Friday, August 9, 2019

Small is Beautiful: Zena Forest Products

Date of Visit: July 17, 2019
Type of event: Study tour
Topic: Small Forest Land Ownership
Organization: Zena Forest Products
Location: Rickreall, Oregon
Hosts: Sarah Deumling / Owner and Forest Manager, Ben Deumling / Owner and Sawmill Operations Manager
International Fellows: Richard Banda (Malawi), Fen-hui Chen (Taiwan), Temitope Dauda (Nigeria), Zhongyuan Ding (China), Ana Kanoppa (Brazil), Will Maiden (United Kingdom), Romain Matile (France), Rodolfo Vieto (Costa Rica)
WFI Staff: Shadia Duery / International Fellowship Manager

Zena Forest Products is a German-American family-owned business located in the Eola Hills of the Willamette Valley, Oregon. The Deumling family has managed Zena Forest, a 1,300-acre parcel of FSC-certified forestland, since 1987 with a focus on maintaining a healthy and diverse ecosystem. This forested land comprises the largest contiguous block of forest in the Willamette Valley and includes large areas of endangered Oak Savannah and Oak Woodland.

Zena Forest contains the headwaters of the Rickreall, Yamhill, and Spring Valley watersheds and is home for a number of threatened and endangered species. The forest is protected by a conservation easement, through which the Deumling family sold the development rights and carbon credits, both in perpetuity. The conservation easement also mandates minimum harvest levels as well as habitat preservation and enhancement measures.

An example of Zena Forest Products' plywood flooring. The upper third section of the board
 is the most useful for flooring board surface, resulting in extremely efficient hardwood usage.

Forest Management
Zena forest is composed of approximately 50% mixed conifers, dominated by Douglas fir, and 50% broadleaf species, dominated by Oregon White Oak (Quercus garryana, ±75%), and Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) and Oregon Ash (Fraxinus latifolia, 25%).

The overall management goal of the forest is to create an ecologically sustainable and economically viable, uneven-aged and mixed-species forest, including all tree, plant, and animal species native to the area. In practice, this translates into:
· No clear-cutting: Single trees are selected to harvest based on the overall health of the forest, not on maximum profit.
· No compaction: Equipment is operated on permanent, widely-spacede skid trails instead of on the forest floor.
· No chemicals: Invasive species are removed by hand (i.e. with machetes).

Additionally, Oak and other broadleaf species are managed at high densities to improve tree shapes.

Sawmill 

Zena Forest Products counts on a small-scale, sawmill facility with a production close to 50,000 bf/year of the aforementioned hardwood species (Oregon White Oak, Bigleaf Maple, Oregon Ash) and occasionally-purchased Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) logs. This facility runs for eight hours a day, five days a week.

The Deumlings are currently focused on lumber, countertops, wooden heat registers, handmade stair parts, cabinets, and flooring plywood. In addition, oak sawdust for mushroom production is a by-product of their sawmill operations.

Their log supply partially comes from nearby landowners, who, in many cases, are changing their land use from Oak Savannah to agricultural uses. This regional hardwood log supply is unstable, and the Deumlings fill in the supply gaps with their own wood, while procuring maximum efficiency from their use, as illustrated by their flooring plywood production, which is their hardwood star product. 

Drying

The drying process includes air drying to 20% humidity, followed by kiln drying. Some small volumes are slowly dried to acquire higher value. Because of the strong cell walls of Oak wood, this product is particularly good for barrels after the drying process is finished. In contrast, some green wood is sold for canoe and boat construction due to its pliability. 

Marketing

The Deumlings are strongly focused on developing high-quality hardwood products that will differentiate them in the market. 

An International Fellow’s Thoughts and Perspectives 
Rodolfo Vieto, International
Fellow from Costa Rica

Learning about the family history behind the creation of Zena Forest Products, their forest management approach and learning process, and specially about the determination they have put into developing and maintaining their own business model is a great source of inspiration for me during my Fellowship program.

As a Costa Rican, I have had the opportunity to experience freedom, at least in the most standard way of conceptualizing it: what gets me close to the way Americans value and pursue freedom. As I learned from E.F. Schumacher during my early university years, I give all my admiration for the way the Deumlings are demonstrating that “small is beautiful”.

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