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RC&D forestry: good ideas close to home.

In 1970 dairy farmer Loren Weldinstein of Mt. Upton, New York, read an article that changed his life. The article discussed a business opportunity based on a mostly untapped supply of red-pine timber in New York State's southern tier.

The idea interested Loren, and he followed up on it with Dick Howard, then the project coordinator for the South Central (New York) Resource Conservation and Development area (RC&D for short). Within a month, Loren and his father had produced their first log-home kit," using a small sawmill they had on the farm. They put up the kit home themselves, and Loren's father still lives in it today.

"The first few years, the farm kept us going," Loren says, "but in 73 we sold the cows and went into the log-home business full-time."

Today R&L Log Buildings is a thriving business that ships log-home kits throughout the nation and overseas. Loren sold about 90 kits in 1989. R&L uses 500,000 board-feet of red pine per year, most of it bought from local loggers and landowners. The business employs 22 people directly, with an annual payroll of over $450,000. This factor is important to a rural area that lags behind the rest of New York State economically.

Forest-industry success stories like R&L's are being repeated throughout New York's other four RC&D project areas. I'll describe a couple, but first let's take a look at the program that makes them possible.

RC&D is a national program that helps communities expand their economies through the wise use and development of natural resources. Each RC&D area is comprised of several counties that share similar natural-resource concerns, geography, and economic conditions. Local people direct the program, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service provides administrative, technical, and staff support, plus some financial assistance and office space. Other funding comes from grants and loans from public and private sources.

Nationwide there are 195 RC&D project areas. Five are in New York State: Greater Adirondack (northeastern New York), Black River-St. Lawrence (north), Seneca Trail (southwest), Sullivan Trail (central southwest), and South Central.

The real strength of the RC&D program is the initiative and commitment of local people. They develop, guide, and direct the program, through the RC&D Council, which includes representatives from local governments, soil and water conservation districts, and interested citizens.

Most RC&D projects are carried out by committees appointed by the Council. Projects focus on specific natural-resource areas such as agriculture, soil and water quality, recreation, or forestry. Committee members are people with interest and expertise in those areas.

In New York, RC&D forestry committees work closely with the State Department of Environmental Conservation and state and local economic development agencies to improve and better utilize the forest resource. Throughout the state, timber is growing faster than it can be harvested and used by existing forest industries. There is also an overabundance of low-grade timber-a result of repeated highgrading, or cutting of only the best timber. In the long run, the quality of New York's forests will decline if markets aren't created for this lower-grade timber.

Forestry committees seek to develop new business opportunities based on the principle of wise use. And again, it's the commitment of committee members that makes things happen-even to the point of investing their own money in a fledgling industry.

Gary Van Kennan, a member of the Black River-St. Lawrence RC&D Committee and owner-operator of Norfolk Lumber, is a good example. In the early 1980s, Gary and the committee were looking for ways to promote the use of local timber. At the same time, the St. Lawrence County Housing Council was trying to improve living conditions by developing simple designs for post-and-beam house kits. Many residents were living in housing that was old and in poor condition, and couldn't afford new, conventionally built homes. The Council, has proposed post-and-beam homes were easy to build and cost less than most new construction.

The forestry committee decided that the Housing Council's design could be an ideal way to expand the market for local timber, and took on the task of developing and promoting the post-and-beam designs on a larger scale. Gary and the committee developed a manual of kit designs that included blueprints, material lists, and estimated costs. The aim was to find an entrepreneur who would produce and sell the kits. Manuals were advertised and made available free to anyone interested in producing the kits. At the same time, the Housing Council worked with several families to build prototype homes.

If you visit Norfolk Lumber today (it's in the town of the same name), you will find Gary Van Kennan working out of an attractive post-and-beam office. If you go to lunch with him, he'll take you to the Raymondville Diner-featuring post-and-beam construction, of course. Norfolk Lumber has sold over 40 complete house kits over the past five years, plus variations such as storage sheds and garages. Gary's kits come in a variety of sizes and designs, and prices range from $15,000 to $40,000.

In western New York, another RC&D project is promising to help solve a different community problem and develop a new forest industry at the same time. Western New York winters are infamous for their severity, and many bridges on secondary roads are old and corroded from sand and road salt. In Steuben County alone, the cost to renovate over 200 bridges is estimated at $53 million. The county's entire yearly budget is only $77 million. Some bridges may have to be abandoned because of high repair costs, but others must be replaced.

Traditionally, bridges have been built of steel and concrete. However, there is an alternative: timber. Instead of steel for the deck and supporting beams, treated wooden beams can be used for bridges with spans up to 25 feet. The wooden deck is first covered with a rubber membrane and then by asphalt for the road surface. In Steuben and Cattaraugus counties, timber bridges have been in service for 12 years-with no problems.

John Boberg, deputy commissioner of Cattaraugus County's Public Works Department, has long been a proponent of timber bridges. He says they require less maintenance, are easier to build, and are more resistant to corrosion than steel and concrete structures. These factors make them less expensive in the long run, even though their initial material costs are comparable.

Until recently, only southern yellow pine and West Coast Douglas-fir have been used to build timber bridges. However, new engineering specifications established by the Northeast Lumber Manufacturers' Association allows hardwood species to be used in timber bridges.

This change has opened up a potential market for the abundant hardwood forests of southwestern New York State-and sparked two RC&D projects in the area. According to Howard Schuster and Dick Winnett, project coordinators for the Seneca Trail and Sullivan Trail RC&D areas respectively, the first step is to make local governments aware of the advantages timber bridges offer.

Schuster and Winnett are planning a timber-bridge seminar this September for local highway superintendents, engineers, and other government officials. At the seminar, the advantages of timber bridges will be discussed and demonstrated through the construction of two bridges.

"At some point," said Howard Schuster, "we hope that either a lamination plant or a wood-treatment plant to support the timber-bridge industry could be justified and built."

The RC&D program, though perennially threatened with elimination in the federal budget, continues to survive and even grow. Forester Bruce Williamson serves as the State Department of Environmental Conservation's liaison with the five RC&D forestry committees. "Even if the program were wiped out, " he said, "some of the committees are so involved and interested, they might carry on anyway."

This local commitment is the key to the success of the RC&D concept across the nation. No one understands local conditions better than the people who live and work there. RC&D forestry committees can recognize community needs and focus government and private resources on meeting those needs. In New York, it's working, and both forests and people are better off.


The Resource Conservation and Development idea isn't just another planning program. Rather, it is a national initiative designed to carry out plans and projects that address community needs. Nationally, RC&D projects have protected homes and industries from flooding, reduced pollution of municipal water supplies, improved parks and recreation facilities, and controlled roadbank erosion that threatened highways, to name but a few.

Nationwide, there are 195 RC&D project areas. To find out more about RC&D, contact your county soil and water conservation district or Soil Conservation Service representative. He or she can tell you whether you live within an existing RC&D area-or hazy to form a new multi-county organization.
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Title Annotation:includes related information; South Central New York Resource Conservation and Development area
Author:Koehler, David
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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