By Meg Upon
The rising price of building materials is already a significant obstacle to rebuilding. Various contractors of existing projects in the county were already reporting increases in lumber prices even before the fire. Those with burnt out properties that were building report replacement materials sometimes being double what they were originally priced out.
Sierra Institute’s Crescent Mills plant — that they intended to use as a timber product plant — has a new mission post Dixie Fire. The wood products campus will now be a new sawmill.
Nearly a million acres burned in the Dixie Fire and for Plumas County residents that was roughly 60 percent of the county. For residents of Greenville, Indian Falls, and Canyon Dam thinking of rebuilding with or without payouts from insurance companies is daunting with the increased cost of lumber, which hit record highs earlier this year due to COVID.
At the same time, there is a burnt out forest to contend with that has many hazardous trees needing to be felled and dealt with.
Sierra Institute recognized the need to both do something about all the dead and blackened trees and has heard from residents about that need.
Watching green trees being chipped near Indian Falls because they might be a road hazard someday has felt like adding insult to injury for many residents, too. Supervisor Kevin Goss, for example, has had many constituents express concern for the fate of trees especially with the knowledge of the need for building materials.
“With tens of thousands of trees burned, what better way to use them than to rebuild the town of Greenville,” said Executive Director of the Sierra Institute, Jonathan Kusel.
The Sierra Institute has purchased a sawmill that will, in their words, “change the dynamics of Dixie Fire restoration and forest management across Plumas County.” Sierra Institute is partnering with longtime local partner J&C Enterprises who will run the mill.
“The lack of lumber markets is one of the biggest barriers to getting any sort of forest treatment done on the landscape,” said Camille Swezy, Operations Forester with J&C Enterprises, a fourth generation, family-owned logging company based in Crescent Mills. J & C Enterprises is also involved in clean-up hazardous tree removal on burnt out properties in Indian Valley.
The mill will bring jobs to the community and ensure local lumber availability. Importantly, it will provide lower cost lumber to the community, reducing the burden on residents who might otherwise not be able to afford to rebuild.
While J&C Enterprises has historically worked on a wide range of projects, spanning fuels reduction to timber harvesting, they have in recent years struggled to move timber to markets given the lack of availability of sawmilling operations and purchasers.
Since the 1990s, timber processing capability has been in decline across the state, with increasing concentration of infrastructure at the industrial-scale. However in recent years, the decision-makers and policy makers in the state have been looking at “small-scale businesses as a necessary part of the infrastructure required to restore the state’s forests. Sawmilling capacity is a key piece of the puzzle that has been missing, though for Indian Valley this will change in the coming weeks,” said Kusel.
A mill has been purchased and is on its way to the Crescent Mills site now known as Indian Valley Wood Products Campus. The site was originally a Louisiana Pacific sawmill campus that Sierra Institute purchased and has been tackling the clean up of the site for the last six years.
Sierra Institute was able to redirect grant funds with support of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to purchase the mill. It had been hoping to recruit businesses in the coming years to manufacture wood products at the site. These efforts have quickly moved forward as a result of the Dixie Fire.
While the details of the new mill enterprises are not quite laid out yet (Will residents bring the trees on their own properties to the mill? What will be the cost of the lumber to residents?), the plan and the new business at the site has already become a welcomed and celebrated venture in the rebuilding Greenville efforts.
Sierra Institute is exploring other potential partnerships that can prove to be a model for rethinking how rural forested California builds homes and communities facing threat of catastrophic wildfire.
“We recognize that innovative wood products, especially mass timber, can be fire resilient and represent a real possibility to remake a community with hardened homes to address tomorrow’s risks,” said Kusel.
For more information about Sierra Institute and their plans see