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Oct 1, 2010 12:00 AM


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Paper supply and demand fluctuates rapidly in the dynamic global economy. Forests, on the other hand, progress along nature's vast timeline. For 145 years, Finch Paper LLC in Glens Falls, NY, has changed with the times while maintaining an immense tract of Adirondack forestland. Unlike a single-species tree plantation, Finch's “wood basket” spans a six-state range of diverse, natural forest.

As declining print volumes and an increasingly challenging financial landscape were felt across the industry, this traditional paper company made an innovative move. In 2007, a group of investors bought Finch and subsequently sold all 161,000 acres of its forestland to The Nature Conservancy. The conservation group now contracts with Finch to manage 70,000 of those original acres sustainably. Finch manages another 36,000+ acres for private forestland owners.

Finch no longer carries the tax burden for the land, its forest stewardship continues, and it is able to channel more resources into new product development and ongoing mill improvements. Finch's integrated mill manufactures about 700 tons of uncoated paper per day.

Finch knows green

Today, Finch's forest management services are geared toward providing the best value for the land owners — a strategy to ensure the privately owned parcels of forestland stay forested instead of being sold to developers. While some investors have short-term goals, Finch has a voice in their planning discussions to convey what's necessary to ensure the forest will exist 100 years from now and beyond.

“Saving forestland is the key,” says Roger Dziengeleski, Certified Forester, vice president of continuous improvement and external operations, Finch Paper. “You can't put a wall around a forest to protect it.”

Dziengeleski is vice president of the Society of American Foresters (SAF) and will become SAF president in 2011. In his acceptance speech, he said, “America is losing more than 4,000 acres of open space to development every year. This not only drives up the cost of forest products used by society, it shifts our country's wood demand to the forests of nations where rules governing forest management and manufacturing may not be as prevalent.”

In 1912, Finch's first forester, Howard Churchill, began the company's program of managed, multiple-use forestry through selective harvest — a practice that continues today. As forester Len Cronin explains, managing a forest well ensures vertical structure, disease removal, a diversity of species, and healthier soil and water. The logging crews use equipment that can maneuver around those trees not selected for harvest, and they apply best management practices developed to protect the forest floor and water quality.

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Finch tracks every bit of wood coming out of the forest and brokers its sale for the land owners. The biggest and best logs are used for furniture and veneers, while smaller logs become paper or landscaping mulch. Tree parts that can't be used for these products, such as bark, small branches and leaves, become biomass — fuel for the paper mill. The paper mill pays the highest market rate for pulp wood, all of which is FSC and/or SFI certified.

“We don't care which certification is the best; we care about managing the forest sustainably,” says Dziengeleski. There is some debate among paper and lumber companies about the various sustainability standards, domestically and globally. He notes that while customers like to be able to cite the number of trees saved by printing on certified and recycled papers, these statements aren't factual without consensus. “Recycling does not save trees,” he says. “It helps conserve landfill space.”

As for reducing Finch's carbon footprint, the company is generating its own green energy by using hydropower from the Hudson River. Finch also burns 600 tons of biomass per day to create steam. Fossil fuels currently supply about one third of its energy.

The shelterwood system

Finch's preferred forest management system is designed to mimic natural selection, with the removal of weak trees to make room for stronger, healthy trees to grow.

In general, it begins with a stand of trees that average 40 years old, which the foresters strengthen with a first thinning that removes about 15% of the trees — those of the weakest and poorest quality. This is repeated in 15- or 20-year intervals, depending on what they determine is best for a particular tract. At the 70-year mark, all mature trees are removed except those designated as “seed trees,” which provide seed and shelter for new growth. After another 10 years, the seed trees are removed. The new trees grow for 40 years before the foresters begin the cycle again.

Other forest management methods are used in special circumstances. Where a stream corridor runs through a parcel of forestland, for example, they employ an uneven-aged tree management system to maintain shade for ecological health. Trees with hawk nests in them and dead trees that provide habitat are protected. Clearcuts are unpopular, but they are done where there is a compelling reason to do so, such as a stand of trees in poor condition. Clearcuts also maintain “pioneer species” that need full sun exposure to grow, so labeled because they are quick to regrow after a natural disaster destroys a large swath of forest. Because they are important species (such as quaking aspen and white birch), they are kept in the mix.

Prior to the start of any cutting, a Finch forester walks through and marks each tree selected to be removed. During and after the harvest, the foresters walk through the woods again, looking for their marks at the bottoms of the trunks to ensure that the logging crew has cut only the proper trees.

With approximately 96% of the forest remaining untouched every year, Finch's light imprint helps maintain healthy soil and wildlife habitat.

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Mill by the falls

In addition to powering Finch's hydroelectric generators, the Hudson River supplies the enormous amount of water needed for the integrated mill's pulp and paper production. Water is used in the pulping process, where lignin and other compounds in the wood are cooked out and converted into “black liquor,” a biomass fuel. The water used in Finch's mill is recaptured and sent through its two-stage wastewater treatment plant. A transport canal carries the mill's effluent (cleaner, by law, than the Hudson River) out to rejoin the Hudson in nearby Fort Edward, NY.

Finch papers are elemental chlorine free. The pulp is bleached in three stages — chlorine dioxide, extraction with peroxide, then chlorine dioxide — and sent to one of four paper machines. The product is 99% water at the beginning of the paper machine, with new pulp, “broke stock” from the mill, recycled paper that has been pulped, precipitated calcium carbonate filler and dye. The paper resembles a thick, blue blanket as it begins its run through the machine's giant rollers, becoming thinner, brighter and drier as it goes along. By the end of the line, it contains only 5% water.

The papers consist of a 50/50 blend of soft- and hardwoods. The long fibers of softwood, such as hemlock, provide structure while the short fibers of hardwoods, such as birch or maple, fill in the sheet uniformly. The mill processes enough wood to produce 75% of the pulp needed for Finch papers. Finch purchases the remainder of its pulp from other U.S. mills, except for Finch Premium Blend text and cover, which is made from 30% post-consumer waste fiber and imported, species-specific pulp to ensure its surface quality and formation characteristics.

All of Finch's paper machines are computerized for quality control, and every other roll is tested manually. In the RH room, an oasis of controlled humidity in the steamy mill, testers ensure the paper meets quality standards for printing.

The mill runs on a just-in-time basis, normally stocking 18,000 tons of inventory while most product goes directly from the mill onto a truck for delivery to a printer. Finch executives pride themselves on customer responsiveness. Thomas Ruch, director of technology and development, notes that there is a very short window from customer request to a new product introduction. His team targets rapid analysis of the potential for new products, determining where to invest research and development dollars. Finch has introduced several new products since its reorganization and occasionally produces custom papers for specialty applications. Ruch's examples range from inkjet-printed schoolbooks requiring the ability to highlight text without bleedthrough to perforated shelf tags that pull apart easily yet hold together securely in printing and handling.

Future plans for the mill include a new wood processing facility. It will remain onsite under outside management — a move to improve efficiency, maximize Finch's use of natural resources and preserve existing jobs.


Denise Kapel is managing editor, AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at denise.kapel@penton.com.

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Print showcase

Finch is in the House,” features projects printed on Finch papers and innovative design ideas.

See the Finch forestland at the time of its sale to The Nature Conservancy in this video.

Finch papers

Finch's uncoated freesheet paper shipments are tracking 2009, this year, says vice president of manufacturing Bob McDonald. He notes that running an integrated mill helps keep pulp costs down, putting the company on better footing than some of its competitors in the global market. Finch's “sweet spot” is premium opaque and text & cover papers. Finch Premium Blend grew 40% from the second quarter of 2009 to Q2 2010. The digital and specialty lines are another growth area.

  • Finch Prime uncoated competes with matte coated papers.

  • Finch Premium Blend text & cover, in two neutral shades of white, contains 30% post-consumer waste (pcw) fiber, along with imported Canadian Maple and Canadian Spruce to ensure a smooth finish.

  • Finch Fine, the value text & cover line, includes digital Finch Fine iD for the HP Indigo digital press and Finch Fine Color Copy.

  • Finch Inkjet Pi, introduced this year, is designed for high-speed, pigment-based inkjet applications.

  • Finch Casa Opaque (and Finch Casa Opaque Digital) is FSC and SFI-certified paper made with 30% pcw fiber, delivering high printability at low cost.

  • Finch Opaque Smooth emphasizes pressroom runnability, while Finch Opaque Vellum boasts a natural surface. The Finch Opaque line also has a Digital offering.

  • Finch Basic is value offset and office paper suitable for everyday print jobs.

  • Finch Offset aims for runnability with 10% pcw fiber and SFI certification.

  • Finch Laser features a 96 brightness rating and is stocked in offset and digital sizes.

  • Finch Xerographic is high-speed copy paper. Order Finch Paper samples.