Immediate savings may be costly in long run, experts say
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
The temptation to curb reforestation expenses is especially strong as timber companies struggle financially, but experts warn against cost-cutting measures that hinder the forest's long-term profitability.
"Look out for false savings," said Dan Newton, a private landowner near Roseburg, Ore. "It's like plugging a dike. It may show up somewhere else."
Newton and other foresters recently compared notes about squaring future profits with current costs during the recent Pacific Northwest Reforestation Council in Vancouver, Wash.
"It's not always the case that spending less is going to mean less cost," said Cheryl Talbert, a forester with Weyerhaeuser.
Dying trees, stunted growth and large gaps in forest cover can put an unnecessary dent in revenue years down the road, she said.
Compared to historical values, the price of forestland has been bid up by investors -- so the return on investment is more important than ever, Talbert said.
Each treatment option, like thinning or fertilization, should be evaluated not only for its potential impact on revenues, but for how long that payback period will take, she said.
"As foresters, we need to learn to think like investors," Talbert said. "The cost of money becomes a critical factor in every forestry decision."
In practical terms, this means foresters should not skimp on sampling and gathering data, she said. Such careful monitoring saves money in the long term by preventing unnecessary and expensive treatments.
"Good data is not a luxury. It is essential," Talbert said.
Foresters should also avoid slashing budgets for weed control, planting supervision and nursery stock, Newton said.
Starker Forests, a family-run timber company, takes seedling quality so seriously that it only buys container-grown trees from a special supplier in Canada at an increased cost of 20 to 40 percent, said Rick Allen, a forester at the firm.
Though the seedlings are more expensive, the company is able to assume more control over the process, he said. Nursery management is critical, so foresters should communicate with tree suppliers regularly and monitor the final pack-out stage.
"Be obnoxious if you have to be," Allen said.