Manager sees forest and the trees
With education and experience, Stinson aims to build local market for wood
By STEVE BROWN
Managing a crop on an 80-year rotation demands vision and a passion for hard work. Steve Stinson, whose family owns 1,185 acres of forestland in Western Washington, has plenty of both.
With a master's degree in silviculture, the executive director of the Family Forest Foundation speaks with authority from a scientific background. With a lifetime of work in tree farming, he speaks with authority from on-the-ground experience.
"Dad planted his first trees in Missouri when he was 16. He's now 77," Stinson said. "We moved to Lewis County (Wash.) in 1970, and I planted my first tree when I was 10."
Since then his steps have taken him from academia to the state Capitol, but he never strayed far from his trees, working on his family's and others' land.
"Steve is a critical thinker, who combines education with experience," said Rick Dunning, executive director of the Washington Farm Forestry Association. "The combination of those two things give him the ability to discern things others might miss."
Stinson helped found the Family Forest Foundation in 1998 and was the first administrator of the state's forest landowner program, helping to write standards that guide private forest management.
As the timber industry has struggled through the current slowdown in home construction, Stinson seeks ways to maximize the return from his land.
"I want to build a market for local wood products, appealing to people convinced of the importance of local-grown ag products," he said. "Now customers get it from box stores with no connection to the landowner, but just like food, people want more than just a label from China or Korea."
Stinson figures the demand would be in remodeling and in post-and-beam construction, rather than competing against commodity lumber prices.
"We're well-situated between Portland and Seattle," he said. "We'd be aiming for the higher-end customer who cares. We either figure out how to do it or else build houses ourselves."
Developing the program starts with "baby steps," he said. He has been starting a network, planning a website launch by the end of the year, and working with Paul Gleason, soil conservationist at the Chehalis, Wash., office of the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
"Steve Stinson is one of the more innovative forest landowners in the county," Gleason said. "He harvests about 2 acres annually, and he's looking at diversifying his profit margin by producing lumber on-site and selling locally."
Stinson has the advantage of having sufficient acres to make such endeavors profitable, Gleason said.
"No other small forest landowners are pursuing local markets," he said. "Also, others don't have as much knowledge as Steve."
The demand end of the lumber trade is not the only obstacle Stinson deals with.
"We need to work on regulatory relief," he said. "FREP (the state's Forest Riparian Easement Program) is pretty clunky, and the contracts can't be modified. I'd like to see it streamlined. It's not insurmountable."
The program is designed to compensate forest landowners for timber they cannot harvest because it's near a waterway designated as habitat for critical fish species.
"Used to be that having a stream on your property was an asset," he said. "Take (the set-aside of land) keeps increasing, and it's a disincentive for land ownership, which no one wants to see happen."
Stinson said small forest landowners need to take it upon themselves to increase awareness of end users who need to know what goes into sustainable growing.
"There are some pretty outdated notions," he said. "The more we can engage the consuming public, that's the key in forestry. In general, the rural-urban disconnect in both ag and forestry needs to be bridged."
Hometown: Toledo, Wash.
Education: Undergraduate degree from the Evergreen State College in 1995, master's degree in silviculture from the University of Washington in 2000
Family: wife, Lou Jean ClarkCarl
Quote: "Now customers get (wood products) from box stores with no connection to the landowner, but just like food, people want more than just a label from China or Korea."