When I first began to formalize the idea of posting a blog, I was counseled by a professional journalist to make each segment brief in order to keep the reader engaged. With that advice in mind I ended the previous edition with so much left unsaid that I feel obligated to pick up where I left off after only a brief delay.
The White Oak Initiative, which was the subject of the bulk of the previous effort, included not only the aforementioned information provided by forest economist Bill Luppold of the U.S. Forest Service; but also a discussion of Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) and its role in determining necessary metrics by Tom Brandeis also of the Forest Service; and a very basic but concise explanation of white oak silviculture courtesy of current Acting Chair of the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry, Dr. Jeff Stringer who had taken leave from a family vacation in Florida to make a whirlwind trip to Lexington in order to chair the proceedings.
Without any intent to minimize the value of the information provided by the first three speakers, Tom Martin, President/CEO of the American Forest Foundation, gave a presentation that provided a very compelling snapshot of what he believes the successful White Oak Initiative must encompass.
Even though the theme that had been focused on throughout much of the previous presentations, and is critical to the success of the overall project, was the quality log that is the primary focus of the cooperage and bourbon industries, Tom made it clear that any successful program must take into account the need to profitably merchandize, not just stave quality logs, but logs falling both below, and in the case of veneer, above the ideal criteria necessary for producing staves.
Tom’s discussion caused me to reflect on my early involvement with the cooperage industry at a stave mill in Virginia during the summers of 1964 and 1965 – seemingly a lifetime ago. As a summer intern and forestry student I spent a significant number of days assisting our logging crew. This group was directed to fell only stave quality white oak trees. Once the tree was on the ground the timber cutter would start at the butt and block out 40-inch long segments until the quality of the tree was no longer suited for stave production – in those days that was essentially at the point of the first knot. The remainder of the tree was left where it laid and, although I never witnessed the process, I was told that a crew from a cross tie mill would follow behind us and salvage whatever they could utilize.
To summarize, a successful White Oak Initiative must include a multitude of markets, not confined to the cooperage industry but involving veneer mills, sawmills, pallet mills and outlets for byproducts including wood chips, bark, and sawdust. It will involve end users worldwide manufacturing products as diverse as furniture, flooring, pallets, railroad cross ties, paper and charcoal.
One extremely critical observation that Tom made is that the forestry community needs to identify examples of well-managed stands of white oak that can be utilized for instructing all stakeholders on what the ultimate management objective should encompass. With this in mind, it is not too early to begin assembling a file on any tracts that might meet the necessary criteria.
The other presentation that I found extremely intriguing was given in the closing session of the three-day meeting by Tom Howard Vice-President for Government Relations For Domtar Paper Company, who dealt with two distinctly different, but equally important, areas.
Tom’s first topic had to do with Domtar’s ongoing research into the development of new products, unrelated to its traditional line of paper products, from the basic components of wood – cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin – that are recovered from the pulping process. This coincided with some of the findings I had encountered during my visit to the Forest Products Laboratory during my visit to Madison, Wisconsin last November and could well be critical in developing new by-product markets for wood product manufacturers.
Tom also made mention of something that I believe has tremendously positive implications for forestry regardless of one’s political leanings. You may remember that in his first week in office President Trump convened a meeting of the CEOs of some of the countries’ largest and most influential companies. Included in that group was Mark Sutton, CEO of International Paper Company, whose inclusion in this assemblage was, in itself, significant; but more importantly, the President made it clear to Mr. Sutton that he was well aware of the nature of the critical issues being faced by the forest products industry.
Before I bring to a final close all discussion of the KFIA Annual Meeting I would like to take time to thank the following foresters: Phil Horsley who staffed the KDF booth; Pam Snyder who faithfully assumed her accustomed position at the Tree Farm booth and Stewart West, Ray Campbell, Steve Kull and again Pam who attended the White Oak Initiative meeting and were on hand to provide information as needed. I would also like to offer my congratulations to Service Forester Lisa Armstrong who was recognized as the Tree Farm Inspector of the Year.