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Black Times for W.Va. Red Oak Loggers
by Noah Adams
Audio for this story will be available at approx. 7:00 p.m. ET
A fresh-cut West Virginia red oak shows a distinctive pink hue. These
logs will be cut into lumber and shipped to China.
All Things Considered, June 29, 2008 · If you own timberland in West
Virginia, you've most likely got an investment in red oak and the
value of your tree portfolio is falling fast. There's been a slide in
prices, and now, locals say, they're "dropping off a cliff." A red oak
tree — the predominant species — is worth 40 percent less than it was
three years ago.
It's a fashion issue. Oak was popular in the 1980s for cabinets,
flooring, furniture. Cat Caperton of Gat Creek Furniture in Berkeley
Springs, W.Va., says, "Oak had the connotation of strength, longevity,
country values. Nowadays, it doesn't come across as sturdy; it comes
across as busy."
Cherry has become the new oak, with maple and walnut also in favor.
That's why Duane Clemons, who runs a sawmill in the town of Smoot, has
enough of the old favorite on hand to sell you 250,000 board feet. He
has about 4,000 red oak logs in the mill yard, not to mention the oak
he owns that's still standing on various tracts around the state. It's
also why Clemons sells oak to China — even though he knows it's used
to make inexpensive laminated furniture that's shipped right back to
stores in West Virginia. Sawmills in the state have been shutting
down, and Clemons says, "If you don't sell to China, you'll be out of
With red oak prices down and fuel costs to cut timber on the rise,
lots of landowners will surely say, "Let's just let those trees keep