Episode 4 Show Notes

Back to the episode

 In this episode, we revisit the roles of forestry professionals and meet the practitioners who harvest, process, and market wood products.

Theme music written and performed by Joanne Garton.

Music featured in this episode:

  • The Woods by Axel Tree
  • Thread Jessup by Blue Dot Sessions
  • Not Tired Bells by Daniel Birch
  • Bird Language by Chad Crouch
  • The Marsh by Chad Crouch
  • The Channel by Chad Crouch

Featured guests (in order of appearance)

  • Markus Bradley, Consulting Forester; Redstart Forestry
  • Jared Nunery, Orleans County Forester, VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation
  • Brian Lafoe, Lafoe Logging, LLC
  • Ken Gagnon, Gagnon Lumber
  • Peggy Farabaugh, Vermont Woods Studio
  • Christine McGowan, Forest Products Program Director; Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund

Episode Transcript:

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Markus Bradley: The forests don't need us. We need the forests. As long as we're living here, we need wood products until we come up with alternatives. Local and local woods use and local production is part of the reason that I am definitely pro-management - pro cutting trees is that we all consume wood. Your consumption of wood is going to come from somewhere and hopefully, it is from the northeast. Hopefully, it's within the same bioregion, not from Indonesia, Burma...

Kate Forrer: That was Markus Bradley, Consulting Forester and partner with Red Start Natural Resource Management. Welcome to Heartwood Vermont, a podcast that connects Vermonters to our forested landscape through stories and answers your questions about our forests, forest management and the forest economy. I'm Kate Forrer,

Lisa Sausville: And I'm Lisa Sausville.

Kate Forrer: Lisa is the Executive Director of Vermont Coverts, and

Lisa Sausville: Kate is a community forestry specialist with UVM Extension

Kate Forrer: Together, we'll be your hosts as we explore our woods. In this episode, we'll continue. Our Wood's journey will revisit the role of forestry professionals and meet other practitioners who harvest, process, and market wood products. Let's start with a quick recap from Jared Nunnery, Orlean's county forester, who will give us a quick summary on the roles of each forestry professional. Here's Jared.

Jared Nunery: The forester's job is to be the representation of the landowner. The forester's goal is to think long-term: What are the landowners' management goals and objectives? How do we achieve those? Oftentimes those management objectives and goals are achieved through a timber harvest, and that's when you would be engaging with a logging contractor. They're the ones who are implementing that harvest. They're cutting the trees and then also assuring that those trees that are cut today are maximizing the value of the trees that are harvested.

Brian Lafoe: I've been logged in since the mid 80s,

Kate Forrer: So most timber harvesting in Vermont happens under contract with a logger, Brian Lafoe with Lafoe logging explains. By the way, he lives in Jared's neck of the woods in Orlean's County.

Brian Lafoe: I used to run 16 to 18 skidders, you know, a lot of subcontractors worked for big companies Warehouser, Wagner Woodlands, Atlas Timber... I don't know, I just kind of got sick of that because you always had to meet magical numbers for 'em. We'd cut a lot of land - I didn't like the way we cut it, so I decided to downsize, and me and my son in law just run a cut the length right now. I work for a lot of private landowners and I really enjoy it.

Brian Lafoe: Since we've been doing this, you know, cutting and making roads and stuff. A lot of the landowners will come to a job that I'm working on before we go to their land. And, you know, me and the forester will usually walk through the woods with them and explain, you know, things don't look pretty for a couple of years. Some people like it, and once in a while, you get people that well, they don't want that done on their land, but most of the time it's pretty decent. Like we just got done a job the other day and the landowners come, I think it was last Friday, and it makes you feel good because they walk with the forester, and they come out and it was like they were just so happy. And I just think, you know, there needs to be more interaction with the landowners, the loggers, and the foresters.

Kate Forrer: Brian was named the 2020 Northeast Region Outstanding Logger by the Forest Resources Association in Washington, D.C., an award conferred for outstanding independent logging performance by a logging contractor.

Brian Lafoe: It's more than jumping in a piece of equipment and going and cutting the tree. You got to know your species of trees. You got to know where to lay your roads out. You got to know how to market your wood. I call it grocery shopping; I'm on the phone half the time trying to find the best market for the product. Sometimes it's a daily thing because markets change so quick, but we try to find the best markets.

Markus Bradley: Most logging jobs have a combination of wood products that you're selling. Sawlogs or even better veneer logs - those tend to be the most scarce and they tend to be the most valuable. That's really what loggers are after, and it's those products that the landowners definitely see the most revenue from. Firewood or pulp, wood or biomass are not as scarce and they're not as valuable. In fact, they're definitely becoming less valuable in recent times.

Ken Gagnon:  My father and myself and six other people run a small to medium sawmill here in Pittsford, Vermont, it's something that got started by him back in 1958, which really started way back before that with his grandfather, my great grandfather on the dairy side. And my dad went from dairy farming to running a mill. He liked wood a little better.

Kate Forrer: That was Ken Gagnon, who owns Gagnon Lumber in Pittsfield, Vermont.

Ken Gagnon: We buy the logs. Most of the wood comes from within 25 to 30 miles as a crow flies, quite often closer. But I'd say that 25 to 30 miles, and we deal with primarily independent loggers, with foresters, and then there are some landowners that we often deal directly with. Basically, on a once-a-week basis, we will supply them with a settlement report that gives them a tally on all of the logs that they brought in, and the value of those logs, and probably the most important thing is the check. Then we reach out to our customer base. We reach out to probably, oh gosh, five or six different hardwood wholesale people that we deal with and let them know that this is what we have coming in. They will make offers to us about what they're looking for. We cater to the local building community, a wide range of people that are looking for wood to put up garages or barns. There's quite often trading of logs between us sawmills that didn't use to happen 25, 30 years ago. We've become a bit more collaborative over the years and that's a pretty important piece to the pie for us, that we can work with other mills, oftentimes on both sides, for logs and for filling orders. We also had supplied chips to Green Mountain College until they had closed down, that's actually moved us from buying just logs to run through the mill to actually buying a product called chipper wood, which is chip wood. It's something that we can turn into a heat product. So that's become a part of our recipe. It's a little less of a grade than firewood. There's a wide range of quality, everything from the lower grade pallet logs all the way up through to what they call the high-grade sawlogs, even some veneer logs that we then pass on to other buyers.

Kate Forrer: Our forests provide a whole bunch of different benefits and products from food like maple syrup, to energy production and heat, to durable wood products like desks and furniture. Here's Peggy Farabaugh. She and her husband, Ken, founded Vermont Wood Studios, a woodcraft studio in Vernon.

Peggy Farabaugh: We market and sell Vermont-made furniture, mostly online. We do have a beautiful showroom in southern Vermont - in Vernon. It's in the middle of a forest, actually. And that was by design because our company was founded on forest conservation. Living in Vermont and trying to put together a company founded on forest conservation, all I had to do was look around and see that there is a lot of like-minded people in the furniture industry who are making beautiful, solid wood furniture and doing it sustainably, doing it with trees from their own land or trees that are harvested through single tree selection. Harvested sustainably with conservation of wildlife habitat in mind. My husband Ken is a woodworker. He's a furniture maker, and he had friends who were furniture makers in Vermont. One of the common problems that they had is that it was hard to market their furniture. And a lot of these furniture makers were making just incredibly, you know, world class pieces, they were giving them away to friends and family and keeping them because they couldn't figure out how to sell them, how to find the right people who had the same values they did.  We have trails for our customers to walk so that they can experience the forest and take pride in their decision to buy furniture that's made from sustainably harvested wood that allows the forest to live on and to provide habitat for the animals that they love to see. Seems like every day somebody stands up and shouts down an alert like wild turkeys in the backyard, or fox going through the front yard, or there's mama deer with her triplets.

Christine McGowan: When you think about a supply chain, it goes from the forest to the people who start to process the product, turn it into things that you and I recognize as lumber that we might use on a home remodel project or to build a house, or things like a desk that you might be sitting at to do your work or a spoon or a bowl that's made of wood that you might use in your kitchen - all those different types of products that are made of wood.

Kate Forrer: Christine is the Forest Products Program Director with Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, as well as the coordinator for the Vermont Forestry Industry Network.

Christine McGowan: My role is really to be a connector between people throughout Vermont's forest economy, everybody from landowners to people who are working in the woods, like foresters and loggers, people who work at sawmills, turning those trees into products. And then finally over on what we call the secondary side, which is making those boards and lumber into products that we use every day, like furniture and hard goods, kitchenware, all kinds of things that are made out of wood and also even biomass that gets used for energy.

Kate Forrer: It's interesting, I think we don't often recognize it, but so many things that we use in our daily lives actually come from the forest. A lot of people don't even realize where the wood that they use comes from.

Christine McGowan: We here in Vermont have a really great community of businesses that provide those kinds of products, many of which come from the trees right here in Vermont, but as long as we're not really sourcing wood from clear across the globe because that really has a huge climate impact, we'd rather be able to buy those materials right from close to home.

Ken Gagnon: The forest economy is going through an evolutionary process. There's a number of things that are changing. One of which is that the number of small logging contractors has diminished - a number have retired or passed away. So there's not the number of small logging contractors that we used to have in our pool. The other thing is that the land ownership demographic has changed, and oftentimes people that own the woodlands now, don't have the same connections to the mills and to the loggers that were when I started 35, 40 years ago.

Christine McGowan: Really, when you look at the people within the industry, it tends to be an aging population. We have a lot of business owners who are getting closer to retirement and in fact, we have a lot of landowners who are in an older age population. So that is really posing some real threats and concerns for the industry itself. We need to find younger people who want to get into the industry, and as landowners get older and those lands change ownership, what is that going to mean for the way our land is managed?

Brian Lafoe: I just don't know how young people can get into it. You know what I mean? I just... I don't know. I mean, something's got to change. We was down in the courtroom one day in Montpelier and this elderly gentleman walked up to me and he said, "I got to ask you a question," I said "yeah, ask it." He said, "how does a young person get started in this business?" And I said, "I don't know".

Kate Forrer: It's clear that there are some real challenges facing our forest products industry here in Vermont and across the Northeast region. But there's hope as well, right?

Christine McGowan:  I'm also actually pretty hopeful because I do see some younger people who are really interested in getting into this industry. So one of my goals is to really try to cultivate them and help connect them to some of the people who've been in the industry a long time, but maybe are looking to get out and retire, and we're hoping to find ways to match those folks up so that we can keep these businesses going. The other place where I'm starting to see some really interesting movement in the region is in an area called mass timber. And if you're not familiar with that term, it's sort of an umbrella term for a way to construct large buildings out of wood. Whether it's a big school or a skyscraper even. Typically they're made of steel and concrete - those are the fundamental building blocks, so to speak, of those buildings. But through technology and innovation, you can literally create beams and whole parts of buildings made entirely of wood. So you could essentially replace steel and concrete, which, by the way, are quite carbon-intensive to use as building materials and instead use wood that is coming from sustainably harvested and sustainably managed forests. We can utilize wood that comes from the Northern forest here in our region to actually help build better in our population centers. The Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, they are doing a new part of their museum and they're going to build it with mass timber and use it as a demonstration project to show what a building made out of mass timber can look like and operate like.

Kate Forrer: Lisa, what do you know about the mass timber industry?

Lisa Sausville: It's up and coming in the building industry. Suffice it to say that it does offer a low-carbon alternative to steel, concrete, and masonry.

Kate Forrer: It sounds really cool.

Lisa Sausville: Yeah, I'm looking forward to learning more about it myself.

Kate Forrer: We could have a whole podcast on just that alone.

Lisa Sausville: I think we could. There are actually opportunities here in Vermont that that are hopeful as well. Peggy and Christine share some of those ideas with us, too.

Peggy Farabaugh: I would encourage anybody who loves the woods and who loves working with their hands to get involved in the Vermont woodworking industry. There's so much need and there's so much opportunity. We can't grow anymore. I can't grow my business much more until we get more capacity for making furniture.

Christine McGowan: So I would encourage people to take a look at the Vermont Wood Works Council, vermontwood.com. Their website has a great listing of different businesses in Vermont that sell wood products. You know, if you're looking for a piece of furniture, you can probably find a Vermont furniture maker who can make you something.

Kate Forrer: When you buy or use Vermont wood products, you support our forested landscape. So we all play a role, from landowners, foresters, loggers, and truckers to sawmill operators, woodworkers and consumers.

Lisa Sausville: Our forests are so important, but so is the industry that we support here in Vermont. And if we want to see that continue, we need to be those consumers.

Kate Forrer: So it's just like Vermont Wood Works Council says, local wood, local good. This has been Kate

Lisa Sausville: and Lisa,

Kate Forrer: and you've been listening to Heartwood Vermont, hosted by Vermont Coverts, UVM Extension, and UVM's Center for Research on Vermont.

Lisa Sausville: This podcast was produced by Leah Kelleher and made possible by funding from Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, and the Working Lands Enterprise Board.

Kate Forrer: The fiddle music that you heard in this episode was written and performed by Vermont musician, Joanne Garton. To hear more of her work, check out her album, Bee's Knees. Do you have a story to share about your connection to our woods or have a question about Vermont's forests? Give us a call and leave us a message at (802) 476-2003, extension 210. We'd love to hear from you and share your stories and explore your questions in future episodes.