By Mike Geniella
The Press Democrat
September 19, 2006

Even with mill closures, thousands of job losses and rising environmental restraints, the North Coast's redwood country remains the richest timber producing region in California.

Nearly $300 million worth of logs in 2005 were delivered to mills in Mendocino and Humboldt counties, still the state's top two producers of high-value wholesale wood products.

While North Coast timber production is at its lowest levels in decades, the overall value of today's wholesale and finished wood products rivals the $1 billion value of all wine grape production in Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties.

"The timber industry is hurting, but it's not down and out," said Mike Jani, a spokesman for Mendocino Redwood Co., the largest timberland owner in Mendocino County.

Continued consumer demand for redwood products -- largely used for decks, siding and decorative treatments -- is helping keep big timber on its feet on the North Coast.

Overall sawmill production in 12 western states and Alaska was the highest in 15 years, according to the Portland, Ore.-based Western Wood Productions Association.

But in California, overall production slipped 2.7 percent as the first signs of cooling in a hot housing market surfaced.

Because of strong consumer demand for redwood, however, Mendocino County producers were able to buck the statewide downturn. Local companies posted a 10 percent production gain, and a $24 million rise in value.

Redwood's historical high value is yet again helping buffer the North Coast timber industry from competitors statewide, and across the nation.

"Redwood prices have been creeping up in recent years, bringing stability to the local industry, even in the face of a softening in the nation's new housing market," said Jani.

The 2005 results don't surprise Jani and other North Coast industry leaders.

They say redwoods, the tallest living tree species and unique to a narrow coastal strip from Santa Cruz to the Oregon border, are still the kings of the marketplace even after 150 years of heavy logging.

Mendocino County, for example, actually ranked fourth behind Humboldt, Siskiyou and Shasta counties in terms of cut timber volume.

But "given the high economic value associated with redwood, Mendocino once again ranks second in the state in total timber value," according to Greg Giusti of the UC Cooperative extension service. Humboldt is ranked first.

Other species, especially cedar, and man-made deck material are strong redwood competitors.

But the recent production figures combined with rising values underscores redwoods' traditional market niche, and continued high consumer acceptance.

Today's production is dramatically lower than the record-setting pace of 20 years ago, when Mendocino County's log volume was four times what it is today.

But the high value of redwood helps keep Mendocino and Humboldt counties, and other North Coast timber counties, at the top of statewide rankings. The most current state statistics show Humboldt's log value at $199 million, followed by Mendocino's $90 million.

Nearly all of North Coast log production is on privately owned timberlands because state and national forests are largely off limits to loggers and their chainsaws.

And while only 5 percent of ancient redwood forests remain, 95 percent of the high-volume remaining old groves are publicly protected in local, state and federal preserves.

You can reach Staff Writer Mike Geniella at 462-6470 or