Editor’s note: This story was updated to clarify how timber stands are restored after the wood is harvested.
DeRUYTER — Gutchess Lumber President and CEO Matthew Gutchess stood Wednesday afternoon in a forest clearing in DeRuyter pointing toward a nearby company truck as Robert Hotaling Jr. worked the controls of a crane lifting logs onto a vehicle.
Turning toward Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica), Gutchess noted the enormous log Hotaling was guiding had recently been an ash tree and that the species was the one for which the Chinese government had set its most steep tariffs, until the tariffs were lifted in February.
“I think the uncertainty has been as bad as the actual tariffs,” Gutchess said after he and his staff gave Brindisi a tour of the timber operations.
The congressman said later that he came Wednesday to follow up from his visit in August to Gutchess’s Cortlandville headquarters and lumber facility off McLean Road and a subsequent visit by Gutchess in September to Washington, D.C.
“When we spoke last year, I wanted to come out and see the harvest,” Brindisi said.
He and Gutchess discussed how global environmental concerns, international trade tariffs and local jobs all intersect at a lumber company based in Cortland County.
Brindisi said he wants to understand the issues facing the company and how he can help steer legislation that will support Gutchess Lumber, protecting jobs and the environment.
“This is a very sustainable practice,” he said. “We are doing the right thing in our country. Most people don’t know trade disputes affect this area and jobs.”
With the Chinese government agreeing to pause its tariffs on timber for only a year, it is important to continue to work with that government on a permanent resolution to trade disputes, Brindisi said. That issue will probably be taken up again after the November presidential election.
The market value of timber in the United States fell 40 percent when China imposed the tariffs, but it has since rebounded to a degree. China had purchased half of the hardwood lumber produced in the United States before the tariffs, and that has since hovered in the mid-30 percent to 40 plus percent, Gutchess said.
Tariffs ranged from 5 percent for some species of tree to 20 percent for ash, he said.
Gutchess told Brindisi that tariffs could drive China to buy hardwoods, a Gutchess specialty, from Africa or Siberia, causing lasting harm to the company.
Timber practices in the United State are more environmentally conscious than in some other nations, Gutchess added.
He said the company’s plight, and how it affects the environment and economy, is not commonly known.
“We need to do a better job of informing the public,” Gutchess said.
He said there is little waste in the industry, as trees are converted not only to lumber, but to pellets for wood stoves, wooden pallets for transporting products of many companies, and other products.
And the forest regenerates after the timber is harvested, Gutchess said. Seeds are already in the woods and once the canopy of taller trees is removed, sunlight and nutrients foster growth of new trees.
“People don’t realize in a year there will be new trees and in 10 years you won’t know the difference,” Gutches said. “The fastest growth is in the first few years, when you have an opening in the canopy.”