Logging History, Companies & Products, Market Trends, Forest Management

This is a four-part spotlight that will cover different aspects of the timber industry in the Sacramento Mountains.  Articles include Logging Companies and their products, market trends, forest management, and current trends.

Part 1 of 4:  Early Logging

Part 2 of 4:  Logging Companies and Timber Products

Part 3 of 4:  Market Trends that Shape the Timber Industry

Part 4 of 4:  Timber Management in the Sacramento Mountains

Part 1 of 4:  Early Logging

Skidding cut trees down the hill with a dry log chute.Imagine your great great grandparents looking westward, dreaming of mountains filled with trees, anxious to start a new life.  These were the hopes and dreams of settlers moving into southern NM.  The people that settled the mountains were a hardy group that endured cold hard winters because they lived amidst a tranquil beauty that can’t be found anywhere else. 

These folks were an independent lot that weren’t afraid of working hard and getting dirty.  They chose to work in the woods because of the freedom it gave them to raise a family and make a living at something they enjoyed.  Smelling the fresh pine resin of newly felled timber is an aroma that beckons loggers to the woods day in and day out.  The character of the men and women that call the forest their office hasn’t changed since the profession began.

The science of forestry has also evolved over time.  Early foresters would measure trees and core trees to understand how fast they grew, and sell the larger trees to the saw mills.  As time went on forestry evolved and management practices changed.  There was a lot of trial and error associated with different ideas of how to grow trees faster on diverse landscapes.  Because the pace of science continues to escalate, Foresters have become Ecologists in order to understand how organisms interact with each other.

The history of logging has always been driven by supply and demand and has been resilient through time to changing politics, market swings, technology, and the ever rising cost of staying in business.  The local economy was transformed from primarily frontier farming and ranching to a capital-intensive industrial base.

During this time the tourist and resort business also flourished. 

Railroad construction required vast amounts of timber for trestles, crossties, buildings, culverts, water tanks, and cooling chutes, and for the general upkeep and maintenance of the system.  Mining companies in the area also required a large quantity of timber for underground supports and material-handling structures, both above and below the surface.  Small saw mills sprang up across the Sacramento Mountains to supply the influx of settlers rough lumber to build homes, barns, and outbuildings. 

-- Mickey Mauter

Part 2 of 4:  Logging Companies & Timber Products

Chippeway Sawmill - A family owned businessTimber companies and their products have evolved due to demand, markets, and product development.  Trees removed from the Lincoln National Forest were first used by the Railroad to provide ties for an expanding rail system across the west.

By 1898 the demand for ties by the El Paso and Northeastern Railroad made logging economically feasible in the Sacramento Mountains.  By 1899 the Alamogordo Lumber Co. was built to mill the bread basket of old growth timber on the Sacramento Mountain.  Loggers came from across the country, setting up camps built by whatever was available locally, to cut timber for the increasingly hungry Sawmill.

Lumber Companies, like the Sacramento Mountain Lumber Co., Southwest Lumber Co., Cloudcroft Lumber and Land Co., and the Breese Lumber Co. changed ownership due to legal issues, declining prosperity, fires, and competition.

From 1907 through 1941, some mills were located at the same site of the original Alamogordo Lumber Co. in Alamogordo.  Small Sawmills started operating within the Forest and took advantage of the need to supply lumber to the growing mountain communities and logging camps.  By 1945 the cost of hauling by rail to Alamogordo became too expensive and was replaced by trucking the logs down the mountain.

Soon after the demand for railroad ties declined and the demand for studs and dimensional lumber (boards of different size and length) increased. The Prestridge Lumber Company dominated the local industry from 1941 until 1960.  At that time most of the quality timber was harvested and companies accustomed to milling high grade timber got out of the business. 

Making palettes at the Custom Crates and Palettes - a family owned business  The Wilkinson's Portable Sawmill - a family owned business



Part 3 of 4:  Market Trends that Shape the Timber Industry

An industrial log chipper working in the ForestSince the beginning of humanity wood has influenced the way we live.  Early man used trees to build crude shelters, keep warm, make musical instruments, fashion eating bowls and utensils, and entertain themselves.  Where would we be today without all those early pioneers shaping and using wood?  Life as we know it would be very different without the influence wood products has had on our everyday lives.

Over the years our vision of what wood can do for us has expanded.  New technologies in wood manufacturing and wood composites have broadened the use of wood into products not previously envisioned.  Some of the businesses established in New Mexico that are outside of the normal realm of making boards include a sign making company that uses plastic milk jugs, melted and combined with wood fiber, to make a longer lasting sign.  A company that utilizes waste construction 2x material, laminated together, to fabricate stronger guard rail supports for highways and a furniture business that sells high quality Juniper furniture all over the world.  These are just a few of the innovative products entrepreneurs have developed to keep the wood industry alive and well.

In some cases increased technology means increased costs.  Modern logging equipment is very expensive to buy and maintain requiring a much larger market base to be successful.  This has created a challenge for the increasing number of small utilization companies.  The process for removing trees hasn’t changed; trees have to be cut and moved to a central location (landing) where they can be loaded on a truck and transported to a processing point.  All logs are sorted at the landing by size to supply the different product needs. 

The cost of removing small diameter material from the Lincoln National Forest can exceed the value of the product being produced.  The smaller companies have expanded their market area to adjust for these increased costs.  When large trees are being harvested it takes fewer trees, fewer trips moving trees to a landing, and fewer logs to fill a log truck.  If current markets utilize small trees the cost of moving this material to a processing point goes up because of the added handling of the small trees. 

Most of the small wood markets are lower value markets such as shavings, pallets, wood pellets, telephone poles, and fire wood.  The larger trees are used to make the best lumber which in turn supplies a higher value product to the oil industry.  The one thing the wood product industry can count on is how quickly the markets change, and staying in business is dependent on how flexible they are to move with these changes.  Creative solutions and collaboration between the Forest Service and industry has helped the wood product industry continue to be successful.

Chipping wood in the Forest Harvesting trees in the Forest



Part 4 of 4:  Timber Management in the Sacramento Mountains

Before treatment of a planned thinning areaThe local timber industry has an exciting future, full of possibilities, that is tied to balanced forest management.

What exactly does forest management mean?  For the USDA Forest Service, this falls under a large umbrella of different resources and objectives, and can vary from forest to forest.  As spelled out by Congress, the mission of the USDA Forest Service is “Caring for the Land and Serving People”, This mission is to provide a range of outdoor opportunities and resources to as many diverse groups of people as possible, without long term, negative impacts to the environment.

The forests in the southern Sacramento Mountains are dynamic and always changing.  If one thinks about all the forces that affect what forests look like at any given time one begins to understand how complex our forests really are and how management objectives may shift the natural balance one way or another. If left alone natural disturbances will make sure the natural balance is maintained, but because humans place demands on forests for all the renewable resources they provide, a heavy burden is put on a wide range of sensitive habitats.

Diversity in species distribution, structure (trees of different sizes), and spatial reference (how groups of trees are spread out over the landscape) are key to any healthy functioning forest ecosystem. 

Objectives derived by public involvement drive how the USDA Forest Service manages a certain area, but even after those objectives are accomplished the forest keeps growing and changing, which can also change what the objectives will be twenty years from now. 

A healthy forest environment is much more complex than thinning trees to a specific spacing.  When deciding what kind of treatment is going to be applied some of the most common attributes considered include:  How close is the treatment to private land (the wildland urban interface)?  Where does the treatment lay on the land by aspect (is it a warm or a cool site)?  How steep is the terrain?  What habitat type is associated with the area to be treated (mixed conifer, ponderosa pine, spruce, etc.)?  What insect or disease issues are associated within the project area?  And, are there animal or plant species that certain treatments favor?

Treatments bordering private lands are geared toward reducing risk to homes by decreasing fire intensity.  These prescriptions require leaving fewer trees per acre by removing more of the smaller trees that aid the spread of fire into the crowns of larger trees. 

With the increasing push from humans to live in the wildland urban interface, the risk to private property has also increased.

The lack of naturally occurring fires has increased the potential for high intensity fires burning over much larger areas.  Allowing fires to naturally thin the forest is no longer a viable option in some areas with the expanse of this wildland urban interface development.  The options to reduce this risk mechanically are expensive and only last a few years before needing maintenance.  This requires reintroducing fire as a tool, and can be controversial.

When all of these pieces are considered the result is an effective plan with the best treatments for a given area, and collectively is forest management.  The timber industry is a vital part and important tool in managing the Lincoln National Forest as a scenic, enchanting, and productive place for all to enjoy.

A treated area 1 year after thinnings and other treatments have been completed Hauling the logs away