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Position Statement on Chip Mills

A position statement of the Appalachian Society of American Foresters

Position

The Appalachian Society of American Foresters (APSAF) believes that local, active, free markets for a wide range of raw forest products provide forest landowners with the best opportunity to retain and manage their forest resource for long-term sustainability. The right to sell and harvest timber, along with unrestricted access to competitive timber markets, is necessary to maintain or improve the health and quality of the forest resource, and to generate competitive economic returns necessary to minimize the fragmentation and conversion of forest land to less environmentally preferable uses such as commercial or residential development.

Issue Statement

Due to many economic and market-based factors, the number of chip mills in the southeastern United States has increased in recent years. Anti-timber harvesting organizations characterize this increase as a "doomsday" threat to the forest resource of the region, and have been successful in creating a political and media issue out of it. Primarily relying on emotional themes, they advance the opinion that chip mills, because they utilize significant volumes of low-grade pulpwood, are therefore (1) synonymous with "destructive" clearcutting, (2) singularly ensure "overcutting" in any area where they are located, and (3) if not stopped, will lead to rapid total devastation of the region's forest resource, sawmill industry, and rural communities. We do not agree with these opinions.

Background

A chip miss is a stand-alone facility that converts pulpwood into chips. The wood chips from a chip mill are transported by truck, rail, or barge to a paper mill where they are used to make paper. A typical chip mill consists of platform scales to weigh the truckloads of pulpwood, a portal (overhead) crane to unload the trucks, a debarking drum to remove the bark from the pulpwood, a large roundwood chipper, and conveyer belts to move the chips into trucks, rail cars, or barges (if applicable). A modern chip mill employs 5-10 workers on-site, purchases approximately 40 to 50 truck loads of pulpwood per day, and produces about 4,000 to 5,000 tons of chips per week. (Note: An average-sized paper mill uses about 40,000 tons of chips per week.) Properly located and designed chip mills produce little off-site impacts. As with any industrial site, noise and dust abatement techniques are commonly employed, and storm water runoff is controlled.

Wood chips for paper mills are produced at many locations besides chip mills. Most paper mills have a large chipper on-site to convert pulpwood into chips. Sawmills are one of the largest sources of chips. Most modern sawmills have chippers that convert slabs, edgings, end-trim blocks and cull logs into chips that are sold to a paper mill. A few loggers use portable in-woods chippers to produce chips directly at the logging site.

Siting and constructing a "new" chip mill is generally a sign of free market equilibrium at work in the forest products industry. Assuming the chips are being produced for domestic use (approximately 95% currently are), and there has been no major expansion of production capacity in the regional paper industry, the chips from the "new" chip mill are often simply replacing chips (or more likely pulpwood) previously being purchased in areas where wood prices have become higher due to increased competition and/or a less available wood supply. For example, a paper mill located near a population center sees the available timber supply near their mill being reduced by development, and locates a chip mill in an area 100 miles away. The chips they supply from the new location (where timber harvesting increases) replaces wood (and reduces timber harvesting proportionally) in the "higher cost" area near the paper mill. Thus, regional "net gain" in timber harvesting from a new chip mill is often negligible.

With regard to timber harvesting, chip mills provide a market for forest landowners to sell pulpwood. Other than firewood, pulpwood is the lowest value (with the lowest quality standards) form of wood material. Veneer logs, poles and pilings, plywood logs, and sawlogs, all bring a much higher per unit price than pulpwood. For example, many sawmills will not purchase sawlogs that are smaller than 10 inches in diameter at the small end. Chip mills purchase pulpwood as small as a 4-inch diameter. Thus, the upper 10-to-20-foot section of a harvested sawlog tree, less than 10 inches in diameter, can be sold to a chip mill. No chip mill owner would knowingly use sawlogs or other higher value raw material to produce chips, as this would be the equivalent to throwing away money.

A chip (pulpwood) market can also offer a forest landowner the opportunity to harvest and regenerate a poor-quality timber stand that has declined from previous periodic "high-grading" (selectively cutting the best trees and leaving the poor quality ones). Without this "low-grade" market, landowners would be quite limited in their ability to improve the overall quality of their timber resource.

Twenty-five years ago, there were several hundred "pulpwood yards" located across the rural South, where paper mills purchased and inventoried truckloads of pulpwood, loaded it on rail cars, and shipped it to a paper mill. Today, many of those pulpwood yards have been replaced by a much smaller number of higher production chip mills, because chips can be transported and stored more efficiently, safely, and at less cost than pulpwood. Again, chip mills are simply a reflection of market efficiencies at work in a free market economy.

Conclusion

The Appalachian Society of American Foresters supports:

  1. Free, competitive markets for all classes of raw forest products, including chip mills with unrestricted market access for forest landowners to harvest and sell their timber to any market that meets their personal economic objectives.
  2. Responsible and professional harvesting that complies with all applicable laws and regulations, protects the environment including water quality and site productivity, and follows the principles of sustainable forestry.
  3. The gathering and reporting of timely, accurate forest inventory analysis (FIA) data at the local, state, and regional level to enable both the public and private sectors to closely monitor the ratio of annual growth to annual harvest and natural mortality, as well as the overall forest health and timber quality.
  4. Public and private programs and policies that encourage private forest land ownership and sustainable forestry practices, including reforestation.

For more information on this position statement, or to receive a copy of our "Clearcutting" or other position statements, please contact:

    S.L. Spradlin, Jr.
    Appalachian Society of American Foresters
    Route 4, Box 134
    Appomattox, VA 24522
    (804) 846-5293