Friday, October 2, 2009

A $4750 Tree

Choosing local materials is not only good for the environment, but is also good for your local economy. This post features a guest writer, Greg Nolan of Snowy Pines Reforestation, whose article "A $4750 Tree" documents the importance of wood as a building material and demonstrates the real-time economic impact felt through the story of following just one tree.

A $4750 Tree
By Greg Nolan of Snowy Pines Reforestation 9/29/09

Several years ago I wrote an article for our local newspaper about a $3000 white pine tree (Long Prairie Leader 2/3/99). I am back with an update on another tree. Many of the things from the first article still hold true today but obviously we have refined our skills as a business with the art of marketing and utilization.

The most recent tree was bigger as it had another ten years to grow, and scaled at over 1000 board feet (Scribner). We hired a local band saw mill and target sawed this wood siding at ¾ inch thick. With the thin kerf saw blade and target sawing at ¾ inch thick, we harvested about 1500 square feet of siding and trim from this one tree. The house that we covered with siding from this tree needed about 1,200 square feet of siding. Including trim and soffit material and allowing for waste, we estimated a bid of $4750. White pine makes beautiful siding and can last over 100 years (see tobacco sheds in SW Wisconsin).

The tree, a broken-topped white pine cut near our mailbox, covered the whole house with material to spare. It was a beautiful tree that was falling apart. A portion of the top almost hit me as I pedaled past on my bike one windy day.

The embodied energy in our locally-harvested trees is mostly solar powered. Sunshine is the energy trees use to produce wood. At our mill, solar energy air-dries the wood and solar electricity runs many of our milling machines. No more than 5 gallons of diesel fuel were used to cut the tree, move it to the mill, saw the logs into siding, and deliver the material to the building site.
One gallon of fossil fuel = $1000 economic activity.
Wood is about ½ carbon by weight, which the tree removes from the atmosphere as it grows. We look at our business of milling salvage trees and installing high value, long-lived wood products as a solar-powered atmospheric carbon mining operation.

When it comes to harvesting trees and turning them into installed wood products, there is a thing called an economic multiplier. Every dollar that grows on a tree (money does grow on trees in my business) turns into about $40 in finished installed wood products. With wood flooring I sometimes see a 50 to 1 economic multiplier, and with house framing material you might only see a 30 to 1 multiplier. Most of the multiplier comes in the form of value-added labor (local high wage jobs).

About $600 of this tree’s added value went into state sales tax and self-employment tax (social security). There are also local real estate taxes figured on the finished house that will come for years to come.

When we moved onto our property over thirty years ago we counted our pole-sized (12 to 18 inch diameter) white pine trees (300) and figured if we cut 3 problem trees each year, that our family forest would have white pine trees for at least 100 years. As we cut these problem trees, more seedlings (in a variety of species) sprout into the holes we make in the forest and the trees that we leave get bigger faster than if we left them crowded. Most of the cutting, over the years, consisted of small and stunted trees but we also have taken some whoppers at times from lightning strikes and wind damage. We have seen this kind of monetary return from our lumbering activities more then once on our yearly harvest. The cull trees we cut today are much bigger then ones we cut in the past.
Our standing timber volume for the three-acre stand of white pine at Snowy Pines has increased in the past thirty years from about 20,000 board feet in 1979 (DNR timber plan) to about 65,000 board feet today (Masconomo Forestry cruise), even as we have cut our ration of two or three trees a year. This would be a production rate of about 500 board feet per acre, per year, which is on the high end but still very possible.

Snowy Pines believes that by encouraging local forestry and wood products entrepreneurs with consumer spending and government purchasing, similar stories could be replicated across the lake state region to produce hundreds if not thousands of green service and manufacturing jobs, while we improve our forests.

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