More of Humboldt County's trees are bound for Asia -- or parts of them anyway. Unlike recent whole log shipments out of Humboldt Bay, the wood this time around will be milled locally, then trucked south and loaded onto container ships at the Port of Oakland.
The California Redwood Company has entered into an agreement to sell 23 million board feet of Douglas fir lumber to China. That volume of boards can't be shipped out of our local bay due to logistical issues, particularly infrastructure limitations, explained Carl Schoenhofer, California Redwood's vice president and general manager.
"First of all, the log ships that have gone out of [Humboldt Bay] handle about six million feet of logs," he said. "The containerized ships are much bigger. They hold like 26 million feet of lumber."
Schoenhofer said the company has recently figured out how to cut Douglas fir logs in varying sizes, some of which can be sold domestically while metric-sized cuts can be sold to customers in booming Asian markets like China, India and Japan. The thin-cut lumber will primarily be used as forming boards for concrete, which is the primary building material being used in the rapidly developing inland areas of China.
Schoenhofer said that with housing starts and the overall economy still slow, the domestic lumber market is simply not able to absorb the amount of lumber his company is selling to China. (California Redwood also has a "trial shipment" of one million board feet headed to India soon.) Like any other business, his relies on supply and demand.
"We look at what's the best return for us and how much volume can we ship," Schoenhofer said. "Right now, we're selling a mixture of domestic and foreign. That's giving us the highest return." Ideally company management would prefer to handle the entire process as locally as possible. "I would like to export out of Humboldt Bay and create more jobs here locally," he said. "It's just -- it's challenging."
Short sea shipping could provide a partial solution by allowing smaller shipments of lumber and fiber to come in and out of Humboldt Bay, Schoenhofer said. For the time being, he added, anything that keeps local loggers, truckers, scalers and longshoremen employed is a good thing.
And right now the reality is this: "Asian countries in general have an insatiable appetite for fiber."