Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

Rights to harvest enough saw logs from the Stanislaus National Forest to build almost 1,600 average-sized homes will be sold in an annual meeting of timber operators next month.

The U.S. Forest Service will allow nearly 24 million board feet of timber to be harvested this year in the Stanislaus, down about 1 million board feet from last year.

A board-foot is a measurement of lumber 1 foot long, 1 foot wide and 1 inch thick. About 15,000 board feet are needed to frame a 2,000 square-foot home.

The timber operators' meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 11, at the U.S. Forest Service office in Sonora. Stanislaus National Forest spokesman Jerry Snyder said the meeting typically draws considerable interest from local businesses.

The timber harvests will also include considerable biomass, largely wood chips used for power generation at wood-fired plants in Chinese Camp and Ione. That biomass is not included in the board-feet figure, Snyder said, and beginning next year, the Forest Service will only produce a number in cubic feet that does account for the additional wood products.

A majority of the wood made available for harvest this year will be in the Calaveras Ranger District, Snyder said, with one project area each in the Summit and Groveland ranger districts off of highways 108 and 120 respectively.

Snyder noted the sales allow operators several years to harvest the timber, with an estimated 50 million board-feet in the Mi-Wok Ranger District off Highway 108 sold but yet to be removed.

Mike Albrecht, of Sierra Resource Management near Jamestown, said the timber sales amounts remain dramatically lower than the levels of the 1980s and 1990s, when they often exceeded 100 million board-feet annually.

Albrecht said local demand would hope for about 40 to 50 million as local mills, shaving plants and other operations are low on wood.

"The Forest Service is about 15 million board feet under where we were hoping it would be at this time. A lot of that probably is (attributable to) funding coming from Congress," he said. "It needs to be 40 to 50 million to keep all the facilities in Tuolumne County running."

Albrecht said demand is back up the past two years after the "doldrums" of 2008 to 2011.

"The housing market is coming back," he said.

Albrecht said the cost to the Forest Service to prepare sales has increased dramatically due to factors like litigation, wildlife mitigation and "just the general cost of doing business in the Forest."

He said the local timber industry is working hard to get elected representatives, particularly at the federal level, to increase funding to the Forest Service for sales. Albrecht believes the increased demand for timber and potential to boost Treasury coffers may entice a Congress mired in deficit problems to assent to better funding.