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County working to increase timber sales in summer

Hubbard County Land Commissioner Mark Lohmeier said Monday he would re-evaluate the county's position and look into improving summer timber sales.

His comments come in the wake of a protracted discussion by the county board last week over whether to ramp up the county's summer logging.

The issue came up when a small logging firm requested a hardship extension of their winter contract.

The county is catching heat from loggers and wood plants of a scarcity of good quality wood and a steady supply of that wood.

Lohmeier disputed a story in last week's Enterprise that all of the contracts are winter timber sales.

"We sold 2085 acres worth of timber in 2011," he said in an e-mail.  "Of that, 1159 acres were 'winter only', while 926 were either 'all season' or 'summer' only. I would hardly classify this as nonexistent."

Commissioners have said they are getting complaints from loggers and lumber mills that the county timber sales policies are forcing plant shutdowns for dozens of workers and idle time for loggers who could be harvesting summer woods.

Because Hubbard County essentially encouraged the Norbord plant to locate here, some commissioners said they feel an obligation to keep a steady supply of wood flowing to the plant year round.

An upcoming meeting with Bemidji loggers aims to do just that.

The brothers who requested the extension debated last week have suffered health problems.

Lohmeier recommended against a standard extension, reasoning another logger could have gotten the bid - and the work done - in the time specified.

The brothers faced a $36,000 cost, including buying out the contract and a penalty, which they did not have, or forfeiture of the contract as a sanction for not completing the work.

The board granted 3-2 the extension without penalty against Lohmeier's wishes. He said he endeavors to be fair to all loggers and not give any one outfit an edge over another.

Commissioners reasoned if the loggers are allowed to harvest what was a winter contract in the summer, without doing harm to the environment, maybe larger summer contracts should be allowed, because the plants have run out of winter wood by summer. Loggers have complained that the county is discouraging summer contracts.

"It's a crack in the armor," one commissioner remarked after the discussion.

Earlier in the meeting, the Land Department came under fire when commissioners reported back from a township meeting in which they said they got "an earful" of complaints.

Most commissioners also want to speed up the harvesting of old aspen. Lohmeier has been taking a deliberate approach, contending the county doesn't want to run out of wood in the future. The county is currently laden with forests full of 80-year-old aspen.

"Nobody wants it," said commissioner Lyle Robinson of the old wood.

Commissioner Cal Johannsen said he always hears from the plant that Hubbard County's wood is the oldest and poorest quality. Plant workers can tell when loads of wood arrive from the county just by the sight of it, Johannsen maintains.

But it's the summer cutting that seems to draw the most discussion.

Last week Lohmeier said there are many reasons why summer cutting isn't favored. He repeated those thoughts in an e-mail Monday.

"If the sale is in a sensitive area such as near lakeshore with mostly seasonal residences, we may choose to log the area in the winter to avoid disturbing the inhabitants, even if the land is suitable to summer logging," he said. 

"Certain wildlife species such as eagles and osprey nest early in the spring and their fledglings are subject to disturbance."

He said if the Land Department has sales in close proximity to known eagle and osprey nests, the sale would be done "in the winter to avoid disturbance."

Winter logging is also preferred due to soft terrain and other factors, he indicated.

"Loggers use large, heavy equipment to harvest the wood. Even with large, high flotation tires, repeatedly driving over the same ground (skid trails) can compact the soil and reduce the air space in the soil and deter the movement of moisture through the soil, thus impacting the ability of the soil to adequately regenerate," he said.

"I believe there is some room for improvement in the amount of summer wood we sell," he said. 

"I will look at establishing departmental guidelines for determining seasonal harvesting restrictions."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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