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Land Managers Take New Look at ‘Weed’ Tree With BC-Timber Squeeze

March 7, 1989

SEATTLE (AP) _ Alder, a fast-growing hardwood often viewed as a noxious weed by Northwest timber growers and land developers, is experiencing a surging popularity and could become a cash crop, land managers say.

The price for alder saw logs has risen from $190 to $225 per thousand board feet in the past four months, says Paul Kriegel, a log buyer and forester for Goodyear Nelson Hardwood Lumber Co. His company has made a living off alder.

Two years ago, Kriegel says buyers in his area paid $14 a ton for alder pulp logs. Now the booming pulp and paper industry has pushed the price to $21 to $26 per ton.

Kriegel now complains about a shortage of alder sawlogs and he’s decided the answer is to plant them himself.

He had trouble finding any, so last year he paid a local nursery to grow 20,000 seedlings.

Kriegel says this spring, with the help of a group of government and university foresters, he’ll plant four five-acre plots on Goodyear Nelson land. He hopes the plots will yield information that will help foresters decide if planting alder makes business sense.

The Weyerhaeuser Co., which has spent years killing alder out of its conifer tree farms, recently began growing alder seedlings and planting them in small test sites. It reportedly is considering planting pure stands of alder.

Weyerhaeuser also is managing several thousand acres of alder that grew back naturally on the Toutle River mudflow after the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in southwest Washington.

″There’s very little information available as to what a managed alder stand will do,″ says Tom Terry, director of Weyerhaeuser’s hardwood research at Chehalis, Wash.

Alder grows fast, about 15 feet in its first five years, crowding out fir, but it doesn’t grow as tall or as straight, and lacks fir’s utility as a structural building material.

But Ralph Peter, a retired forester with the U.S. Forest Service, says the species is ″probably the best species in the Northwest for furniture.″

It is easily machined, glued, sanded, steam bent and penetrated by stain.

″Some people call it ’the great imposter,″ says Kriegel.

The alder lumber industry employs 500 to 800 workers in Washington, says Dave Sweitzer, secretary manager of the Western Hardwood Association in Portland, Ore. It accounts for about 3 percent of lumber production in Western Oregon and Washington. But that percentage has doubled in 10 years.

End adv for Monday March 6.

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