Log trucks head to Boise Cascade mills

<p>This Farm Supply logging truck driven by Kelly Fisher is one of many carrying logs off of Hancock Timber property, north of Enterprise, to the Boise Cascade sawmill in Elgin.</p>

With “frost going out of the roads” and “logging season winding down,” what looks to be an upsurge in the number of loaded logging trucks passing through Enterprise is misleading.

So says Tim Gilbert, a 30-year veteran of driving a logging truck in and out of Wallowa County under the business name Tim Gilbert Logging LLC.

Gilbert says that many contracted log truck drivers have completed other jobs and now are looking to find available work before spring thaws seasonally halt the flow of timber out of the woods and on to sawmills.

And that takes many truck owners to Hancock Timber, the largest private landowner in Wallowa County (with about 148,000 acres here). Hancock is actively fulfilling a contract it inherited from Forest Capital, which sold all of its Wallowa County land to Hancock last July.

Although the specifics of that contract are not known publicly, its importance to the continuation of logging and log hauling in Wallowa County is huge. It’s known that the contract inherited from Forest Capital expires at the end of 2014. Whether that contract will be renewed and, if so, to what extent, has yet to be determined. John Sahlberg, vice president of human resources/communications for Boise Cascade recently told the Chieftain by phone that he’s encouraged that negotiations about the contract’s potential renewal are set to begin in April.

Because Boise Cascade owns sawmills in Elgin, La Grande, and other locations in Northeast Oregon and Hancock now is a major supplier of logs to those mills, the significance of renewing that contract is readily apparent to local people knowledgeable about the timber industry.

Gilbert says Hancock currently is working hard to beat spring thaws as it works on two clear-cutting operations underway north of Enterprise. One, says Gilbert, is near the top of Snow Hollow Hill – about 15 miles north of Enterprise near Highway 3 – and the second is a few miles farther north of that site near the now-abandoned ODOT Flora workstation.

With the exception of pulp logs, which now are being hauled to a mill in Clarkston, Gilbert says logs harvested from those two clear-cutting operations are headed to sawmills owned by Boise Cascade.

He says all logs now being harvested north of Enterprise by Hancock, at least those not categorized as pulp or ponderosa pine, are being shipped to the sawmill in Elgin. Those species include Douglas fir, tamarack, white fir, lodgepole, and spruce.

In contrast, depending on size of the tree, harvested ponderosa pine logs are being shipped either to La Grande or Pilot Rock. Gilbert says pine logs smaller than 12” in diameter are being shipped to La Grande, and any ponderosa logs of a larger dimension are being hauled to the Boise Cascade mill in Pilot Rock.

Gilbert would not hazard a guess as to how many privately-owned trucks now are hauling logs off of Hancock land north of Enterprise, but did estimate that maybe 90 percent of those trucks are owned by contractors from either Wallowa or Union counties.

Challenges to survive economically as an owner of a logging truck are many.

“About 25 to 30 years ago I spent about $100 a day on fuel,” said Gilbert. “Now the cost of fuel exceeds $400 a day.”

He says ways to make the hauling of logs a more profitable profession are repeatedly thwarted by state controls.

For instance, says Gilbert, adding a few extra logs per load beyond the allowable 80,000-pound weight limit doesn’t pay because of weigh stations and potential fines; and going faster to possibly make a fourth trip from Hancock property north of Enterprise to Elgin instead of the usual three trips can result in costly speeding tickets. Driving extra hours to make additional trips likewise isn’t a viable solution because it would push his driving hours beyond allowable limits.

“What other industry has that kind of state controls that tell you what you can’t do to make a living?” questions Gilbert.

Where logs are trucked totally rests in the control of Hancock Timber.

And the future of much of the timber industry in Wallowa County well could pivot around contractual negotiations to begin in April between Hancock Timber and Boise Cascade Corporation.

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