Shoun's thrives despite downswing in hardwood industry

By Kathy Helms-Hughes


   While it may appear from the number of logging trucks traveling the roadways that the forests are disappearing, this is not the case, according to Larry Shoun of Shoun Lumber in Butler.
   Management of the Appalachian region's forests has resulted in more timber growing today than at any time in the last 50 years, the Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers state. Unfortunately, though hardwood is plentiful, jobs in the furniture manufacturing industry are not.
   Many industries in Tennessee and North Carolina have packed up and moved to other countries where wood is plentiful, such as China, Chile and New Zealand, Shoun said. One reason, he believes, is because environmentalists have painted a picture of forest extinction, "so a lot of the major furniture people started seeking other avenues overseas."
   "They started looking to manufacture instead of shipping parts to assemble. I think China has one of the most high-tech furniture factories in the world," Shoun said. "There are several of our major furniture industries set up in one big region over there, and they're actually assembling with their raw material, boxing it up, and it's going right straight to the consumer here in the United States," he said.
   In North Carolina, one furniture factory after another has closed its doors. "Used to, you'd have factories that would shut down for a short period of time; or they would lay off or have cutbacks during slow periods ... but it was always looked that they would come back. But from all indications, some of these factories have shut down supposedly not to reopen at all," Shoun said. Broyhill and Thomasville facilities are among the casualties.
   As a result, many of the smaller frame shops also have closed.
   "It's been about the same devastating effect in the furniture industry as when the textiles went overseas," Shoun said.
   "The industry has suffered a great loss and, in return, numerous manufacturers, small sawmill people, and logging operations following suit."
   Shoun Lumber, a third-generation sawmill operation which began around 1908, is one of the oldest established businesses in Johnson County. One apparent reason it has survived is because it has diversified.
   "It's grown from just a rough sawmill operation to some planing operations. We do specialty millwork. We build doors and cabinets and do some molding and trim and flooring," Shoun said. The company also mills several of its own log home patterns.
   Shoun's caters to the pallet industry, flooring and furniture industries, and even turns its wastestream into usable products.
   "Our sawdust goes for bedding for the horse and cattle industry," he said. Undesirable leftovers are sold for firewood or mulch while wood chips go to paper mills such as Wilamette in Kingsport.
   "You salvage everything and try to make use of it," Shoun said.
   Friday, the Appalachian timber industry marked National Hardwood Day. Hardwoods most often are used to produce fine furniture, flooring, kitchen cabinets, paneling and high-quality paper, among other specialty uses.
   "We live in the heart of the Appalachian hardwood mountains. A lot of these Appalachian species of wood are made into furniture, therefore, the industry is depending a whole lot worldwide on species coming from this region," Shoun said.
   "A lot of people think that with all the timber harvesting going on around us and what we see, that we're out of trees or we're out of timber. They don't realize that the forest produces so many more things than this lumber. It's the only God-gifted natural resource that reproduces itself -- it's like farming over 50 years instead of one year," Shoun said.
   "Through management there is a tremendous lot of forests that are ripe and need to be cut. The Cherokee National Forest, for the last 10 years, has been continuously cutting down acreages of ground that they won't let you log," he said.
   Lawsuits by environmentalists and legislation passed by Congress has reduced access to many forest lands, creating a fire hazard, according to Shoun.
   "When these forests get to burning hot and they've got a lot of fuel where timber has fallen over and not been cleaned up, it's devastating. Millions and millions of dollars and lives and property have been lost and a lot of it is just because of environmentalists trying to keep people from controlling the forests and working with them," Shoun said.
   "We can't go in and get the forest products to use, therefore the forests cannot reproduce themselves. A lot of people think that if you disturb the forest you are harming wildlife but in a forest that is old growth, there's no underbrush. Your wildlife suffer; they don't have any shelter, they don't have any vegetation to feed from."
   When mature trees are harvested, the canopy is removed, permitting moisture and sunlight to reach the forest floor, providing conditions needed for new growth to get started.
   "All of your wildlife has a tendency to come back better and have shelter and feed, therefore the habitat is much better for them," Shoun said.
   "If we don't use good common sense and use the God-gifted resource that we have, then it's a loss to all," Shoun said.