Utilizing Municipal Trees



Dave Parmenter, owner of California Hardwood Producers, Inc., in Auburn, California, has a list of lumber offerings that reads like a landscape gardener’s inventory: black acacia, Modesto ash, catalpa, red elm, blue and red eucalyptus, black locust, Pacific madrone, spalted maple, mulberry, black, tan and white oak, Italian stone pine, sycamore, claro, English walnut, chestnut, peach, apricot, and pear. These and other species reflect the trees he commonly mills from nearby Sacramento’s urban forest plus those he salvages from Northern California orchards.

“We have never cut one speck of wood we have not found a buyer for.”

California Hardwood has a contract with Sacramento to collect trees that otherwise would go to the landfill. Although Parmenter says he does not get each of the 4,000 to 6,000 trees brought down each year, he does find markets for all the trees he can mill. "We have never cut one speck of wood we have not found a buyer for,” he said.

Flooring Is Signature Product

Besides Sacramento, California Hardwood gets trees from State parks and fire control agencies, local utilities, and the State highway department. Milled lumber is sold to a couple of local manufacturers, in addition to 100 or so small cabinet shops. The company also recycles and sells timbers from old barns and warehouses. Culls and scraps from the milling operation are sold for firewood or mulch.

Flooring is the company’s top product, offering customers who want something different a wide selection of species. A rustic-looking knotty oak is the most popular. Parmenter also mills red elm flooring from trees killed by Dutch elm disease. Red eucalyptus flooring, which looks like Brazilian cherry, and Pacific madrone, sometimes called “Pacific cherry,” are also good sellers.

A large inventory of hardwood species offers customers a wide selection.
A large inventory of hardwood species offers customers a wide selection in flooring. Reprinted by permission from Newton 2000, p. T32, Copyright 2000 by Woodshop News.

From Cooperative to For-Profit Operation

Business is good right now for Parmenter, but it has not been without major ups and downs. He entered the sawmilling business in 1992 with a Wood-Mizer portable band mill, sawing trees predominantly from small woodlot owners. In 1994 he started a hardwood sawmilling cooperative with four members from the Auburn area. Financial assistance was provided by a joint effort of the Sierra Economic Development District and the High Sierra Resource Conservation and Development Council. The cooperative started with two Wood-Mizers, two Mobile Dimension Circle Mills, plus a Madison 12-inch 226 molder which makes beautiful flooring. Before long, however, two of the cooperative members wanted out, so Parmenter and partner Alan Bales bought them out and became for-profit operators.

Tragedy Strikes Mill

In 1996 the California Hardwood Industry Initiative was established with funding from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Commerce. Among other things, the Initiative distributed funds through the Sierra Economic Development District through which Parmenter and his partner obtained $200,000 in revolving credit to grow the business. Parmenter says, “Soon we had $400,000 in equipment including a twin band resaw and four dehumidification dry kilns. We could cut 20,000 board feet per day.” In June 1997 they were sawing at a rate of 1 million board feet per year and had turned $150,000 in sales in a single month. At that time Parmenter was running the flooring moulder, his wife handled the retail and business office, and his son operated the sawmill. One month later, an electrical fire tragically burned the uninsured mill and warehouse to the ground, leaving him with a total loss and $700,000 in debt.

Rebuilding the Business

“I refused to declare bankruptcy,” Parmenter said. Instead, he sold his second house in southern California to pay off the revolving loan fund. Friends helped him obtain some equipment. He collected the insurance on a truck that had burned and bought more equipment. He found six discarded mobile homes and converted them into storage and retail space. Friends gave him some free logs to get started again. And then he went to work, eventually paying all of his bills. Parmenter says, “Quitting would have hurt others. I felt my purpose was to pay off the debt.”

Custom sawing includes driftwood brought in by a customer.
Custom sawing includes driftwood brought in by a customer. Reprinted by permission from Newton 2000, p. T30, Copyright 2000 by Woodshop News.

Today, mill production is back to a half-million board feet a year despite having no permanent building and only makeshift kilns. The equipment mainstays of the business today are a new Wood-Mizer LT40 Super Hydraulic diesel-powered bandsaw with computerized setworks and a one-of-a-kind Baker twin-band resaw with automatic feed that can cut cants up to 12 by 12 inches in cross-section. He farms out his flooring milling to a local contractor he helped get started in the business.

Parmenter admits that he still has some distance to go to fully recover from the fire. Despite his growing production he still operates with limited equipment. He believes his optimal level of production would be about 5 million board feet a year. One of his goals is a large retail area, with a factory and warehouse. Another goal is to create a statewide marketing cooperative.

Parmenter notes that he could make almost as much money if he just cut all his logs into firewood; however, he sees so much beautiful California hardwood going into landfills that he does not want to take the easy way out. He says, “To me, this is a crusade.”

For additional information:

Dave Parmenter
California Hardwood Producers, Inc.
1980 Grass Valley Highway
Auburn, CA 95603
Phone 530-888-8191
E-mail dave@californiahardwood.com



Newton, Kathleen. 2000. Up from the ashes. Woodshop News 14(7): T29-T33.




Since 1986 Lynn Erickson has worked as a procurement forester, annually purchasing approximately 112 million board feet of hardwood logs for the Minnesota Valley Forest Products, Inc. sawmill. The mill is located in Courtland, Minnesota, about 95 miles from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. In good years, the mill produces 4 to 5 million board feet of oak, maple, basswood, elm, and cottonwood lumber. To the surprise of many, Erickson buys about 300,000 to 500,000 board feet of logs annually from metropolitan areas including the Twin Cities.

“We believe this is a win-win situation for both the mill and the city.”

From Woodlot to Municipal Forest

When Erickson started his career as a procurement forester he purchased standing timber and logs only from traditional sources, such as farmerowned woodlots and rural native forestland. Then in 1990 Erickson received a hot tip from a forestry colleague: “My friend said there was an active land clearing job in a suburb of Minneapolis, and many of the trees being removed were good quality. I went and checked it out, liked what I saw, and bought many of the better logs from the land clearer. It has snowballed from there.”

Erickson’s reputation for purchasing urban logs quickly spread. “People started calling me when they learned I would pick up their logs, pay them, and provide trucking to the mill.” Erickson does business with about 20 different tree service firms and land clearers, of which six are regular customers. Some annually supply him with as much as 100,000 board feet or as little as half a truck load.

Training Log Suppliers

Erickson has also been proactive in providing training to municipal log suppliers. “I teach them the difference between merchantable and nonmerchantable logs, the range of log grades from pallet to veneer, and how to properly cut logs to length.” Erickson also instructs log suppliers on tips for recognizing hidden metal, and where and how to store logs until they are picked up by the mill.

Advantages of Municipal Trees

One of the advantages of utilizing municipal trees is the ability to obtain hard-to-get species. Erickson notes, “When Dutch elm disease hit the State in the 1970s, most of the native elms were wiped out. Many elms in urban areas were maintained, however, by city forestry crews. Today, when these elms need to be removed, they provide Minnesota Valley Forest Products with a log supply not found in native forests.”

Training log suppliers is key to a swamill's success.
Training log suppliers is key to a sawmill’s success in using municipal trees. Photo by Jim Hermann

Erickson contends that using municipal trees is a two-way street with mutual benefits. “Urban logs are a great supplement to a sawmill’s wood supply, especially during the summer when access to woodlots is difficult due to planted farm crops. Summer log yards set-up by cities, such as Minneapolis, are very beneficial for both parties.”

Erickson is confident that municipal trees will always fill a niche in his log procurement strategy. The annual volume he purchases can vary, but he notes, “a certain number of urban logs will always be available.” He proudly states, “This has been a very gratifying experience, and I’m in it for the long-term.”

Municipality Supports Sawmill Efforts

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Forestry Division has played a key role in encouraging municipal tree utilization in the Twin Cities, according to Jim Hermann, Forestry Programs Manager. With a mandate to “recycle as much as possible,” his Board has provided the financial support to train forestry crews and the political will to, in his words, “do things differently.” Hermann says, “We have one person on every city forestry crew designated to recognize good logs, separate them, and haul them to one of our holding sites where buyers like Lynn Erickson scale the logs and transport them to the mill for processing.” According to Hermann, city crews spend little additional time identifying and marking usable logs, but the returns have been substantial. Selling urban logs has four major benefits to the city:
  • Reduced log hauling time
  • Reduced disposal costs
  • Financial return
  • Fulfillment of a recycling mandate.
Over the years Minneapolis has developed a good working relationship with Lynn Erickson. Hermann says, “In 1999 we sold Minnesota Valley Forest Products 91,000 board feet of logs. We believe this is a win-win situation for both the mill and the city.”

Municipal holding sites are used to stockpile logs prior to transport to the mill.
Municipal holding sites are used to stockpile logs prior to transport to the mill. Reprinted from Cesa and others 1994, p. 18.

For additional information:

Lynn Erickson
1925 205th Avenue
Mora, MN 55051
Phone 320-679-4440
  Jim Hermann
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board
800 Bryant Ave. South
Minneapolis, MN 55409-1029
Phone 612-370-4900


Cesa, Edward T.; Lempicki, Edward A.; Knotts, J. Howard. 1994. Recycling municipal trees: a guide for marketing sawlogs from street tree removals in municipalities.
NA-TP-02-94. Morgantown, WV: USDA Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry; 49 p.




Don Seawater has a clear vision for Pacific Coast Lumber: to have it become, in his words, “a full-blown company” with annual revenues exceeding $1 million. Seawater’s plan is to reach his goal by producing both standard, exotic, and value-added lumber products from only municipal trees recycled from the city of San Luis Obispo, California (population 60,000).

Local Grant Helps With Start-Up

Before starting Pacific Coast Lumber, Seawater worked for 20 years in all phases of the lumber business including managing a molder operation, and owning and managing two retail lumber yards. In 1995 he borrowed a Wood-Mizer LT30 bandmill and began milling a few logs. In 1996 he received $10,000 from the San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority’s Technical Assistance Grant Program. The grant money was used to help purchase a crane truck that was essential for log acquisition. In 1997 purchasing a Wood-Mizer LT40 HD portable bandsaw enabled Seawater to seriously enter the sawmilling business.

“The grants provided some critical capital during a time of need. It would have been difficult succeeding without them.”

Second Grant Used for Dry Kiln

A significant handicap in Pacific Coast Lumber’s early history was the lack of a lumber dryer. A temporary solution was provided by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which loaned Pacific Coast Lumber a portable dry kiln (see p. 9). The unit was a dehumidification kiln, with a capacity of 1,500 board feet, housed in a 30-foot trailer. After gaining some experience with the “loaner unit,” Seawater obtained a second grant from San Luis Obispo County to purchase a Nyle model dehumidification kiln with a capacity of 2,000 to 4,000 board feet, depending on factors such as wood species and lumber thickness. The dry kiln has been a major asset in establishing Pacific Coast Lumber as a full-service lumber yard.

Finding a Niche

Pacific Coast Lumber focuses in three areas:
  1. Custom milling for the general public
  2. Producing Adirondack chairs, log benches, and related value- added products
  3. Manufacturing and marketing exotic and standard building materials
It is the exotic and standard building materials product line that Seawater sees as the niche for Pacific Coast Lumber. For example, customers seeking redwood or treated lumber can use Seawater’s Monterey cypress lumber as a substitute. Or a shopper seeking pine boards or random-width hardwoods can find a wide array of "appearance-graded material" at Pacific Coast Lumber.

Adirondack chairs, sold as kits. Adirondack chairs, sold primarily as kits, are the principal value-added product made by Pacific Coast Lumber. Photo by Eric Oldar

When Seawater had a retail lumber business he was known for supplying exotic building products in addition to standard products. With Pacific Coast Lumber his products are the same except that now he is manufacturing and marketing the exotics rather than just purchasing them wholesale.

Obtaining Logs

All of Pacific Coast Lumber’s raw material is from free municipal trees. Seawater obtains his logs in three ways: homeowners drop trees at his mill site, he assists tree service firms in removal projects involving large trees, or he negotiates with tree service firms and municipalities for trees. He uses a wide range of species including Monterey cypress, redwood, incense cedar, and pines, such as ponderosa, coulter, and pinyon. Hardwoods include acacia, American elm, walnut, sycamore, ash, oak, and red gum eucalyptus.

As of mid 2000 Pacific Coast Lumber was utilizing 60,000 pounds of urban logs per month. Seawater attempts to use all tree species in the San Luis Obispo area and strives constantly to produce a “highest and best use” product. In addition to his niche of exotic and standard building products, Seawater seeks markets for small tree branches (sold to a log furniture manufacturer) to large palm tree logs (sold as carving wood).

A wide range of municipal tree species are transformed into a host of specialty products.
A wide range of municipal tree species are transformed into a host of specialty products. Photo by Eric Oldar

Long-Term Vision

Seawater serves as the company’s sole employee in addition to being owner and operator. He uses three independent contractors for log sawing and general mill labor. His long-term vision is to employ four or five full-time workers.

Seawater credits the two county grants for the success of his business. “The grants provided some critical capital during a time of need. It would have been difficult succeeding without them.”

For additional information:

Don Seawater
Pacific Coast Lumber
225 Tank Farm Rd.
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Phone 805-543-5533
E-mail sealog@aol.com


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