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Collins Almanor: a selective forest.

n 1941, Truman Collins had a dream: He envisioned a perpetual supply of high-quality timber rolling out of his family's 90,500-acre Almanor Forest in northeastern California, hauled on modern log trucks to a sawmill that would never close. (See "Collins Almanor Forest" by Chapin D. Foster, AMERICAN FORESTS , OCtober 1943.)

Collins, a third-generation timberman, was no idle dreamer, and despite criticism of company timber-marking practices and the recent shutdown of a plant division, his vision proved to be no fantasy. After 48 years of uninterrupted logging, Collins Pine Company's Chester tract is producing a steady 35 million board-feet of timber a year. The Chester sawmill has lost less than a dozen days to closure, and all of the original logging trucks are still in use.

It wasn't dumb luck that made this lumberman's dream come true, but a unique combination of prudence, paternalism, and hard-as-nails pragmatism. Collins began by hiring a crew of foresters who believed that by selecting single trees from the mixed conifer stands, timber harvesting could continue indefinitely. He invested in a fleet of heavy-duty, off-highway Kenworth trucks, and sized the sawmill to provide stable, year-round employment to 100 workers.

"The Collins family decided it was going to be in the timber business for the long haul," said Murf Karns, personnel manager for Collins Pine in Chester, California. "The way you assure that is to cut trees on a sustained-yield basis, and invest your money in quality equipment and personnel."

At the base of Truman Collins' vision was a deep-seated fiscal conservatism inherited from his grandfather. Theodore "Teddy the Tither" Collins built the family dynasty-now 110th among lumber sawmill producers in North America-with business savvy and Methodist piety. When Truman Collins inherited the Almanor Forest from his father, E.S. Collins, he upheld the family's pay-as-you-go philosophy.

When the company began logging in 1941, timber was sold to Red River Lumber Company in nearby Westwood and the capital was used to build the sawmill in Chester. When finished in 1943, the $1-million mill was completely paid for. Collins used the income from the sale of lumber over the next decade to build a road system that gave access to the entire 73,300-acre Chester block. By 1955 the company owned a 600-mile network of gravel and dirt roads.

The trucks that travel the Collins roads today are the 19 original Kenworths purchased with cash between 1941 and 1957, and two Internationals bought in the early 1950s. Each rig is inspected every year, and subjected to a complete engine overhaul every five years. All the body work is done in Collins Pine's own shops, which also make the many parts that have long since become unavailable.

Once assigned to a rig, a truck driver stays with the same truck for at least a logging season, and sometimes as long as he works for Collins Pine.

"He takes pride in running his own truck," said truck foreman Pete Fregoso, a company employee since 1955. "They become partners, just like with the pickup at home. And if something goes wrong, I know who is responsible. "

Turnover among workers is almost as rare as the purchase of a new truck. Though none of today's employees started when the mill was built, two missed its grand opening by only three years.

"A lot of guys' fathers and grandfathers worked here. It's family," said Guy McNett, a resaw operator who got his first job with Collins in 1974.

For all of Truman Collins' vision in fiscal and personnel management, the heart of his dream was an experimental method of selecting trees for harvest.

The primary asset of Collins Pine is its forest of ponderosa and sugar pine, Douglas-fir, white fir, and incense cedar totalling more than a billion board-feet. The trees chosen for harvest, then and now, are not the biggest and greenest, but the less vigorous. The healthier specimens are left to restock the forest. The system selects trees of all diameter classes, from Douglas-firs four feet in diameter to 16-inch cedar poles.

"To really apply selection silviculture," " said chief forester Barry K. Ford, "the basal area that trees occupy [which correlates to tree diameter] must be spatially distributed throughout the stand. That's how we maintain an uneven-aged forest. Otherwise we would not be taking full advantage of the growth potential of the forest."

"What Collins did was just unheard of in the 1940s," said McNett. "The attitude then was 'the only good tree is a dead tree'."

New foresters must master the Collins selection system before they are turned loose alone in the woods. All trees are categorized according to the nine Almanor Tree Classes (see drawing on page 56). Immature, mature, and overmature trees in both isolated and crowded stands may include primary and secondary crowns. In addition to crowns, foresters are looking at boles and other signs of general health in every size tree of every species, and always in relation to the rest of the stand. The Almanor Tree Class system is the guideline a Collins forester uses to determine the future of a specific tree and, over time, of the forest in general.

A beginning forester may need from two weeks to six months to learn the Collins Pine single-tree selection system. "When you first train a marker, he's just an extension of your arm," said Gil Murray, former chief forester. "Collins' system is unique. It's a woods tradition passed on orally from forester to forester. There's no other way to learn it."

The system originated from the work of Duncan Dunning and F.P. Keene, two U.S. Forest Service foresters who developed a timber risk rating system in the 1930s while working on a federal experimental forest near Chester.

"The Forest Service has long forgotten that research," said Phil Nemir, a forester with Hammond, Jensen and Wallen of Oakland, California. "But techniques were developed that might be applied today to National Forest land to accomplish timber-production goals that are also aesthetically pleasing to an increasingly environmentally conscious public. What's most impressive about the Collins forest is that the trees left to restock the area are good healthy trees."

Collins maintains forest-inventory records as meticulously as it selects trees for harvest. Beginning in 1945, 576 one-acre permanent inventory plots were established systematically throughout the Collins forest. All trees over 12 inches in diameter in each circular plot were numbered. This early plot system gave Collins initial data about the volume of each species in its forest inventory.

Collins foresters remeasure the trees in each of the control plots every 10 years to compute growth and volume by species. Extrapolation from these volume tables projects timber growth on the entire forest, which provides foresters with the data to gauge timber harvests over a 10-year period. They update their harvest plans every 10 years based on the data from the control plots. This continuous forest inventory gives Collins the confidence that it is not overcutting, and is managing its Almanor Forest for a perpetual sustained yield.

Collins repays employee loyalty with a devotion that goes beyond decent pay and good benefits. Hundreds of Chester High School graduates have financed their college and post-graduate educations through a Collins scholarship fund that provides $1,200 a year to each student who maintains a minimum 2.5 grade-point average. The company recently established an employee assistance program for drug and alcohol abusers.

"That's pretty enlightened for the timber industry," said McNett.

Despite their proven reliability, Truman Collins' values may gradually be giving way to new trends. In 1985 the company closed a 24-year-old flakeboard plant, one of only two major additions to the original sawmill. Collins laid off a total of 40 workers, and the seniority shuffle that ensued shook the confidence of many of the rest. Employee turnover jumped from less than three percent, including summer workers, to as much as 15 percent, excluding summer hires.

"When Truman Collins ran the place, he had a paternalistic attitude toward the company and the men who worked there. Now you don't have the feeling of camaraderie that used to exist," said McNett. "Maybe the industry is more complicated than it used to be, so Collins doesn't have the kind of slack it once had. Maybe it takes a man with the kind of vision Truman Collins had to keep the dream alive in these times."

Although the sawmill was carefully sized to manufacture only what Collins Pine lands could produce on a sustained-yield basis, it now works a second shift, increasing by one-third the original number of employees. The additional logs are purchased from the U.S. Forest Service or other sources, and on these lands, Collins uses whatever timber-harvest system is preprescribed, including clearcutting.

Collins Pine President Robert Lastofka is the first non-family corporate head, and company officials recently authorized the only major departure from the traditional pay-as-you-go fiscal policy. They borrowed $2 million to finance construction in 1985 of a $14 million co-generation plant that replaced the flakeboard plant. The 12megawatt power plant burns mill wastes to generate electricity, and is designed to produce all of Collins' electrical needs.

Even in the forest itself, Collins Pine is rapidly approaching some major policy decisions. The 48 years of single-tree-selection management have favored tolerant white fir trees under 20 inches at the expense of pines. By harvesting only trees 20 inches and larger, dense thickets of white fir have developed, blocking the sunlight demanded by pine seedlings. The result is an overstock of fir. Critics have suggested that the company change its name to "Collins Fir."

Collins foresters recognize the problem, and in the last several years have been experimenting with selective harvesting of trees under 20 inches in these overstocked stands. Since 1984 the company has sold two million board-feet a year of 12- to 18-inch-diameter trees. Another experiment involves in-woods chipping of non-merchantable trees under 12 inches. Both practices must not only improve the forest to produce the timber stands Collins demands but must also be financially self-sufficient.

Ford minimized the threat to the company's timber stock, and predicted no major changes in its commitment to a sustained-yield system. The company may have to modify its timber-selection system when it begins its next cutting cycle around the year 2000. It may have to develop a new chart of Almanor Tree Classes, said Ford, but the overall management will continue to sustain the yield of the forest.

"We still plan to leave slash on the ground for higher water retention and recycling soil nutrients," he said. "We still plan to leave snags and cull logs for wildlife. You may see younger, faster-growing trees harvested, but they'll be just about as big. What you see now in our forest will be what you'll see for the next 100 years or so. Our commitment is to maintain that forever. "
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Title Annotation:Almanor Forest, California
Author:Little, Jane Braxton
Publication:American Forests
Date:May 1, 1989
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