An owl update and an SPI shift

After disappearing for quite a while my screech owl reappeared, sleeping in the raters under the second-floor deck. Not only that but there were two screech owls sleeping there during the day. One day they were both together in the same rafter space. What a coupe of buddies!

I have to assume nesting time was past. Screech owls nest in hollow tees. I have two hollow trees, one of which once was occupied by an owl, which I have since identified as a screech owl. My neighbor has several hollow trees as well.

I have to assume the owl’s perambulations take him elsewhere in the neighborhood, which accounts for his disappearance for sometimes a day, sometimes weeks at a time.

The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds, Western Region, under habitat remarks notes the western screech owl is attracted to “woodlands, orchards, yards with many trees. Roger Tory Peterson has similar habitat remarks: “Woodlands, farm groves, shade trees, wooded canyons.”

Screech owl update: Returning home after being away for three days we were amazed to see not two, but three screech owls taking their daytime siesta in the rafters of our second story deck. What a population explosion!

My best all-time owl story, though, is when I put out Easter eggs about 6 a.m. in the morning when our kids were youngsters. I happened to glance out the window just as a great horned owl swooped in and stole one of the colored eggs.

* * *

The Ag Tour June 3 ended with a lunchtime warning from Mark Luster of Sierra Pacific Industries. SPI is the largest private landowner in California and the second biggest timber and lumber company in the U.S. It’s Website pegs its ownership at 1.9 million acres. The company plants 6 million trees each year.

What may be news to those who know Red Emerson and his eponymous timber company is that the company is shifting its attention to the state of Washington. Two weeks before the June 3 El Dorado County Ag Tour, SPI closed the Quincy mill, which it had previously reopened. At the same time SPI opened its fifth saw mill in Washington. Out of the company’s 1.9 million acres, only 200,000 are in Washington. Expect that acreage total to grow.

Here’s the total for California, according to Luster: 95 saw mills closed since the 1980s.

Without even discussing what havoc the U.S. Forest Service has wreaked on lumber industry in the last quarter century, especially in El Dorado County, the real job killer has been the state of California. It now costs $75,000 to do a timber harvest plan on private land. Luster noted that costs have risen 231 percent in California and timber harvesting has declined 66 percent.

The attraction of Washington for SPI is the fact that timber harvest plans only cost $7,000 there and in Oregon.

“With the right environment we would build sawmills in California,” Luster said.

With the regulatory overkill in California it’s a good bet that the Michigan-Cal mill in Camino will never reopen. Ditto for the Wetsel-Oviatt mill in in Latrobe. The legacy of Cecil Wetsel is park-like forests in the Omo Ranch area. Both properties and associated forests are now owned by SPI. Timber harvested in El Dorado County is now shipped to Lincoln or Sonora.

When I first came to El Dorado County there were at least three saw mills operating. I interviewed Bob West when he was operating Placerville Lumber Co. at Smith Flat. It had a railroad spur and loaded lumber on railroad cars. Michigan-California Lumber Co. in Camino also loaded lumber on cars. Wetsel-Oviatt’s lumber mill in Latrobe was by railroad tracks, but when I interviewed Cecil he was shipping his lumber by truck.

Blair Brothers, whose saw mill closed before I got here in 1978, had a lumber sales building on Broadway until a storm caused the roof to collapse. The site is now a Thai restaurant.

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