The focus on product development by FCSFP partners has leveraged considerable integration of several attributes of community-based forestry, such as: technical assistance, utilization, restoration, marketing assistance, entrepreneurship, business start-ups, information exchange, deciding whether to expand existing products or develop new ones, and getting clear on connections to existing markets as well as to new markets. The list goes on, showing how product development has been, and continues to be, central to activities of community-based forestry.
Product development also has depended upon integrating networks of people and resources, locally and regionally, even nationally. Many factors have created a mine field of challenges: the infrastructure, the lack of high-valued raw materials that could produce high-demand products, the lack of skilled woods workers, the lack of confidence in reinvestment, etc.
Developing products from a small- to a large scale have characterized this attribute of FCSFP grantees and community-based forestry. On the small end of the scale, furniture making is common across the region. On the large end, biomass has been at the forefront of interests. One reason why is that there is a belief that biomass can provide material to more than one market, thus creating demand to move larger volumes of material from overgrown and at-risk forests. While biomass is considered to offer a means for disposing of poor quality timber on a large scale, a number of interviewees warn of caveats. It is not a cure all, they say, and warn against a jump-on-the-bandwagon mentality, which they believe has caused problems in the past. At some point, it became obvious that the timber industry was in such a depressed state that if large volumes of timber material were available to it, the industry could not dispose of it fast enough. The principles of ecological restoration may be compromised if too large of a scale of harvesting took place, some claim.
Probably some of the best examples of product development are where utilization and product manufacturing came together in profitable ways. SBS, Inc. is commonly referred to in New Mexico for doing a good job of this. Arizona projects, such as Indigenous Community Enterprises and Neil Brewer Associates, have been successful as well at utilizing increasing volumes of timber, bolstered by the incentive that the large fires of 2002 provided.
A Small Colorado Business Perspective
". . . we have lost virtually the entire forest and wood products infrastructure in our area. We need to rebuild an infrastructure-a skilled workforce and business enterprises-if the critical work of restoring healthy forest ecosystems is to be accomplished. We also need to create innovative, value-added enterprises to use the byproducts of this restoration work . . . . From what we have seen, the greatest opportunity to start building this infrastructure is with small entrepreneurial companies like ours looking for a market niche. Small companies might not accomplish large, landscape objectives quickly, but we can build capacity, begin doing the important work, and start building trust and lessons . . . . Colorado and other states with forest health issues need businesses like ours to serve as a management tool and to provide jobs, a tax base, and products. We are small but we are also a real part of our community. If we go out of business our area has not only lost good jobs, but also the land manager has lost an important tool.
"Most of the trees we get to make our products are low quality. Much of our forests are suffering from insects, disease and over crowding. This results in the types of fires we have seen over the last few years. So, in typical restoration projects, we have to cut and handle a lot of low quality trees. We also try to cut a few good ones in order to do well in our local markets and make the economics work. There is still a lot of uncertainty and risk for small enterprises like ours trying to make any profit while conducting restoration work.
"We do not expect a guaranteed supply. However, the Forest Service must be a consistent, predictable supplier of material. Our business planning depends on being able to predict where our supply of wood will come from each year, and we need accurate reliable information from the Rio Grande and San Juan national forests. Each Forest should be able to make a mix of projects that include multiple objectives for restoration available each year. For example, a forest could provide a thousand acres a year of pine restoration work that are more like traditional timber sales, two service contracts for various restoration activities that have little to do with product removal, and treatments to create one hundred acres of aspen restoration. . . . We are not asking for industrial forestry, we want restoration work."
(Cassandra Doyon, Co-owner of the Rocky Mountain Timber Products & Doyon Logging. 2/4/04; to the House Resource Committee, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health).