SPI Continues Mason County Lumber Industry
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
The lumber industry has long been an economic staple of the state of Washington. Mason County is still defined today by the lush forests bordering Puget Sound on the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula. The local lumber industry is still vibrant today, evolving from the logging companies of the late 1800s to businesses like Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI), which practice modern forestry practices throughout the region.
Logging was a vital component of the area immediately following settlement. In 1898, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported the four largest logging companies in Washington operated in Mason County. The Simpson Logging Company, led by Sol Simpson and Alfred Anderson, was the largest employer in the state. Progress ensued, with two new Simpson lumber mills in Shelton and the Rainier Pulp and Paper Mill in 1924, increasing the number of residents in Mason County twofold to more than 10,000 by 1930. Shortly after World War II ended, Simpson and the U.S. Forest Service agreed to guarantee a steady supply of logs from federal lands to the mills in Shelton for 100 years. An economic boom followed until the late 1950s, when years of shifting operations ensued due to pollution requirements, supply issues and other concerns. It culminated with Simpson Lumber’s announcement to close its mills in Shelton in 2015. Naturally, concerns about the economic impact of losing a company that had operated there for over 100 years followed. The legacy has continued, however, with Simpson’s sale of waterfront property to SPI and the state-of-the-art sawmill SPI has built there.
Lisa Perry, Community Relations-Washington for SPI, said the company is proud to carry forward the legacy of forest products in Mason County.
“Shelton can be proud to have a working waterfront today that meets all the current environmental standards,” she said. “Continuing that proud history here in town exists in many forms, such as having a close working relationship with Green Diamond Resource Company, which has played a critical role in the area’s economic vitality. Having the trees grown, harvested, replanted, transported, milled and shipped locally provides various jobs and tax revenue.”
SPI owns and manages over two million acres of timberland in California, Oregon and Washington. Its facilities produce lumber, millwork, precision wood products, windows and doors, placing SPI among the largest lumber producers in the United States. With the 2017 construction of a new sawmill on site and completed environmental permitting, the Shelton facility has achieved production rates of over 450 million board feet a year. The Shelton division is a stud mill, producing primarily 2x4, 2x6 and 4x4 studs up to 10 feet in length, employing over 300 individuals. In addition to timberland, SPI has three other Washington sawmills in Aberdeen, Burlington and Centralia.
SPI places a high priority on managing its holdings and operating responsibly. The company recognizes that today's business climate requires manufacturers to create their products in a fashion that protects and sustains the environment. SPI is a certified member of the Sustainable Forestry InitiativeⓇ (SFI), an organization dedicated to providing solutions that reduce negative environmental impacts and ensure positive contributions to the planet’s sustainability.
SPI employs that approach in Mason County. While it does not own or manage forestland in the county, it does purchase logs from local suppliers. That economic support of a log market keeps landowners from having to sell their property to be converted to other uses.
“We work with landowners from small family tree farms to larger entities such as Green Diamond Resource Company to keep their land in working forests,” said Perry. “Due to Washington’s strong environmental protections, working forests provide environmentally friendly forest products, wildlife protection, clean water, carbon sequestration, outdoor recreation and forest health.
SPI also plays a role in contributing green power to the electrical grid. The Shelton mill uses mill byproducts to produce steam for the dry kilns. Other locations have cogeneration plants that utilize biomass to produce electricity for the local mill facility and provide green power to the grid.
Advantages in Mason County
Purchasing the Shelton site provided SPI with several built-in business advantages, including a working waterfront and rail transport. The local workforce was willing and able to continue the area’s wood products legacy, while the citizenry embraced the importance of sustainable natural resource management. Finally, the city, county and business leaders understood the economic and environmental importance of having a modern, high-tech manufacturing facility in the area.
“The modern forest products industry is the true solution to many complex societal issues, as it provides carbon sequestration and storage and environmentally friendly products that are reusable, recyclable and sustainable,” said Perry. “Having those products produced locally in a state with arguably some of the strongest environmental protections in these arenas just magnifies that commitment to the environment.”
Perry said SPI looks forward to the future in Shelton, which has become the company’s regional headquarters. SPI is known for continually upgrading and improving its facilities by taking advantage of new technology as it becomes available. The Shelton mill has already had significant upgrades to the facility and equipment, even though actual production only began there in 2017.
“We look forward to riding out the craziness due to the COVID-19 pandemic and fluctuating lumber markets and coming out the other end stronger,” said Perry.