Award winner’s mill forced to close its doors
Last week the owners of the Wetsel-Oviatt Lumber Co. in El Dorado County announced they would permanently close down within two months.
“The last few years haven’t been fun,” said Cecil Wetsel, who oversees the company’s operations. “There have been a lot of stresses and a lot of problems,” he said.
Struggling to pay the bills was on top of the list, but Wetsel said the company has lost the ability to turn a profit for many reasons.
Because of new state regulations, Wetsel said he was prepared to pay more in workman’s compensation insurance rates this year – but he expected the increase to be about 30 or 40 percent.
“I was absolutely and totally shocked when (insurance broker) said it was 100 percent,” he said.
Increasing insurance rates, the general rising cost of doing business and a strong dollar have all made it challenging to keep the business up and running in Northern California, he said.
Wetsel said he’s no longer able to compete with lumber companies from other countries, including Chile and Brazil, where the costs of business are just a fraction of what they are in California.
“Here, they’re always coming up with more and more regulations,” Wetsel said. He said last year he could put together a timber harvest plan for 1,500 acres of land for about $20,000. But this year it’s costing the company about $45,000.
“The pendulum has really swung … ” he said.
Industry leaders agree, and are worried that the costs of regulation will chase more companies out of the state.
“The closure of Wetsel-Oviatt is a clear example of how California’s business climate is killing the state’s economy, one community and one company at a time,” said David Bischel, president of the California Forestry Association.
Cheryl Rubin, a spokeswoman for the California Forest Products Commission, said state leaders need to stop micromanaging the forests and allow responsible landowners and foresters, like Wetsel, to properly manage the forest.
“Here we have the loss of an industry leader, who was Agriculturalist of the Year last year,” Rubin said. “This year he’s a man out of business. How does that happen?”
She said businesses are simply being pushed out by policies that unnecessarily drive up costs.
Last year, the State Fair Board of Directors honored Wetsel — and his 40-year-old company — for his responsible forestry practices and commitment to educating people about the industry.
While the tree farmer said he’s a little worn out and is ready to “regenerate some energy,” both he and his wife, D’Amico, said they are not walking away from the forestry industry.
“Our core beliefs are still there,” Wetsel said. “As we speak out … it will be different. But our (beliefs) really, truly come from the heart.”
D’Amico said both she and Wetsel would continue to work for the general benefit of the forests – including both private and public lands.
“We look at the state of the forests in California, and we’re terribly concerned,” she said. “They’re crowded. They’re congested. They’re not healthy. They’re just fire bombs waiting to be ignited.”
Wetsel said the company’s 17,500 acres of land will be sold, and everything at the lumber mill, which produces about 40 million board feet of lumber each year, will be liquidated.
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