Farmers harvest more than wood
Couple crafts educational showpiece, shares it with world
By STEVE BROWN
CLAQUATO, Wash. -- Bryon and Donna Loucks consider their tree farm not only a retirement plan but also a health plan.
Though trees grow relatively slowly, managing 200 acres of timber keeps them jumping.
"We don't need to join an exercise class, what with spraying, animal protection, trail and road maintenance and tree exams to ensure their survival," Bryon Loucks said.
"There aren't any fat people at family forestry events," Donna Loucks added.
The Louckses have been working their B and D Tree Farm west of Chehalis, Wash., since 1988, investing time and energy with an eye toward keeping a steady paycheck coming in.
"Donna did a search and found out it cost as much to raise 100 acres of trees as it did to raise one child," Bryon Loucks said. "So instead of raising the average 2.1 kids, our goal was to have 210 acres. I tell people, 'Our children will support us in our old age. Will yours?'"
In addition to be being an investment portfolio and a workout gym, the Louckses' tree farm is also a showpiece. They recently were named the Washington Tree Farm Program's 2011 Tree Farmers of the Year.
"We're judged mainly on a couple of things," Bryon Loucks said. "First, do we set an example for others? Is it a showpiece?" Criteria include how the tree farmers maintain their road system, deal with water issues, correct problems and perform logging.
Second is outreach efforts, he said. "This is a social responsibility thing. Do we testify before the Legislature? Do we host tours? Do we write letters? Donna and I have been very active."
"We were up against some top-notch tree farmers," she said.
"This is very much an honor," he added. "Some competitors are very close friends."
He is a Vietnam veteran and retired forester; she is a retired librarian.
Bringing visitors onto the farm has been a tradition every year since the Louckses started. In June, a class of fifth-graders from nearby Adna will learn about trees and wildlife during a two-hour walk through the property. Then in July, the couple will host their neighbors in the Washington Farm Forestry Association for a picnic and tour.
In mid-May, weather finally allowed them to finish cleanup from a harvest in January and February. Nine acres of 60-year-old trees yielded 371,800 board-feet. "The price was in the $600-per-thousand area," Bryon Louckes said.
"We like to have cash flow every other year, but the last one was four years ago. The market just wasn't there until now," he said. "We figure to harvest between 5 and 10 acres a year for the next 20 to 25 years."
The farm's 10-acre stand of "Danish Blue" noble firs is a specialty crop. The tree was bred for its bough color, "and we expect to harvest a pretty hefty crop this year," Bryon Loucks said.
As the Louckses talk of harvest, they continue to tend new plantings. "Last summer we made 40,000 different tree visits to move the netting up, protecting the trees from the deer," Bryon Loucks said. "We're planting trees for the next person after us to harvest."