Upper Skagit’s Sustainable Forestry Turns Maples to Guitars

Pacific Tonewoods general manager Eric Warner shows a guitar with a back made from a maple tree.

Two maple trees harvested from Upper Skagit Tribe timberlands have a musical future ahead of them.

The trees were sold to Pacific Rim Tonewoods, a specialty sawmill upriver from the Upper Skagit Reservation that sells lumber to guitar makers Taylor and Martin, among others. While most guitar tops, sound boards and braces are made from spruce, maple is often used for the back, in part because of its decorative figuring. Figures are not the same as a wood’s grain; they are the distinctive pattern trees have when cut perpendicular to the grain direction.

The mill’s owner, Steve McMinn, toured a parcel of timberland that the Upper Skagit Tribe owns near its casino off Bow Hill Road. Among several hundred trees, he found one that had the fiddleback, or flame, figures popular on guitar backs. When the parcel was harvested, he discovered another maple with a quilt pattern.

The trees sold for two to three times more than other maples sell to a regular sawmill. The lucrative sale is part of Upper Skagit timberland services manager Robert Schuyler’s plan to develop a sustainable forestry operation.

The tribe purchased the parcel almost a year ago. Two-thirds of the trees are cedar, which sells for more than maple, and the rest is hardwood.

“I’ve asked the tribe to acquire sustainable timberlands,” Schuyler said. “With the sale of this harvest, the tribe can offset some of the land acquisition cost.”

guitar tree
A maple tree is harvested from the Upper Skagit Tribe’s timberlands for sale to a specialty sawmill that sells lumber to guitar makers.

Sustainable forestry is a better use for the land than development, Schuyler said. And it suits the tribe’s role as natural resources co-manager. With the first harvest done, the parcel will be planted and maintained for future harvest.

“This will keep the forestry crew busy,” Schuyler said.

For more information, contact: Doug Couvelier, Timber/Fish/Wildlife biologist, Upper Skagit Tribe, 360-854-7090 or [email protected]; Kari Neumeyer, information officer, NWIFC, 360-424-8226 or [email protected].