Small Diameter Pole Processing Mill – Community Development Plan for Masonite Site (Part 8)

Small Diameter Pole Processing Mill and Post and Beam Structure Fabrication


May 12, 2009 Ukiah, Mendocino County, North California

If we are not careful we will end up where we are headed ~Ancient Chinese proverb

Planning often works better if done before hand ~Anonymous

The purpose of this post is to demonstrate, in general terms, how the health of our forests contributes to the health of our communities and to the quality of our lives. In fact the forests contain some of the keys to our sustainability and to our collective future.

A vast number of jobs have already been created by past logging and timber management practices and they are just waiting for attention. Our timberlands provide jobs, skills training (personal, life, technical, and social), space for scientific study, development of meaningful environmental curriculum for schools, colleges and universities, recreation opportunities, ecological tourism, tranquil space for reflection, and much, much more.

A healthy forest protects us from fire, infiltrates rainwater into aquifers, catches fog, moderates our local climate, and provides building material, fuel, and homes for thousands of non-human species. There are thousands of jobs available now in repairing the damage of the past, and  repairing the damage, as much as we can, takes us into the future.

We propose to look at many of the dysfunctions and problematic issues facing Mendocino County, with somewhat of a Homeopathic thought ….. “like cures like”. There are a number of social issues that can be addressed within the context of a small diameter pole mill with an adjacent fabrication plant: sustainable local economies, catastrophic forest fire, water supply and quality, forest health, money leakage (leaving our area), garbage disposal, recycling, wastewater treatment (grey water, black water and industrial waste), lack of affordable housing, honest, meaningful work and land use as it applies to industry, to name a few. Environmental issues such as riparian restoration, healthy fisheries, watershed restoration, bio-remediation, zero waste and The Precautionary Principal, can also be addressed within this context and in the eco-village/transition park model in general. By using the problem (catastrophic fire) as the source of the answer (reduce fuel loading) we learn to work with the natural environment for the betterment of all.

A part of the village will become a staging area for small diameter pole processing and utilization; poles will be twelve inches in diameter, or less. This location would include truck unloading, storage area, debarking equipment, grading area where the poles are evaluated for structural strength and best use, and cutting/sizing equipment. Adjacent to this area would be the fabrication mill where various structures are engineered as “kits” (homes, garages, sheds, gazebos, etc.) and a retail space open to the public. This mill could also provide raw material for the nearby furniture manufacturer; the wood chips could be used to produce alcohol, wood pellets for fuel, compost for gardens, bio-char fuel or, other wood products. Buildings, such as offices in the complex, would be made with the post and beam construction (probably needing a code change in building materials) so visitors and prospective clients can view and feel the structures. Having a quality kit home saves the homeowner some of the permitting process and expensive change orders during construction, as well as giving them emotional security by knowing it is structurally sound. Ecologically minded tourists can visit the site to see a creative community working together to resolve its issues as well as learn innovative techniques for localization and sustainability.

Small diameter poles have been utilized here before and between 1952 and 1968 there were several small diameter pole mills in Mendocino County. J.H. Baxter & Company extracted poles and delivered them to mills located in Willits, Hopland and Point Arena, where the poles were debarked and shipped to various locations for treatment. There is currently a functional pole mill in Potter Valley, however it is no longer operating, and there is likely to be usable equipment available from other lumber mills, now closed down. Gathering, refurbishing and installing this equipment would create jobs in themselves and these people may move on to operator, fabricator, or other position in the business. With all of the forestland needing fuel load reduction several of these mills would be necessary to process the available poles. As the forests regenerate, mills that take larger trees can be re-opened under sustainable timber harvest practices providing more jobs, in perpetuity. It has taken 150 years for the forests to unravel to the point they are and it will take sixty to eighty years to regenerate a healthy stand of mature trees ready for sustainable harvest.

With the recent Mendocino Lightning Complex Fires we were given a first hand example of how fire moves through dense forest growth. In fact the Greenfield Ranch community is being considered as a model of citizen response for forest fire, per private discussion with a CDF official. Now is the time to capitalize on this exposure and make some bold moves. A hundred years ago an average forest contained roughly 25 mature trees per acre and was relatively open. The same forest today may contain as many as one thousand trees and is tightly packed with shrubs and undergrowth as well. These are called ladder fuels. The trees in these dense stands are smaller, weaker, more disease prone and more susceptible to insect invasion. Current fuel loading practices include cutting down small trees, brush and other ladder fuels — but without removing, or chipping the slash. The downed wood, left this way, becomes as much a fire hazard as standing dead wood. A wide ranging fuel load reduction campaign coordinated with an equally ambitious thin and release program is not only desperately needed, but is a source of jobs, training, education, building materials and revenue.

Except for the land, the major costs for homes are the construction, the mortgage, and energy for heating and cooling. Leakage, a word used to indicate money leaving an area, or region, is a term the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors favored during discussions about needing more box stores in our area. The Energy Working Group, a citizen’s action group, appointed by the Board of Supervisors, identified the two leading means of money loss, or leakage, from our community; energy and mortgages for our homes. By using material that is on-hand, material that is actually a nuisance and fire danger, and by focusing on new insulation methods, the cost of home construction is minimized (lower mortgage) and the need for heating and cooling can be greatly decreased (lower energy costs), thus minimizing the “leakage” from our county. The combination of using post construction and alternative forms of insulation makes the price of one of these homes affordable to low income families. Given the lack of affordable housing and the expected cost of energy in the near future, post and pole construction makes a lot of sense, and by bringing conservation back into the conversation we will contribute in a wiser way to the visioning process.

Post and beam construction is an innovative means of structure and home construction. There are many examples of post and pole construction, from the Earth Lodge model to the Yellowstone Resort. Most of the high end ski resorts employ pole construction as a common theme for all of their buildings. Infill of the walls (insulation) can be from a variety of strategies now in vogue, straw bale, cob, synthetic sheathing, and traditional framing, to name a few. We would like to propose “Papercrete” as one solution for this need. Around 60% of the waste stream going into the transfer station is some sort of paper product that can be turned into Paper Crete, a kind of super paper-mache, which has an R factor higher than straw bale and other insulation materials. All of the paper waste headed to the transfer station would go to the Re-Manufacturing Facility at the eco-village for processing into Paper Crete and then utilized as insulation for the post and beam houses. Go to for more information about Paper Crete.

These homes end up being very affordable, some designs cost less than $20,000. A cooperative agreement between landowners, the mill operation and funding entities initiates the process. Ten years ago the Forest Service paid around $300 an acre to have trees felled to the ground and the landowner matched this with $100.00 per acre. This still left the dry down wood as fire fuel. Lets suppose we charged $500 an acre to remove the usable poles and chip the rest (simulating fire/nutrient recycling). The faller and chipper crew would get $25 an hour $200 would be allocated to transport the poles out to the processing mill. The trees/poles are not purchased, or sold, per say, but it is the value added in the labor that is the commodity. The labor involved in transportation, debarking, grading, sizing, cutting for the kit and packaging the material for shipment represents the basis for the cost of the kits. With another investment of between $10,000 and $20,000 a complete solar/hydro/wind system could be added and roof rainwater catchments would be implemented into the building plans (and building codes) making these homes not only state-of-the-art and energy efficient, but costing $40,000, or less, complete.

Fire is a natural recycler and we live in a fire dependent area. If this land does not burn every 15 to 30 years (approximately) then the fuels get out of control and wild fire ensues. Human intrusion into the timberlands, with their fear of fire and economic loss, has acerbated the problem of past land management practices and now the system is desperately out of balance. We cannot eliminate fire without taking measures to recycle a portion of the woody debris back onto the forest floor to create humus and fertilizer for future generations of trees. This could be done by chipping, or possibly by control burning of the slash given proper weather conditions and location. Without this nutrient recycling our hillsides would soon run out of fertility and the ability to support a healthy forest. This is similar to the need for salmon and steelhead fish to return to our streams; they bring nutrients that have washed down to the ocean and bring them back up into our mountain streams, spawn the next generation and then die, leaving their carcass’ to be eaten by the forest critters and spread back upon the land as fertilizer. Without the fish we loose a huge portion of the nutrients leaving out forests and watersheds; without the forests we do not have the habitat required to support the fish. If we loose either one we are likely to loose both and we will be diminished as a community and have fewer chances of survival given dramatic changes climate, the misfortunes of war and/or the collapse of industrial society.

The existing California Forest Improvement Program (CFIP) guidelines are in a document that directs forest stand improvement and can be utilized immediately (Go here to learn more about CFIP). The point is there is an existing program and guiding document that is accepted by regulators and that has the funding stream and accounting resources to allocate money to private landowners for forest improvement practices. With President Obama’s stimulus package we will be seeing a lot of “green job” money intended to put people to work. Small diameter poles have been avoided because extracting them is labor intensive given the existing commercial market for poles. Peeler poles are the common item and are inferior in structural quality than a hand peeled natural shaped pole. With the current state of the economy, the rising rate of unemployment, the affordable housing crisis, and the need to restore our forests, we need to do something quickly. CFIP provides a mechanism for landowners to be able to afford to enter into forest health management practices and if we had a small diameter processing mill and the ability to make buildings, homes and household furniture with the poles make this a community endeavor worth pursuing.

Although not adequately addressed in this proposal, there is a need for hardwood management in the forests. Unrestrained after the removal of the taller conifer trees hardwoods such as Tan Oak have created large, thick, stands of sick and diseased trees. As part of a comprehensive forest management plan these hardwoods can be thinned, utilized for building materials, chipped, burned, or turned into a bio-fuel such as wood pellets, or used in some other process such as tanning of leather. Trees left standing will mature and become usable for hardwood flooring, cabinets, furniture and other wood products manufactured at the Eco-village. Diversity in the forest, in our community, in our creativity and in the products we produce, will give us an economic base that will not be as susceptible to manipulation from outside sources and provide for a standard of living as good, or better, than what we enjoy now.

We can also use this worldview of sustainability, equity and connectivity to recognize and honor the land management techniques of the original indigenous inhabitants of this area. Many tribes of First Nation People have held and practiced techniques such as separating plant clusters to spreading a usable variety, prescribed burns for vegetation control and to generate forage for grazing animals, painting oak tree trunks with ashes to prevent beetle infestation — just scratching the surface of their knowledge. A powerful healing between our nations could come out of a mutual cooperation to restore our forests with Native American People and vocational programs such as the one administered by Pinoleville Band of Pomo’s. In addition to working with local Native programs there are job and training opportunities for disadvantaged youth, at risk youth, and summer youth programs. Intensive hand labor jobs are perfect because of restrictions concerning under-aged (less than 18 years of age) using power tools. The use of non-powered hand tools is acceptable for the younger and suitable for working in small groups with the smaller diameter poles. Workers and students eighteen years and older will go through a training program in the use of the various pieces of power equipment and be certified in their use. Being responsible stewards of the land, working together, learning from each other, modeling healthy relationships and working toward a sustainable future will bring us closer into harmony with Nature and with each other. We will become a community in the deepest definition of the word.

As this plan comes into fruition Mendocino County becomes a focal point for models that deal with job creation, housing, catastrophic forest fire, forest health, waste management, reducing greenhouse gasses, and sustainability. This automatically kicks in another sector of the economic development strategy: creating a learning environment for various peoples from around the world to come and see how it’s done, e.g. tourism. As the reality of conscious implementation of practical ideas come into being, such as those contained in the Eco-village/Transition Park Proposal,  Mendocino County would be transformed and become wealthier than imagined. We will learn that quality of life and authentic community are beyond monetary value.

A Potential Community Development Plan for the Masonite Site – Part 1
Eco-Train, Rail and Depot – Part 2
Ecologically-Oriented Tourism – Part 3
Rail to Trail – Part 4
Autonomous Waste Water Treatment System – Part 5
Community Interpretive Watershed and Visitor’s Center – Part 6
Food Processing Facility – Part 7

Small Diameter Pole Processing Mill – Part 8
Fiber Processing and Re-Manufacture Mill – Part 9