Logging in the Lincoln: An industry still alive
Area timber company remains in operation
Alamogordo Daily News
By Duane Barbati, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/24/2011 12:00:00 AM MDT
George Ellinger, owner of Ellinger Logging in Alamogordo, wants to dispel misconceptions that there is no logging being done in the Lincoln National Forest.
In March, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce introduced his bill, HB 1202, “to restart jobs in the timber industry by providing for the protection of the Mexican spotted owl in sanctuaries.”
In an e-mail to the Daily News, Pearce’s press secretary Eric Layer stated HB 1202 has been introduced, but hasn’t come to a vote on the House floor.
Ellinger has been logging for 35 years in the Otero County area and hauls 650 truckloads of logs from Lincoln National Forest thinning projects each year. That equals about 80,000 pounds of logs per truckload and 4,000 feet on every truck.
Currently, Ellinger can only cut trees between sunrise and 10 a.m. He can only retrieve or skid out the fallen trees until 1 p.m. because of the dry conditions in the forest and surrounding area.
The Lincoln National Forest has implemented fire restrictions because of the lack of rainfall. The forest requires all equipment being used on the Lincoln to have spark resistors. Loggers must also have fire extinguishers readily available.
Ellinger said he logs about 3 million board feet per year.
“There’s a misconception that there’s no logging going on” in the Lincoln, he said. “I am doing 650-log truckloads a year through Cloudcroft. Pearce came down and did a big talk with everybody, but he’s not talking to anybody who knows anything. I actually make a living in logging. If he was going to talk to somebody about logging, you’d think he would talk to me.”
Ellinger said he believes none of the logging companies and loggers harvest as many trees as he does in one year.
“The Forest Service is getting a bad rap,” he said. “There are three other loggers. My timber sale administrator for the Forest Service is Mickey Mauter. He keeps me in a lot of logs. Mickey is keeping us all in a lot of logs. The Forest Service is doing a bang-up job.”
The Daily News attempted to contact several individuals connected to the logging industry in the Sacramento Mountains, but telephone calls were never returned.
Ellinger said many other people are misinformed about logging in the Lincoln National Forest.
“The guys who are really griping to Pearce are the ones looking for a handout,” he said. “They want it given to them for free. The federal government and the Forest Service … they don’t give handouts.”
Forest Service timber sales
Throughout the year, the Lincoln National Forest publicly announces thinning projects for closed bid through advertising in newspapers throughout Otero and Lincoln counties.
Marisa Bowen, presale forester for the Lincoln, said LNF officials inspect the thinning project and keep in contact with logging companies throughout the entire process.
“We have people in the community that don’t have logging equipment, but have ways to get a few logs out,” Bowen said. “It’s for people who use them to build homes or need them for a special project. We issue a special use permit for them.”
The Lincoln National Forest can have between 12 to 20 sales open for bid throughout the year. The forest has a contract bid, which is a closed or sealed bid process, for logging companies to bid upon.
Through a stewardship contract, the logger pays the Lincoln to take wood and trees off an area. In a standard timber sale contract, the logger pays a certain amount of money to open an area for thinning. Most of the money returns to the forest to reseed and rehabilitate the area. The Forest Service limits tree harvesting to no larger than 24 inches in diameter.
“Mostly the loggers are making money,” Bowen said. “We’re supplying them with the outlet. We pick the best bid for a thinning project. We go out every week and do a harvest inspection until they’re finished.
“A stewardship contract is a new concept. It’s the wave of the future. We don’t have a lot of stewardship contracts, but we do have a few. We actually pay to have work done, but the money goes back into the forest. We don’t make any money off the projects because we put it back into rehabilitating the forest.”
Hard at work
Ellinger said he has 12 total employees who work in the forest cutting trees, driving trucks and operating a sawmill.
“I pay for all my timber,” he said. “The government puts it up for bid. I have to bid for it like everybody else. They’re mandated to put up a certain amount every year for bid. I think it’s six million board feet a year or about 1,300 log truckloads a year. I think they’re actually doing a good job. I have a sawmill in Alamogordo and I am furnishing four other sawmills with logs every day.”
Ellinger said he hauls two truckloads of logs each day to a pallet mill in El Paso.
“I also haul truckloads to two other sawmills,” he said. “I haul truckloads to the Tularosa pellet sawmill. I haul my really big logs to the Mescalero sawmill that just started back up. There’s actually a lot of volume being moved right now. I do think more thinning needs to be done in the forest.”
Ellinger said the timber market, at the moment, is down.
“Those guys asking for more logging don’t even have a market for the timber,” he said. “I think if they put up more volume, they will run out. They’re keeping a good stream for what the market will stand. There’s not much of a housing market. The Mescalero is having to cut more of the bigger stuff to even make a living. There’s not a market for studs right now for house building. I sell timber in Artesia for the oil industry to build platforms.”
Pearce contends the Mexican spotted owl can be protected in sanctuaries. He has stated several times that the Endangered Species Act prevents logging in the Lincoln.
Ellinger said he works with the Forest Service to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
“They want to give the owls 2,000 acres for mating,” he said. “The owls will move after mating. We move in and log behind them. What’s been happening now is the owls will move in where we’ve been logging because they can get better food. I am not happy with the owl, but right now there’s the checkerspot butterfly in Cloudcroft that will hurt us more than anything. I am also having to protect the Sacramento Mountains salamander. It’s also endangered. I am working hard to get done before July. The mating season for the salamander is in July.”
Ellinger said he has to move to a different location every four or five months.
“I have four timber sales going right now,” he said. “They have a lot of time restrictions on me. I just move around sales. I move out of one location, go to another one without restrictions and return to the other one in a year. It doesn’t really hurt me. The Forest Service has worked really good for me. They keep me in enough sales out of the restricted areas. I can move in and out of them.
“I am working on five different locations. I have enough work to keep me going until fall.”
Staying in business
Ellinger said he has been logging since 1974.
“I don’t know where Pearce is getting his information,” he said. “I am only saying I believe he is misinformed. I’ve never had any down time right now. When President Bill Clinton was in office for eight years, they shut the whole forest down and we worked on private land. In eight years, we had all the private land done. Now there’s no private land to log around here. This time around, President Obama has kept us working.”
Ellinger said he is not sure Pearce is fighting for the right issues.
“I believe he is complaining about the wrong issues,” he said. “I sell timber to a guy in Artesia who uses it for the oil fields. They’ve got an endangered lizard shutting them down. The biggest problem is the checkerspot butterfly because we can’t log anywhere around Cloudcroft between March 1 and Nov. 1. It’s harder on me than the owl. The owl hasn’t hampered me. The Forest Service has done a good job moving me around the owl.”
Ellinger said he believes everyone has been doing a really good job moving around the owl, salamander and checkerspot butterfly.
“I feel the Forest Service, Fish and Game, biologists and myself have done a good job,” he said. “I felt that I and other loggers were working together to work around the species so we can log and protect them. We visit with biologists all the time and ask if it’s OK to log in an area. I just think the Forest Service is getting a bum rap.”
Contact Duane Barbati at email@example.com.