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Opportunity from the ashes: Loggers say salvaging timber could be a boon to Oregon's tattered economy

TRAIL ' When logger Ed Hanscom looks at federal forests blackened by last summer's Timbered Rock fire, he sees more than an opportunity to improve forest health and reduce the threat of future fires.

He envisions a chance to salvage an Oregon way of life.

First, it's a damn shame it burned, said the Eagle Point native, whose logging company, HM Inc., is salvaging timber for Boise Corp. a half-dozen miles north of Trail.

But it did ' now we ought to be salvaging it all, he added. There is no point in letting it go to waste. It would finance the rehabilitation of the land and reduce fire danger.

Just as importantly, it would produce sorely needed work for Oregon's troubled timber industry, he said.

— You are about to see Oregon lose a whole culture, he said. What really developed the whole West Coast was the timber industry. And it's about to go away.

Federal agencies are considering plans to salvage timber burned on public lands in last summer's wildfires, which blackened more than a half million acres in southwestern Oregon. Environmental impact statements are expected in June and July with decisions in the fall.

This salvage would give (the timber industry) a shot in the arm, Hanscom said. It would help us get back to land management we need.

Hanscom, 58, has worked some four decades as a logger,, emerging from the woods long enough to earn a degree in forestry from Oregon State University in 1971.

He and his wife, Susan, own the Eagle Point-based HM Inc., which employs about 30 people. A past president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association, he is now president of the Oregon Logging Conference.

Moreover, he is a chip off an old block of Southern Oregon logging history.

His father, Harry, 78, and uncle Harold, 75, each have logged for more than half a century. They started Hanscom Brothers Inc. right after World War II, operating when logging was the economic king of Oregon.

Ed's younger brother Larry, 44, has his own logging outfit, LWH Enterprises.

All four Hanscoms were in the woods last week salvaging the Boise timber burned in the Timbered Rock fire. The 27,000-acre fire, which burned within several miles of Trail, scorched federal and private forestlands laid out in checkerboard fashion.

Ed was overseeing two logging sites; his father was showing two journalists around; his uncle was skinning Cat (operating a bulldozer); and his younger brother was manning a log loader.

Each as sturdy as a tree stump, the Hanscoms bring to mind the fictional Stampers in the late Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion, the classic about an Oregon logging family.

Like the Stampers, the Hanscoms are gyppo loggers, otherwise known as contract loggers.

Unlike the Stampers, they work together and are educated in both the classroom as well as the woods.

But they share the Stamper battle cry of never give a inch. When it comes to salvaging fire-killed timber, they chop away with the same ax.

They'll tell you it is more than what Larry refers to as SWAG opinion ' scientific wild ass guess ' that fire-killed timber on federal land needs to be salvaged. They cite empirical evidence of having worked in salvage projects over the years.

It's a tremendous waste if you don't salvage it, Ed said. It's a waste of a resource, waste of an opportunity.

To a man, they stress that responsible salvaging will improve forest health, reduce the threat of fire and speed forest recovery.

The big thing is this: We are spending millions of dollars to rehab the areas burned by these fires, Ed said of federal land. The dead stuff would pay for all of that so your tax dollars and mine wouldn't have to pay for it.

Harry estimates more than a billion board feet of federal timber should be salvaged in southwestern Oregon as a result of last summer's fires.

Out here, you have a maximum of about 18 months after a fire, Harry said, adding, Then it all goes to hell.

Shortly after the trees die, bug infestation and splitting ruins the lumber potential in smaller trees, he said, adding that larger trees last longer.

You've got to manage these forests, he said. You just can't walk away when you have fires like this.

A past president of the Pacific Logging Congress, Harry Hanscom is rankled by those who portray loggers as land-rapers who don't care about the environment.

I'm proud of what we do, said Harry, whose ancestors helped settle the area. His father was blinded in a timber industry accident, he said.

It'll get you if you're at it long enough, Harry said.

But it's not the inherent danger of the occupation that is clearcutting Oregon of its loggers, he said. It's the changes in law and culture.

We've gone from 60,000 people in the woods to less than 10,000 in my life, he said. Until we can get to where we are managing our forestlands properly, there is no hope.

Salvaging fire-killed trees on federal land is proper management, he insisted.

It could be like this, he said, adding, You come back here in a couple of years and it'll be a young, healthy, growing forest.

The youngest Hanscom, Larry, who spent a few years in college but opted to stay in the logging woods, agrees with the family patriarch.

My response to those who say we shouldn't salvage this fire-burned timber is that's the same as growing your garden at home and just letting everything rot, he said. It's just pure waste not to salvage this timber.

He pointed to fire-killed timber across the canyon.

That's federal over there, he said. There is no reason that dead timber should be standing there.

His crew logged an adjacent private site in January without harming the mountainside, he said.

The work isn't easy.

Working with fire-burned timber is very messy and very dangerous, he said, then pointed down the mountain, steep as a pyramid.

See all those rocks that are burned loose? he said, indicating a group of rocks just above three choker setters wearing orange hardhats. They break loose all day long.

As if on cue, the rocks were jiggled loose by a turn of logs being pulled up by a cable yarder. They cartwheeled down the mountainside. The choker setters scrambled to the side.

Yeah, it's hard not to be depressed by the scope of this fire, he said before heading back to work.

But when you do a good thinning job and it looks like a park underneath, then you feel good because you are doing the right thing.

Eagle Point resident Webster Web Jackson, 46, also figures timber salvage is the right thing. He is the firm's hook tender, the one who lays out the skid rows. His father was a Cat skinner for the Hanscom Brothers.

The younger Jackson has been logging for 26 years, beginning shortly after Harry Hanscom, then a school board member, handed him his diploma from Eagle Point High School.

You get a littler dirtier with this burned timber, Jackson said. The brush is harder. You can't go through it like you can green brush. These limbs are brittle. They poke you.

That may seem like a small thing at first, but it gets old fast after beating the brush all day, he noted.

Then you got the rocks coming down on you, he said. Nothing holds them back.

But he figures logging the burned timber is a smart move.

If you don't salvage it, no family is gonna have a wage coming in from it, he said. And it's not gonna help the forest leaving it there.

But the loggers all say it's already too late for the trees that are less than a foot in diameter on adjacent federal forestlands.

The smaller logs won't be any good after the middle of July or the first of August, said Ed Hanscom, pausing from work on a logging site a few miles from his brother.

And litigation by those opposed to salvage could delay action until it's too late for even the big timber, he said.

A lot of stuff will go to waste during the appeals process, he said.

If it does offer salvage opportunities, Uncle Sam has to consider the economic reality faced by loggers when offering sales, he said.

As an example, he observed that a federal salvage sale on the Quartz fire in the Applegate Valley failed to sell last year because it required rehabilitation work on roads before harvesting began.

You had to put out about &

36;350,000 on road work before you could cut any trees, he explained. All of that timber was small. So if you faced a lawsuit that held it up for even a few months, you'd lose everything you put into it.

Logging can't be done on the cheap, he said. As an example, he pointed to the yarder, delimber and shovel working nearby.

You're looking at replacement value on these three machines: &

36;700,000 on the yarder, &

36;450,000 on the delimber and the shovel about &

36;350,000, Ed said. All this stuff is financed in a five-year package. You're talking about huge payments.

So you've got a tremendous investment, he added. And there is no security at all you'll be able to pay for it.

The financial risk and potential for lawsuits causes him to wonder about logging's future.

Our whole industry has been bad-mouthed to the point young people don't want to come out here, he said.

For us, this is probably the end of the line, he said of his family's tradition. It's too bad. But for me to tell someone there is any realistic chance of coming out here and getting a return on an investment is a hard sell.

Still, he hopes salvage opportunities will arise out of the ashes of last summer's fires, keeping alive a way of life for those who wear caulk boots.

I don't mind the hard work, he said. If we could just do what we are supposed to do out here ... I sure like being out here.