Northwest forestry reaches into urban areas


It’s not often enough in Washington that you hear stories about loggers near the urban Seattle area — forestry is happening everywhere, not just in forests far from any kind of city.

Preston Drew has been logging for four decades, and his company, Drew Logging, is based in Carnation, on the outskirts of the Seattle metro area and in the same county as Seattle (King County). TimberWest Magazine, which covers the West Coast timber industry, profiled Drew in its most recent issue.

The secret to his success and preserverance? Flexibilty and durability over time, while also understanding exactly what works for him and his business.

Drew has worked a variety of jobs that include U.S. Forest Service timber sales (the first in 1973, the last in ’95) and land clearing work from 1994 until 2005 when the recession hit. He has even done production driven work for industrial timber owners. Yet what Drew kept returning to, and now defines as his niche, are thinning jobs for private, family landowners. He has worked exclusively with these property owners for the past 10 years.

“The nice thing about thinning is it pays well, though there is less production. It’s not so impacted by market shifts,” he explains. Drew prefers second thinning, large volume jobs with one MBF (thousand board-feet) or better, as these jobs have the high-value logs. This type of land also has the topography best suited to the mechanized ground-based logging that Drew employs.

…During his career, he has logged as far south as Eugene, Oregon, as far north as Mt. Vernon, Washington, and west to Westport and the Olympic Peninsula’s Port Angeles. Drew even recently worked a challenging job on Whidbey Island that had 12 loads taken off the island. He also stays busy by purchasing his own sales and as a result of word-of-mouth referrals.

Because Drew operates near more developed areas, he has to deal with more obstacles than most logging crews.

In addition to the felling and yarding challenges, (Drew’s team) must routinely work around houses, outbuildings, and trails that normally aren’t found on typical logging jobs…On clearcut operations (Drew’s cutter Bill Mercer) says most cutters get complacent; on this type of thinning, “it makes a person start thinking again, and it actually rejuvenates a guy’s mind.”

Timber work occurs not just on the outskirts of cities, with companies like Drew’s, but in the middle of the cities themselves. Urban Lumber Co., based in Springfield, Ore., harvests storm-damaged trees from the Eugene-Springfield area and uses the trees to make lumber and furniture, according to a post this week in Mother Earth News.

In addition to hard work and a true passion for reuse and woodworking, (Urban Lumber Co. owner Seth Filippo) says his portable sawmill is an important piece of his urban lumber salvage business. “Our mill is an integral part of the entire operation,” he said. “We cut different sizes and species every day with a different approach to each log.”

Working in cooperation with cities, parks, utility companies, private homeowners and arborists, Urban Lumber Co. obtains trees in urban areas that have been storm damaged, diseased, or wind fallen. After hauling these fallen or damaged trees with their own crane truck, Urban Lumber Co. cuts and dries the wood and creates customized lumber, slabs and even high-quality wood furniture for customers.

“Each piece of wood is unique versus traditional dimensional lumber, making every finished piece of furniture one-of-a-kind,” said Seth. Receiving and keeping material local is a priority for Seth and Urban Lumber Co.

Making wood products from trees in urban areas, like Filippo’s company does, generates tangible benefits for the environment.

According to environmental research conducted by Dr. Steve Bratkovich and Dr. Sam Sherrill of Dovetail Partners, Inc., salvaging urban trees significantly reduces the amount of carbon that is released into the atmosphere.

Utilizing just 10% of the 1% annual urban tree removal rate could save up to 124.1 million tons of CO² entering the air over a 30-year period. This elimination of CO² is equivalent to removing 732,000 passenger vehicles from U.S. highways every single year.

“Converting a portion of urban tree removals into solid wood products can contribute to long-term carbon sequestration and help mitigate the build-up of greenhouse gases,” the Dovetail Partners report concluded.