President Bush's signing of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act last December probably will prove to be a boon to North American forestry tire manufacturers, according to representatives of those tire makers.
All of the forestry tire manufacturers interviewed, however, are making significant changes in their technology and product mix to meet changing technology and circumstances in the logging industry.
Inspired by a series of vast, devastating forest fires throughout 2002 and 2003, the Healthy Forests Initiative seeks to improve the health and safety of the nation's forests by thinning out overgrowth and facilitating forest restoration and rehabilitation projects.
``We need to thin,'' President Bush said in a speech in August 2002. ``We need to understand, if you let kindling build up and there's a lightning strike, you're going to get yourself a big fire.''
According to a Bush administration summary of the new law, it will expedite the process for environmental assessments of forests; reduce red tape that may hamper reviews of forest thinning, reseeding and planting projects; and allow early and meaningful public participation and comment on forest projects.
A number of environmental groups, however, opposes the Healthy Forests Initiative, claiming its title is misleading.
``General scientific consensus...has found that logging can increase fire risk,'' the Sierra Club said on its Web site. ``This disconnect between what the administration says and what science says about logging and fire reveals the administration's true goal, which is to use the forest fire issue to cut the public out of the public lands management decision-making process and to give logging companies virtually free access to our National Forests.''
Mike Bogunia, director of sales and marketing for Firestone Agricultural Tires in Nashville, Tenn., is encouraged by the initiative, from both the business and the environmental standpoint.
``Based on the fact that it will open up more land for logging, obviously it has the potential to increase our sales of forestry tires,'' he said. ``But it's also good as stewardship of the land. It took everybody by surprise that we could have forest fires as vast as we've had the past couple of years. Given the means, Mother Nature will regenerate herself.''
Bill Haney, a technical customer service support official for Hartville, Ohio-based Trelleborg Wheel Systems Americas Inc., was somewhat more reserved in his assessment of the new law.
``This initiative had to do principally with fire prevention in California and other areas,'' Mr. Haney said. ``I could see where it would have a long-term effect on the forestry tire business. But since the nature of the business is in harvesting sellable timber, it won't have that much of an effect on our short-term sales.''
Robert Sherkin, president of Weston, Ontario-based Dynamic Tire Corp.-marketer of the Primex brand of forestry tires-said he was unfamiliar with the Healthy Forests Initiative. ``But the more activity there is working in forests with equipment-trimming logs, thinning out forests, cutting dead or inferior trees-the more that would affect all suppliers to that industry,'' he told Tire Business.
Mr. Haney said Trelleborg was more concerned with a change in the tariff structure for Canadian lumber coming into the U.S.
``There are limitations now on how much timber can come across the border,'' he said. ``It used to be easily exported to the U.S., but no longer, and that's having a negative effect on some loggers in Canada.''
Mr. Bogunia agreed that it's now more difficult for Canadians to ship wood into the U.S., ``but that means more lumber is being used from the U.S.,'' he said. ``Canadian sales are down a little bit, but U.S. sales are up a little bit. For us, it means they're just taking it from the left pocket into the right pocket.''
Mr. Sherkin said he wasn't aware of any tariff problems between Canada and the U.S. but said there had been some reshuffling of markets because of changes in the relative value of the Canadian and U.S. dollars.
``When the Canadian dollar was weak and the U.S. dollar strong, Canadian products were at a distinct advantage,'' he said. ``There were disputes, but those probably should subside as the U.S. dollar weakens around the globe. But we don't get involved in that; we're just trying to service our markets and provide the best tires on the market.''
All three said their companies are expanding their offerings in forestry tires. Trelleborg has long offered a full array of ``skidder'' sizes, according to Mr. Haney-``skidder'' referring to the harvesting techniques most common in North America, with its larger, hardwood trees. But the company also is expanding its tire offerings for ``CTL''-or ``cut-to-length''-equipment, which is the dominant logging technology in Europe that also is starting to be introduced in North America.
New tread designs and higher load capacities are the hallmarks of Trelleborg's expanded forestry tire line, he said.
Mr. Sherkin also said his company is expanding its line of CTL tires, as more logging equipment is imported from Europe, particularly ``forwarders'' which require different types and sizes of tires. ``As the harvesting of trees becomes more sophisticated, a broader range of products is necessary,'' he said. ``We will continue to add these products to our line as long as the size proliferation continues.''
Mr. Bogunia said Firestone Agricultural Tires is making some radical innovations in its forestry tire lines. One of these is the ``Severe Service Application'' line of tires, which features 20 plies to increase carrying capacity and equipment productivity.
Still another is Firestone's tubeless forestry tire, which Mr. Bogunia claims is the only one in the forestry tire industry. ``A tubeless forestry tire saves the initial investment in a tube,'' he noted.