For more than half a century, Paul Ehinger has been associated with the U.S. forest products industry in capacities ranging from recently graduated forester through corporate executive and independent consultant. Along the way he also has contributed to the success of several prominent wood industry trade associations as an officer, director and committee member.
Now 79, he maintains a full schedule as the principal of Paul F. Ehinger & Associates, consulting across a wide spectrum of industry activities. He good-naturedly rejects the role of "elder statesman," but his vast experience over so many years makes it difficult not to regard him as such.
Ehinger entered the consulting business in 1983 following a 31-year career with Edward Hines Lumber Co. His office in Eugene, Ore. is crowded with books, reports and mementos. It is described as "the best place in the world to work" by his assistant of 2_ years, Jeanette Gillam.
Well known for the western mill closure and unemployment statistics he has been preparing since 1984, when the politics of preservation began choking supplies of commercial timber (see table), he considers these summaries good publicity for his consultancy. They also suggest the true nature of his business–preparation of extensive databases on all facets of the forest industry in the West. Hard information is his stock in trade, much of which is gathered firsthand from a variety of official and unofficial sources. Frequent travel throughout the region helps Ehinger keep in touch with a network of knowledgeable contacts.
Pacific Coast Forest Industry Statistics
|Timber Harvest All Ownerships (1)||1989||8,420||6,851||4,722||1,909||1,313||23,215|
|Federal Timber Harvest (1)||1989||4,442||1,142||2,036||826||565||9,011|
|Private Timber Harvest (1)||1989||3,721||4,582||2,638||819||636||12,396|
|Softwood Log Exports (1)||1989||676||2,597||74||0||0||3,347|
|Softwood Lumber Production (2)||1989||8,512||4,274||5,320||2,133||1,567||21,806|
|Softwood Plywood Production (3) (5)||1989||6,775||1,462||94||590||726||9,647|
|Mill Closures (1989 through Sept. 3, 2002)
Sawmills (4), Plywood, Veneer
|Operating Mills (Sept. 16, 2002)
Sawmills (4), Plywood, Veneer
(1) Thousand board feet log scale, net merchantable sawtimber.
(2) Thousand board feet, board measure.
(3) Thousand square feet, 3/8-in. basis.
(4) Sawmills with estimated annual production of 1 million board feet or more.
(5) Oregon plywood production does not include an estimated 800-900 million sq. ft. of hardwood plywood, which uses 80% or more of softwood veneer.
His lengthy experience serves as a filter for information: "When you’ve lived the life and walked the walk, you know when somebody is giving you a line of BS," he said.
A broad client base uses Ehinger’s data for a variety of purposes. While Ehinger is not a lobbyist, his statistics are often used by others to develop resource policy positions. His activities are as varied as locating cedar logs for woodcarvers, providing lawyers with technical advice on trespass cases, assisting unions and producers with mill shutdown issues, and analyzing timber availability for companies contemplating new mills. Corporate decisions to expand, contract or shift product mix must be made on the basis of accurate data, he stressed. "We supply all kinds of data to people and what you find out is that no two people want data prepared in the same way."
Ehinger also serves as consultant manager of the Small Business Timber Council, composed of 10 Oregon lumber companies "who share the same interest in problems related to small business."
Ehinger is not as pessimistic about timber supply as one might think, given the success of the preservation agenda in public policy decisions. "People who analyze the resource never take account of what is happening at the production end." Technology has improved recovery through "efficiencies in conversion that no one has allowed for."
As the accompanying table shows, timber harvest levels among all ownerships in five western states in 2001 were 45 percent of 1989 levels (federal timber only 5 percent), while softwood lumber production held to 73 percent of the 1989 mark. Softwood plywood production, however, was only about half the 1989 level in 2001. More mills have been shut down in that period than remain in the five states–Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho and Montana.
Recovery improvements have been underestimated largely because much of the lumber industry continues to measure logs with scaling rules dating to the 1880s, Ehinger said as he produced a turn-of-the-century Scribner Decimal C handbook. Even so, he said, to succeed in the lumber industry "you have to have a (product) niche where you can hide or else you have to be a very sophisticated producer."
Any new mill capacity will need to be backed up by a reliable supply of timber, he pointed out. "No one is going to loan anybody money if they are dependent on federal timber."
Ehinger doesn’t waste much breath on environmental controversies, other than to criticize preservationists for ignoring the needs of people as a whole. "The main thing is to manage the land carefully. The other stuff is so much bull," he declared.
|"People who analyze the resource never take account of what is happening at the production end." Technology has improved recovery through "efficiencies in conversion that no one has allowed for."|
He dismissed the issue of salvaging timber from recent massive forest fires as a political problem. "We’re overproduced now in North America," said Ehinger, a supporter of restrictions on Canadian softwood lumber imports.
Never bashful about his opinions, Ehinger describes "green" certification of lumber as "one of the biggest con games we have going" and criticized a movement among big retailers to demand square-edged lumber as a waste of wood. "Industry committees, associations and research people spent a lot of time determining minimum safety standards required for material put into homes" through grading rules adopted by the American Lumber Standard Committee. Insistence on zero wane will reduce the recovery of good wood from a log by 15 to 20 percent, he said, driving the cost up $60 per thousand board feet.
"Associations will take every minute of your time that you will give them," Ehinger observed. His trade association experience began in 1955, and in 1962 he was elected to the board of the American Plywood Association (now APA–The Engineered Wood Association) to replace the late Howard Lemons–his former boss at Edward Hines Lumber Co. He served on the APA board of trustees until 1980 and was president of the board from 1971 through 1973.
Ehinger admits a fondness for the "small company camaraderie" that characterized his early years with APA. "We got things done the way big corporations never will." Consolidation among corporations has changed the complexion of associations as well as the industry as a whole. In earlier days, "we had key people on the boards who could make decisions on the spot. It’s a different ball game now."
Ehinger was a director and executive committee member of the Western Wood Products Association (WWPA) in the 1960s and 1970s¾ a time when WWPA was formed through a merger of Western Pine Association and West Coast Lumbermen’s Association. He also was active in American Forest & Paper Association when it was called National Forest Products Association, serving as resource committee chairman from 1977 to 1979 and executive committee member in 1970-1973 and 1977-1979. This he described as a "ricochet" from his work with APA.
Ehinger also has been a board member and president of Industrial Forestry Association, Oregon Logging Conference and Keep Oregon Green. Today he is president of the Plywood Pioneers Association, an organization of active and retired plywood industry members who meet for the purpose of preserving history as well as continuing contacts in the industry.
Ehinger graduated in 1946 with a forestry degree from the University of Michigan, where he met his wife, Mary Ellen, and returned to Oregon in 1947 after working seven months with the U.S. Forest Service in Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri. The young forester worked with K.B. Wood Forest Engineers in Portland for two years and began a 31-year career with Edward Hines Lumber Co. at Westfir, Ore. in 1949. The Westfir sawmill was established in 1923 by Western Lumber Co., which was purchased by Hines in 1945. A plywood plant was added in 1951.
|Never bashful about his opinions, Ehinger describes "green" certification of lumber as "one of the biggest con games we have going" and criticized a movement among big retailers to demand square-edged lumber as a waste of wood.|
Ehinger’s first job with Hines, laying out logging roads, was interrupted when the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve second lieutenant was called to active duty during the Korean War. He had joined the Marines in World War II and earned a reserve commission just as hostilities ceased. Nine years to the day after he enlisted, he landed in Korea and joined a heavy equipment company, building roads between artillery emplacements and the front lines. After 16 months during 1951 and 1952, he returned to Westfir but remained a first lieutenant in the USMC Reserve. Ehinger retained his reserve status until 1957.
Back home, Ehinger was assigned as foreman of a crew removing the old logging railroad that served the Westfir mill. Added responsibilities came his way in rapid order. In 1953 he was put in charge of all forestry and timber buying operations at Westfir and in 1956 he became logging and timber manager. He had been assistant manager of the operation for nearly a year when general manager Howard Lemons perished in an auto accident. Thus, Ehinger noted, he became general manager literally overnight in November 1960.
In 1965, Ehinger was placed in charge of western operations as vice president and became senior vice president in 1973. He retained those responsibilities until he left the company in August of 1980, three years after the Westfir sawmill was closed due to the high prices bid for federal timber. The plywood plant remained open under other ownership until late 1980. At various times during Ehinger’s tenure, the company operated sawmills at Westfir, Hines, Burns, Bates and Dee, Ore. (the Bates mill was later moved to John Day and remodeled); St. Anthony, Idaho; Hill City, S.D.; Saratoga, Wyo.; and Walden and Kremmling, Colo.
After the Westfir sawmill closed, Ehinger moved his office to Eugene along with an engineering and forestry crew. Meanwhile, friction was developing among major shareholders, third-generation heirs of founder Edward Hines, Sr. As a member of senior management, Ehinger was drawn into controversies involving expansion and operating plans, and left the company in 1980 after "agreeing to disagree" with the owners.
The company–almost wholly dependent on federal timber for its raw material supply–was later dissolved and its assets sold piecemeal.
Upon leaving Hines, Ehinger became executive vice president of the Western Resource Alliance, a Northwest-based lobbying group "dealing mostly with public timber availability." This largely involved meeting with key people in federal agriculture and interior departments–a continuation of his activities with Hines that saw him frequently addressing issues in Washington, D.C.
|Is retirement on the horizon as Ehinger approaches his 80th birthday? Not hardly. "I’ll do this until I don’t want to do it anymore," he declared.|
Ehinger was a director of Lane Plywood in Eugene from 1986 until the company was sold in 1996; a director of Alpine Veneer in Portland from 1985 to 1990; and has been a director of Riley Creek Lumber Co., Laclede, Idaho, from 1986 to the present.
Paul and Mary Ellen Ehinger had four children–two sons and two daughters. Diane succumbed to leukemia in 1989 and is survived by Paul Jr., a civil engineer in Portland, Ore., David, a plastics industry salesman in Seattle, Wash., and Suzanne Gove, a homemaker also in Seattle. The Ehingers have 11 grandchildren.
In addition to his busy industry schedule, Ehinger is active locally. He was a member of the Lane County School Consolidation Committee from 1958 through 1963 and a member of the Lane County Museum Commission in the 1970s. He also is active with the Oregon Trail Council, Boy Scouts of America, United Way, and the Eugene Rotary Club. When not otherwise engaged, he "occasionally plays golf–poorly."
Ehinger has been collecting books pertaining to the forest products industry for over half a century, and once counted between 1,000 and 2,000 volumes at home and in his office. These range from equipment catalogs and scaling manuals to a full set of Pacific Logging Congress Loggers’ Handbook volumes from 1943 to the 1990s. "The industry has been my life–it’s a hobby for me," he explained.
He would like to find what he considers a suitable home for his book collection, where the volumes can be accessible to people who want to study them. "So far, I haven’t found anyone who wants them."
Is retirement on the horizon as Ehinger approaches his 80th birthday? Not hardly. "I’ll do this until I don’t want to do it anymore," he declared.
He declines to identify any single high point in his career. "High points are of the moment and fleeting," he reflected. "I would measure the success of people I have helped–when you help somebody and they’re responsive and successful, that’s a high point."
Ehinger takes satisfaction from the success achieved by people he hired at Hines. "I hired he smartest guys I could find and they made me a hero." One point of pride: "Ten years later, all the (former Hines western operations) mills but one were still running, and three are running today. All are dependent on federal timber."
Otherwise, he said, "I’ve beat the average by working my butt off." ·
Dave Pease is a former editor of Wood Technology magazine, which through preceding titles, including Forest Industries, The Timberman and The Lumberman, traced its history back to the 1880s before publication was ceased by new corporate owners at the end of 2000. He is now a freelance writer living in Bend, Ore.