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Steam hissed into the drying kilns at the brand-new Collins Upper Columbia Mill near Boardman, Oregon, this month. Next month, when the kilns are running smoothly, the mill will start drying more than half a million board feet of rough-cut lumber grown on a plantation right next door. Before long, you may see the pale, light-weight wood in picture frames, Venetian blind slats, moldings, shipping pallets, the interior woodwork in RVs, and the lumber used to build movie sets. If you want a light-colored hardwood for a cabinet project, you may take it home as edge-glued “hobby panels” from your local Lowe’s or Home Depot. The pale wood is “Pacific albus.” Never heard of it? Neither has anyone else. It’s a made-up name, incorporating the Latin for the common poplar, that fast-growing, energetically suckering tree you see standing in tall rows along the edges of rural roads and prairie farmyards. Poplar isn’t a traditional source of lumber. But the Portland-based Collins Companies have already started milling it there beside the Columbia River. You don’t need big Douglas fir to get wood fiber.

Meet the Pacific Albus Tree, Harbinger of Green Forestry

Steam hissed into the drying kilns at the brand-new Collins Upper Columbia Mill near Boardman, Oregon, this month. Next month, when the kilns are running smoothly, the mill will start drying more than half a million board feet of rough-cut lumber grown on a plantation right next door. Before long, you may see the pale, light-weight wood in picture frames, Venetian blind slats, moldings, shipping pallets, the interior woodwork in RVs, and the lumber used to build movie sets. If you want a light-colored hardwood for a cabinet project, you may take it home as edge-glued “hobby panels” from your local Lowe’s or Home Depot. The pale wood is “Pacific albus.”

Never heard of it? Neither has anyone else. It’s a made-up name, incorporating the Latin for the common poplar, that fast-growing, energetically suckering tree you see standing in tall rows along the edges of rural roads and prairie farmyards. Poplar isn’t a traditional source of lumber. But the Portland-based Collins Companies have already started milling it there beside the Columbia River. You don’t need big Douglas fir to get wood fiber.

Collins, which operates in California and Pennsylvania, as well as in the Northwest, has regional roots that go back more than a century. Collins bills itself as “the first forest products company in the U.S. to be a signatory to the World Wildlife Fund Climate Savers Tokyo Declaration.” It already owns mills in eastern Oregon. Senior vice-president Wade Mosby says, its new Boardman mill has hired a manager and an engineer from the company’s operations in Lakeview and Klamath Falls.

Because no one has used Pacific albus before, Collins has to figure out how to grade the wood and develop markets for it. The company’s Lee Jimerson explains that Pacific albus is best suited for niches that require light weight but little strength. Forget about 2/4s. Some of the best wood processed at the Boardman plant will go into moldings and other millwork. The very best may be peeled and used in high-end plywood. (It is so light-colored that it won’t show through a .02-inch-thick top layer of some fancier species.) Other good albus may be made into blinds, picture frames, and furniture, presumably in Asia. Ordinary pieces will be made into panels for home remodeling centers that now use South American and New Zealand radiata pine. The low-end wood will be made into shipping pallets and cases.

Jimerson says the wood is so much lighter than alder that over the course of a year, a truck operator using albus shipping pallets can save $500 in fuel costs. The same qualities may make it attractive to the shrinking RV industry, and to the builders of movie sets. The wood is so lightweight and so reflective, Jimerson says, that it’s a natural for office ceilings, too.

Specifics aside, Jimerson explains that Collins will aim at the green building market. The Forest Stewardship Council has certified the Boardman plantation as meeting FSC environmental and social goals. A “pagoda” framed with Collins’ Pacific albus was exhibited at last year’s International Greenbuild Conference in Chicago, then in Portland’s City Hall. It has subsequently been sent to Portland’s sister city of Suzhou, China.

Pacific albus represents a step beyond red alder — another former trash species now valuable for use in furniture. Like alder — even more than alder — Pacific albus won’t bear a lot of weight or take much wear on the edge of a counter or pool table. But it will look just fine, and it will take a nice cherry stain.

The logging waste — leaves, twigs, etc — from all those poplars is too messy for the pulp mills, but it may have a market, too. At this writing, the company won’t say anything about it publicly, but Collins has been negotiating about supplying raw material for cellusoic ethanol. The Port of Morrow, which includes Boardman, may become a regular center of ethanol production (even as questions about ethanol’s net energy value and effects on climate continue to arise). Sacramento-based Pacific Ethanol is operating one plant there now, converting corn to fuel, and three other plants have reached the planning stage.

Why Boardman? Eighteen thousand acres of hybrid poplar grow on the land of a defunct old potato farm just south of the river, where Potlatch planted them in the early 1990s. The idea was to provide a sustainable flow of chips to a pulp and paper plant in Lewiston, Idaho. This looked like the next big thing. Forest products companies and private landowners started planting fast-growing tree species all over; they planted poplar and cottonwood in Washington and Oregon, eucalyptus in California. The idea was to provide a steady source of wood for nearby pulp mills. This was sustainable harvest before “sustainability” became fashionable.

”The fast-growing poplar tree could provide an alternative source of wood pulp to timber-starved Oregon mills and a new cash crop for Willamette Valley farmers, say Georgia-Pacific Corp. officials,” the Seattle Times reported on Feb 27, 1994. “The giant timber company says that by next year it plans to plant up to 2,000 acres annually to boost wood-fiber supplies for its pulp and paper mill in Toledo. Up to 15,000 acres — or more than 23 square miles — may be planted in what now are grass seed fields and marginal Willamette Valley croplands. The Times explained that the “poplars, a hybrid of native cottonwood and poplar species, can be harvested after just seven years. Poplar was the dominant fiber source for the country’s fledging paper industry in the 1800s.”

But the forward-looking forest products companies that planted poplar and eucalyptus were looking forward through cloudy crystal balls. The pulp market declined, harvesting those fast-growing trees turned out to be more expensive than using waste from sawmills, so the plantations of trash species just didn’t pencil out. In the late 1980s, Simpson Timber, now Green Diamond, planted 10,000 acres of eucalyptus in northern California to feed a pulp mill in Anderson. In 1999, it sold the plantation to Aaction Mulch Inc. of Fort Myers, Fla, which started chipping the trees to sell as garden mulch.

With no reason for anyone to cut them, the fast-growing trees on the Boardman plantation kept growing, and now they’re big enough to cut for lumber. (The same thing has happened in the Southeast, where forest products companies also planted acres of trees for pulp. Those trees have grown big enough to cut for lumber, too, companies have built mills to process them, and as a result, the Southeast now produces roughly as much lumber as the Pacific Northwest.)

A couple of years ago, Mosby explains, the company learned that Potlatch wanted to unload its poplar plantation near Boardman. Unlike a lot of timber land, which is stuck way out in the boonies, the Boardman plantation stands in a regular transportation hub. Interstate 84 runs right by the back door, so to speak, as do the railroad and the Columbia River. Shipping won’t be a problem.

Collins will run the mill, but won’t own it. Portland-based Greenwood Forest Products will manage the plantation, but won’t own it. Both will work under contract to the Greenwood Forest Fund, which will own the whole shebang. Both Collins and Greenwood Forest Products own minority shares of the fund. Most of the fund’s money comes from Europe, with some also from the East Coast.

The cheap dollar made the investment more attractive to Europeans. It has also made American forest products more attractive to foreign buyers. Ivan Eastin, director of the UW’s Center for International Trade in Forest Products (CINTRAFOR), explained recently that the U. S. and Canada basically owned the Japanese market in the early 1990s. But the Europeans arrived in the early 1990s, and by 2000 — aided not only by the strong dollar but also by their greater willingness to accommodate the Japanese — they had largely displaced the U.S. With the dollar in the toilet, that has changed. The U.S. is doing business in Japan again, and it is exporting wood to China and Vietnam. A lot of that wood is alder, which will be stained, made into furniture, and sold back to us. Actually, Eastin said, American forest products exporters“can sell a lot more than they can ship” Getting wood across the Pacific is the sticking point. “If you’re looking specifically at wood,” he explained, “the problem is shipping vessels.”

Russia had been a competitor, selling a lot of cheap logs abroad, but — in hopes of forcing Finnish and Swedish pulp and paper mills to relocate — the country has imposed a 25 percent export tariff, which is scheduled to rise to 80 percent . Eastin explained that the tariff had ticked off the European Union, which was talking about keeping Russia out of the WTO even before Russian tanks rolled into Georgia. (A recent decision to delay this year’s scheduled tariff increase has eased the tension a bit.).

The Europeans who put money into the Boardman plant weren’t just looking at the cheap dollar; they were also attracted by the idea of sustainability, Mosby says. In fact, they wouldn’t have made the investment otherwise. Western Europe has long been more committed to the idea of sustainability than the U.S., a mindset that years ago helped create a European market for alder as an alternative to tropical hardwoods. “These are long-term people,” he says. They were impressed by the fact that the Forest Stewardship Council had certified all Collins’ forests. In fact, Mosby says, “that was key.”

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  1. It is good to finally see more visible information about Pacific Albus. I have been working with Lee Jimerson and Collinswood for almost a year in setting up our moulding company, Arrow Planers and Moulding, Inc. in Meridian, Idaho to manufacture this amazing new material. We are an FSC Certified company and displayed some of this material last spring at the Boise Green Expo. At last contact, material should be available very soon and we will be stocking solid panels and mouldings, plus the added capability of custom orders. We will be glad to talk to you about the future of this wood anytime. (

  2. Planted for pulp that no one wanted, so now they’ve made up a new name for it to hide the fact that it’s…what, Populus alba, with a perfectly apt common name of white poplar?

    I guess people won’t buy poplar, but they might buy “albus”?

    While wishing no ill will or bad business to those trying to market stands of desert-grown, irrigated poplars that outgrew their intended economy, it should be said the difference between “big Douglas fir” and poplar is what’s known as “useful mechanical properties.”

    There is no such thing as “trash species,” but there is no question that some species are more useful to humans than others.

  3. The whole of the naming process is phony. The tree is a hybrid, because the fast growing poplars won’t take up iron from alkali soils, so p. niger or another species (tricocarpa?sp?)is used to cross breed. The G-P deal was a scam bought by the Oregon legislature. The farmers got 12 years to grow poplars, and during those 12 years were free from forest practices act rules. After that, the farmland on which the hybrid poplars grew was considered forest land, and regulated and taxed as such. Nobody in the farming community made a dime. Most ended up piling and burning the trees as they once again cleared the land for farming. It turned out to be an expensive soil banking program. A classic example of their not doing what they know how to do best—growing grass for seed.

    That aside, the best plantations grew on the lower Columbia River dike protected wet lands formerly farmed for forage. Those areas have pumping districts that keep water out, so the hybrid poplars were growing on soil with a static water level less than two feet below the surface. That wood did go to pulp mills, and did grow rather well. This Collins plantation is drip irrigated sandy desert with lots of wind, the water lifted and drawn from the Columbia River using hydropower. Or now maybe more expensive wind power generation. Again, the trees are hybrid clones, and there is nothing natural about the whole process. The fact that half or more of the 28 million acres of natural timberland in Oregon is off limits to logging makes this Frankenlog deal a strange way to address sustainability—growing irrigated exotic hybrid trees on desert land using precious salmon habitat water, while not using the best timberland nature ever created for softwood fiber production. The same effort could grow food or more corn for the California ethanol plant with the big government subsidies.

    Of course, pathetic attempts to feed the wood fiber market with schemes like this one were forced on industry by the environmental zealots, and this is just but one of many unintended consequences. That someone is trying to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear is a testament to human ingenuity. So is a nuclear power plant, but those and oil refineries are things we no longer build. 30 million acres of dead and dying forests in Canada, with no market for the fiber, and here we are using water from Canada to irrigate Frankenlog forests, just miles from a megadairy, milking over 20,000 cows in some sort of madness to make more Tillamook cheese, and Oregon’s only coal fired power plant which sends electricity to run a quarter million homes. Frankenlogs, cow methane and coal scrubbed smoke, making the place some sort of desert miracle. I guess the trees might take up some CO2….And incorporating cow poop in the sand will put carbon in the soil. I believe the coal comes from Montana, so it must be wonderful coal. Big Sky coal. Low sulphur. It goes through Montana in the coal cars with the red rose on them. Like for Portland, the Rose City.

    The log export business to Japan ended because the US was not a dependable supplier. There was some activity in New England for white pine, and Alaska for spruce and hemlock from Native American owned timberlands. Canada limited export due to the good fortune to have the US as a now captive market, thanks to environmental extremism, and is well served since the SP bought one of Canada’s two national railroads. Union Pacific soon bought the SP, and now Canada has one national railroad, and the US five.

    So Japan went to the Baltic for softwood, and found willing sellers in the former Russian satellite states and the Scandinavian countries. Those are all countries with cabinet level forestry officials, and long time tree farming success and methods, forest products being integral to their economic and social success. Their biggest wildlife problems are with EEU wolf protection rules, promulgated by wolfless nations like the British Isles. Sound familiar? Japan buys logs and lumber products from those countries, on long term contracts. China, on the other hand, buys logs and lumber from anyone with logs or lumber to sell. There are not restrictions, nor are there any environmental concerns. So Blood Money logs from African war lords, and stolen timber from the Amazon, meld with Russian mafia produced logs and lumber that seems to filter into China across their Manchurian border, no matter what their leaders tell the world. Much of the trade is endangered tree species from the former Soviet Union that ends up in those desks, shelves, wine bottle racks, we see in BiMart and WalMart stores, and other volume outlets. The US, oh so wonderfully concerned and litigious about protecting their forests, is the market for the products of illegal logging. And why should we not be? After all, we are awash in trees, logs and lumber, all at cheap prices, and we do have directed government programs to incinerate all we can on public lands in the name of fuels reduction and wildlife habitat goals. The Great Western Capitalist Hypocrite Devils. That be us. Pacific Alba is just another form, derivative, of our national hypocrisy. Sustainable irrigated desert forests. The things you can learn from Saudi princes. Amazing. But if it means not logging on natural timberlands, why would it not have a following from the urban experts and our social conscience minders?

  4. Fascinating discursion, bearbait.

    I’m still left with my parochial (by comparison to your global economic tour de force) inquiry about the species (or hybrid), but going back to Hitchcock, I’m reminded that the genus (comprising Poplars, Cottonwoods and Aspen) is rife with hybridization, and my flora is doubtless out of date with the latest thinking, and breeding.

    P. alba = white, or silver poplar
    P. nigra = European black poplar (a.k.a. Lombardy poplar for its boy trees)
    P. trichocarpa = black cottonwood

    (and not because it’s part of the discussion, just because I love its specific epithet,
    P. tremuloides = quaking aspen)

  5. Tom: trichocarpa is the one I couldn’t remember. That is in the hybrids. It is about clones and fast growth, and iron uptake among other things. There are some butt ugly falling apart clonal plantings west of the Cascades, and there was one down the road from me that got some sort of black fungal deal that essentially defoliated the whole stand and then the leaves grew back much smaller, and it did it every year. All the trees were the same clone, and all the trees lost their leaves for a while. Not a good way to grow trees for profit. That stand got chipped this late fall. And it now looks like trees never grew there.

    This world wide timber deal is interesting in that the world is flooded with timber and lumber. Europe has millions of acres of post WWII plantations, now being logged. Austria ships lumber to the East Coast. 2 x 10 floor joist material. Estonia supplies lumber to Great Britain off two million acres of fairly new plantations. The Finns have been leaders in methods and machinery for small log lumbering for decades. They have sustainable forestry as national policy. EEU nations are mostly wood exporters, not importers. The worst of logging abuse in the world is in countries with ongoing shooting conflict, or rampant corruption in officialdom.

    World peace is the best way to preserve forests. That and some sort of world wide family planning. You can figure where the problems with forest habitat and species are and will be in the world, and the US is nowhere near the top of the list. It is not politically correct to point out where culture, religion, and local experience and need is not good for forests.

    It is my opinion, not shared by many, that more management would be better for our forests than this current benign neglect mode that seems to not provide any solace for any of the stakeholders. Oh, well.

  6. The Wikipedia entry for the genus is chock-full of interesting stuff, including the fact that your friend Populus trichocarpa was the first tree to have its genome sequenced (in 2006), and that da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on a poplar wood panel.

    No mention of Pacific Albus yet, the Collins Marketing department needs to get after that (unless of course they want to pretend that this mystery wood is not really poplar).

  7. I will address a number of issues that were raised. I’m glad to see that there is passionate interest in this, where ever you stand. Please take my light-hearted comments as such. Not intended to insult, but to inform and hopefully entertain. I’m all about transparency, so I’m happy to answer as many questions as I can.

    The name: Pacific Albus ( is “the tree formerly known as hybrid poplar.” Why? Because we learned from Prince (the artist/musician) that referencing a noun with a symbol, that can’t be vocalized, won’t work if you are trying to market/sell something. J

    Seriously, here is our rationale for calling these trees Pacific Albus:

    As was pointed out, these trees were originally planted with the intent of solely producing paper pulp chips, and that is the perception most people have regarding hybrid poplar. We are redirecting the asset to (hopefully) a higher valued product, sawn timber. We don’t want to be associated with this outdated perception of “ain’t that just used for paper pulp?” So “baearbait”’s comment, “someone is trying to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear” is not unfair. I prefer to use a more recently popularized phrase, “we are putting lipstick on a pig.” That doesn’t mean the pig doesn’t make good bacon (get the analogy to lumber?), just because it is now wearing lipstick. We have good looking, award winning pig on our hands – FSC certified and manufactured with The Natural Step Principles ( as a guiding force. Look out Oregon State Fair (, here we come.

    The trade name, Pacific Albus, has its origin from the word “Pacific”, meaning it is grown on the west coast and will hopefully be sold mostly in the Pacific Rim. “Albus” is Latin for “white.” The only lighter colored western wood that I know of is holly, and the last time I checked, it’s just a bush, not suitable for lumber. Pacific Albus’ light color, and weight, is one of its great attributes. It has already found a home in ceiling applications because of its dimensional stability after kiln-drying, light color and weight. Its Latin name is “Populus spp. x” The “x” standing for hybrid. Pacific Albus is a combination of a number of Populus species, including Populus trichocarpa, P. deltoids and P nigra. The particular mix of species will change over time. The change will be so slow and subtle that you will not be able to tell the difference in a finished piece of wood.

    Not to say our residuals won’t still end up as paper chips (as well as bio-fuels such as cellulosic ethanol, fuel pellets/pucks and composite wood products), but that won’t be our primary product. The residuals (tree tops, sawdust, trim ends and sander dust) we (GreenWood Tree Farms – ) do sell will go to those who value FSC certified residuals. Pacific Albus, by its very light color reduces/eliminates the need for bleaching in the paper making process, which is a very good thing.

    These are not your “garden variety” hybrid poplar trees, or lumber, so we don’t want to be “painted with the same brush” as all hybrid poplars.

    Not all hybrid poplars are created equal. Many varieties don’t make good lumber. We are focusing on those varieties that do make good lumber products. Those that are dimensionally stable after kiln-drying and machine well.

    The Pacific Albus plantation is Forest Stewardship Council ( certified. I am not aware of another hybrid poplar plantation that is FSC certified. The FSC standards are well respected as the most stringent and encompassing forest management standards and is supported by the likes of Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund and NRDC.

    GTFF, and its partners, control the process from planting the tree all the way through to the end product. We have strong systems in place to ensure we supply a consistent, reliable product time-after-time. There are smaller holdings of hybrid poplar scattered about the U.S. (the world, in fact), but there is no other fully integrated organization that has this level of quality control. Smaller operators may use a variety of sawmills, dry kilns

    In order to convert these trees from lower- valued pulp logs to higher-valued sawn timber logs, we (who built and operate the sawmill and sell its production), GreenWood Tree Farms (who owns the venture) GreenWood Resources (who manages the plantation – ) and our predecessors, have:

    Pruned the trees up to 25’, starting seven years ago. This will give us higher-valued clear lumber, rather than knotty, lower-quality and valued lumber.

    Chipped trees that would not make good sawn lumber. There were a number of parcels that have been cut down for pulp chips and replanted. Reasons for cutting them down “early” included weaker varieties, pruned too late, wind damage, bug damage, slow growing, poor trunk form, poor grain texture/properties for lumber, etc.

    The plantation may look like a cloned mono-culture, but there are well over 20 varieties of Pacific Albus at present, and we will introduce new varieties on a regular basis. The reasons why the trees are not all the same botanically include,

    If we get a bug infestation, we don’t want to loose the whole plantation. Our varieties are diverse enough that what causes one variety problems will not necessarily cause the other varieties problems.

    We are continually “improving” the varieties through traditional plant breeding techniques. All of our plantations are Forest Stewardship Council certified, which has strict requirements against using genetically modified organisms. All the varieties of Pacific Albus could occur naturally, through pollination. So, sorry, but these are not quite Frankenlogs and will not unleash unintended GMO caused consequences on the environment. You should be much more worried about GMO food crops that are grown globally, and you eat daily, much of it without your knowing. We can “Just say No to GMO”, based on our FSC certification requirements and results.

    We are trying to make straighter trees, trees that don’t re-grow branches (epicormic branching) after we prune them, faster growing trees, trees that are hardier and need less inputs (use less water, herbicides, pesticides, fertilizer, need for mowing of competing weeds, etc.)

    Bio-diversity (even within a species) is important, even in a plantation. Our plantation is home to hundreds of dear and thousands of birds. We encourage owl populations as a form of rodent control in the plantation.

    Water usage: Yes, we do use a fair amount of water on the east side plantation. The main reason why we use a fair amount of water is that it is a large plantation. We use no more water than an average agriculture crop in the same area. We have the most sophisticated computer-operated drip irrigation system in the U.S., and maybe in the world. GTFF just spent $3 million for new fish screens on our intake pipes and put them deeper in the river, so they are out of the normal fish travel zone. It is not in our interest to overwater these trees, so great efforts have been, and will continue to be taken to minimize our water footprint. As one reader mentioned, there are some western Oregon plantations poplar as well. GTFF does own about 5,000 acres of Pacific Albus plantations in NW Oregon as well. The reader is correct; we don’t water these trees, but actually have to pump water out of the plantation. The NW Oregon plantation is also FSC certified.

    Growing trees in the desert: The tenth principle of the FSC standards applies to plantations. The rationale why FSC included plantations in their standards is that plantations can play a role in relieving pressure on native forests. The Pacific Albus plantation grows about five times faster than a west-side softwood forest, so our 30,000 acres of plantations produce the equivalent volume as 150,000 acres of west-side forest. The idea is that maybe we can conserve a greater acreage of forests with greater biodiversity compared to the less acreage of less bio-diverse desert it replaces, –all-the-while managing it to the FSC principles.

    Growing Trees in Boardman: We are generally downwind from the PGE coal-fired plant, just a few miles away. Studies have shown that trees do better in a carbon dioxide-rich environment, so I would guess we might be getting an ever-so-slight growth boost from their carbon emissions. If they want to pay us for sequestering some of their carbon, we are all for it!

    Plantations are just a small part of what should be a well-rounded “timber portfolio” of a healthy company or nation. We (The Collins Companies) own approximately 300,000 acres of hardwood and softwood FSC certified forests, where we rely on natural regeneration and let nature take the main lead on what we should do as stewards of the land. Plantations are not THE answer to future forests; they are merely part of the answer.

    We are trying to do our part regarding improving the prospects for our federal forests. We recently have entered a stewardship contract with the Fremont National Forest where we take small diameter logs as a by-product of forest health thinnings. We had to invest in a new small–log mill to be able to become part of this equation, but feel it was the right thing to do for the forests and the bio-region.

    Global trade of timber: We are positioning Pacific Albus to be a great import substitution. A few months ago, the weak dollar and record fuel prices made imports take dive in volume. A number of U.S. manufacturers still remember those days, just a few months ago, and want to diversify their sourcing, with a larger domestic component. Benefits include reduced lead times, no exchange rate headaches, more consistent supply and quality and an electorate (at least in the NW) that is seeing greater value to locally and regionally produced and sourced goods.

    I could go on, ad-nausea, but I’ll stop here for now.

  8. Randy Sindelar

    Excellent comments bearbait, Rebert, Tom, and McAngryPants. I live in Hayden, Idaho and work in San Diego, CA. I have passed the Boardman plantation many times and until I saw a TV report on that site, wondered what the purpose for all of those trees was. After reading bearbaits and Toms comments, I have a much clearer picture.

    I hope other things in the world work out as well as the Boardman plantation seems to be. We are stewards of our planet and while I am not a “tree hugger”, I have a deep appreciation for what God has given and the ability man has been granted to continue this work (I am also very religious, there is simply no other explanation).

    Thank you all for the information that you have put into this forum. Next time I drive either back to Idaho or California and see that beuatiful stand of trees, I will have a much greater appreciation for the work that is being done there.