 years in business was breathtakingly inaccurate and bewilderingly unkind. Unfortunately these days, repeated statements, whether grounded in reality or not, are often accepted as truth in our distracted, sound-bite world.

Since Rough and Ready has closed its doors, it initially seemed pointless to respond to Kerr’s charges, but after several Rough and Ready employees came in waving copies of Kerr’s piece, I began to feel a need to vindicate their important contribution to our community and economy, and explain once again that a lack of timber supply is the issue.

Kerr’s piece brought to mind an almost identical Daily Courier Guest Opinion written by a K-S Wild counterpart just 10 months ago. My August 2012 response provides an easy rebuttal to their accusations of a “flawed business model” and our supposed need for “old-growth” logs:

Staying in business for 90 years doesn’t just happen. It comes from being forward-looking and constantly adapting to the changes necessary for survival.

• Rough and Ready built the first computerized small-diameter mill in the region (which we operated for 30 years), but environmental litigation almost completely shut down the federal forests around us and made it impossible to supply that highly-productive mill. We were pushed back to our conventional mill, which produces high-quality products, but much more slowly.

• We built a $6 million cogeneration plant that creates enough renewable electricity to power 1,500 homes each year. (Contrary to Kerr’s assertion, Rough and Ready privately financed $5 million of the total dry kiln/cogeneration project.)

• We became Forest Stewardship Council green certified and market products only from carefully managed forests.

• We manage our own forestlands sustainably under strict forest practice rules and never harvest more than the annual growth, equating to only 12 percent of Rough and Ready’s annual needs.

• We have a long tradition of investing in our community, and as we struggle to operate with an insufficient log supply, are frustrated that we can’t do more.

But, no matter what innovations we pursue or how progressive we try to be, it seems that our efforts go unacknowledged by those who might prefer that we simply go away.

A small-diameter mill using only forest thinnings may sound sensible to some, but a lack of understanding of economic complexity and the scale needed for such a venture is troubling.

In fact, the Medford District of the Bureau of Land Management told us it has only a couple years of small-diameter forest thinning.

Those who promote an economy based on thinnings don’t address what should happen when these projects are completed. Investing in a $40 million or $50 million very-small-diameter mill with an uncertain future is not feasible. (Especially when one considers that Kerr and K-S Wild don’t support Swanson Group’s small log mill in Glendale any more than they support us.)

In addition to the points made in my 2012 Guest Opinion, I would stress that no matter how many times Kerr says otherwise, Rough and Ready could operate continually without cutting a stick of old-growth. The average log needed to provide the high-grade products our customers and consumers clamor for is a size an adult could put their arms around, a 22- to 24-inch diameter, second-growth tree.

Kerr’s recent assertions almost uniformly defy logic, but are so numerous I can take on only a few. His pointing to Chinese sawmills as a preferable manufacturing approach is absurd.

In fact their unsophisticated technology and labor-intensive, low-wage structure is an ecologically wasteful and inhumane model I would be ashamed to emulate.

And Kerr claims that “R&R has 18.6 MMBF of Medford BLM timber under contract, none of which is encumbered by conservationist challenges,” when actually those timber sales amount to only 16.9 million board feet, of which 11.1 million have been protested or appealed by environmentalists.

If a sustainable supply of federal logs had in fact been sold and not litigated, we surely would have continued to operate and adapt our business as we have for the past 91 years

When Kerr forwarded his misleading Guest Opinion to our Oregon congressional delegation, he gloated, “I’m not sure one should be allowed to have as much fun writing this piece as I had.” That comment seems particularly galling as we watch our treasured employees struggle with lives that have been turned upside down.

Kerr’s remark is also in stark contrast to a comment my father made in an article in 1986 about an environmental proposal that threatened the existence of Rough and Ready: “I don’t like to think about it,” Dad said, “I do not understand how people who say they care deeply about life and living things can have so little regard for their fellow man. This would bring a lot of heartache and personal tragedy to our valley.”

Sadly, that is where we find ourselves today.

o o o

Jennifer Phillippi, her husband, Link, and her brother were the third generation of the Krauss family to operate the Rough and Ready mill in Cave Junction, which closed in April.

Opinion: Lack of Timber has Always Been the Issue