An Undeserved Slam Against the Industry!!

Letter to the Editor – Home News, Spring Green WI  April 18, 2007

Dear Editor,
I own and operate a sawmill in Richland county and recently read Mr. Birkemeier’s  article in your 12/20/06 issue.  Normally, our industry has not responded to written assaults.  However, due to the globalization of the hardwood industry, the times have changed.  We no longer simply produce a product and sell it.  We must apply great effort in educating our customers about why our North American hardwoods are still far superior to foreign woods and that these superior woods are a renewable resource that are harvested in a sustainable fashion.

Mr. Birkemeier failed to mention that Veit Nam and China generally buy lower priced woods.  Coupled with low labor costs and minimal environmental standards, they can send an inexpensive product to sell in the American marketplace.  Fifty percent of China’s wood is not only inexpensive; it has been obtained by illegal means. 

Mr. Birkemeier makes reference to a log buyer who “make(s) sport by taking advantage of unknowing landowners.”  I will not believe that there is a reputable company around that would tolerate an employee who would think such a thing, let alone say it.  Further, I consider all of my local competitors in the sawmill business reputable.

And he is a forester, it is difficult for me to comprehend his ideas of conventional forestry practices.  We do leave behind small diameter trees, precisely because the small trees have future value if they are allowed to continue to grow.  If the small trees are taken, it will take much longer for the forest to regenerate.  And contrary to his statement, we do take the damaged trees, in order to open up space for the small trees to grow and keep the forest healthy.  Focusing a harvest on small trees really only makes sense if your equipment is too small to handle large timber.

Mr. Birkemeier’s statement of what a forest can yield is ludicrous!  Based on his numbers, his family’s land would generate $800,000 per year.  Get Real!  I’m sure many residents of the tri-county area would like to ask Mr. Birkemeier:   if his forestry teachings were put into practice at the Sustainable Cooperative at Lone Rock, and it could not succeed with over $300,000 in grant money, how could they work in a real business scenario?

The number of profitable sawmills is diminishing rapidly.  This isn’t because our business is getting easier or because everybody is make big profits.  Our business is quite similar to farming, in that the small operations are struggling due to low margins.  Foreign lumber and hardwood products flooding our markets have made profits more difficult.

When it comes to sustainable managing its healthy forests, Wisconsin is a recognized world leader.  The article about Mr. Birkemeier is an undeserved slam against the North American hardwood industry.  We are an important part of this state’s economy, and we must continue to improve our practices and educate consumers about the superiority of North American hardwoods to enable our survival as an industry.

Scott Sawle
Rockbridge Sawmill, Inc.
Richland Center.

Home News - PO Box 39 Spring Green, WI 53588 (  608) 588-2508
The article mentioned was written by Editor - David Giffey.

What do you think?

Here are a few responses so far.....

Jim:  Concerning the guy who feels the industry was "slammed" by your article: Most foresters and loggers do KNOW they should cut the ugly stuff; they just don't DO it! Anyone who says most loggers do perform future-oriented cuts is in denial at best and is lying at worst. Few folks live "off the land" in any form any more. Those that do must be doing something right.  


Just wanted to drop you a line to say I couldn't agree more with what you've posted on your site. I am a logger in northeast PA, always been a mom and pop operation and I am so sick and darned tired of the mismanagement of our industry! It's bad enough a smaller outfit like mine has been edged out of the state and federal job markets because I can't compete with them in terms of bids. But now I'm having a heck of a time even cutting on the private market because I have to spend at LEAST 50 % of my time trying to "answer" for these  disreputable companies' practices.
I've always taken a very conservative approach when it comes to timber harvesting, I don't damage properties, I improve them, stay away from streams and make sure my equipment is properly maintained. I also work equally hard to be fair, honest and informative when it comes to the landowners I deal with. It utterly baffles me as to why others in the industry seem to find these same things so hard to do? I just drove by a local job today that just totally and completely disgusted me. This outfit just annihilated one of the nicest tracts of land in our area.Don't get me wrong, by now I'm used to seeing trees hung up, smashed,or otherwise unskillfully cut, but man these guys really went the extra mile to ruin this property. Their  haul road looked like soup, they took every standing twig they could with the exception of the ones they broke and mangled, then the coups de gras was they decided to run their skids right through a huge creek!
I mean come I am barely able to AFFORD the conservation costs I incur for being responsible, and don't make as much as the other guys because of it....and these guys think a creek is the appropriate place to be running their huge equipment through because God forbid they miss a tree or foot the bill to put stone in like I do?
The worst part is it's not just the crooked outfits to blame anymore for these conservation nightmares,  in alot of cases the landowners are just as bad if not worse! I can't tell you how many jobs I've flat out turned down even when I really needed the work, because they were in flood plains or would have involved crossing a creek illegally and unsafely. Or in many cases because the land had already been way overcut and needed a long time to recover. All this only to have the property owners who didn't like to hear NO (even though it was for the good of them and their land) turn around and get someone else in there who only ever says yes with no regard for the land or the industry they're hurting.
Glad to see I'm not the only one out there who's tired of bad big business! I'm currently building a site of my own because of it (which is how I stumbled upon yours) in an effort to better inform people of what's going on, and what shouldn't be going on in the industry. I hope to offer a lot of relevant resources to landowners and RESPONSIBLE forestry companies when it's fully up and running. One of the features I want to have are links to other like minded organizations to give the little guys a leg up . Best regards,
Bill Hibbs.


Hello from a fellow forester who really likes your website. 

Glad to see you're still going. I dream of doing what you're doing - or at least parts of what you're doing. I can't imagine getting involved in so much wood processing, but I would absolutely love to partner with someone who would do the processing while I do the forestry/logging.

I have concluded that a big part of the problem is not the timber companies so much as all the enviros (environmental activist groups) who apparently don't think it's important to tell the public that they should be building their houses out of wood from people like you and forests like yours.

I'll have to read more of your stuff. It's enjoyable. Would like to have some long chats with you sometime!  Also I will hope to get a good website soon.


My response - printed in the Home News - April 25, 2007

Dear Editor,
As a small forest owner, we have learned to do things  “Just the Opposite” of what is business-as-usual in the traditional big corporation dominated timber industry.  Our annual timber growth is now quadruple the average for this region, and our income is about 100 times what most people are paid for their timber harvests. We offer everything that we know to other forest owners, at   You can read what I really do, everyday in my business. We are also hosting a Arthroscopic Logging Field Day on May 5th where you can see how we do it!  Details are on the website, or call me at 588-7342.

It may be coincidence, but Scott Sawle bought the sawlogs from the timber harvest at the Hwy 14 Wisconsin River boat landing this past fall – I have no problem with his purchase, it’s business.  I have written an article about this harvest on my website,  

My point is that the State is the biggest timber owner in the River Valley.  The DNR sells a total of about 400 acres of timber each year from their 30,000 acres of forest.  We taxpayers earned about $9,000 from this harvest – that adds up to $4 per acre per year income.  While 1/7th of the wood harvested went to the sawmill north of Richland Center - over half of the wood went to a foreign owned paper mill 100 miles north of Spring Green. The rest went to the pallet mill 60 miles north to be made into the second lowest value-use for wood.  But the only benefit to the River Valley community might have been if the loggers from 100 miles north - may have stayed in a local hotel and bought some food or fuel here. 

How can forestry ever be “sustainable” if the timber growers are not paid enough to pay their costs and make it worth their while to manage their forests?  If the biggest forest owner in the region sells their wood for $4/acre per year, how can the average landowner earn a significant income?  The modern definition of “sustainable forestry” is that it must earn the forest owner a profitable economic return, provide multiple benefits to the local community, and be ‘State of the Art’ forest management.

If the wood had been harvested, manufactured, and used in the River Valley area, the story could be quite different. Loggers using small, modern equipment could have earned 20 times the wages of the few workers from ‘up north’ running the big timber harvesters  used in this operation.  300+ tons of wood could have been used as fuel to heat our schools.  Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel would not be used hauling the logs away from the region.  200,000 square feet of hardwood flooring could have been manufactured and sold in S Wisconsin, earning local businesses about two million dollars.  

There is an alternative to big corporate timbering – I can show you if you are interested.

Jim Birkemeier


We were also pleased that Jim wrote a rebuttal into the Home News in response to Swale's comment from the previous week. We tend to take Jim's side of the tale . Big business will always be just that I fear, money IS the route of all evil.
Warm Regards,
Tom & Bob