Timber myths reemerge to plague Montana
Senate Tester dissembles.-
Senators Tester and Daines plot suppression of challenges to timber sales-
Timber sales and timber harvest declined on the national forests in the Rocky Mountains during the Clinton Administration. The reason was the withdrawal of subsidies that supported higher levels of timbering.
Unlike the Southern national forests and those west of the Cascade mountains in Oregon and Washington, the large majority of national forests actually lose money on their timber programs. Trees are harvested (cut) not to make money for the U.S. government, but for other considerations, though this is not generally recognized.
Montana is no different from Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona, only in the details of timbering. None of these states have public lands that are productive enough to make money on timber sales.
In Montana in the last two years there has been a political effort to restore logging levels back towards the much higher figures that were seen in the 1970s and 80s. Timbering makes money on private lands mostly because the most productive lands were privatized before the national forests were even created. Public lands strongly tend to be both less productive and more scenic than private lands.
None of this new timbering effort deals with the fundamental lack of productive public timber land. Instead it involves mandating logging levels and taking away the opportunities for the public to legally challenge timbering that were granted in the 1970s.
I have not written much about this because mandating harvest levels and reserving land for timbering as a dominant use, does not provide the revenues (from tax dollars) that are necessary to support a subsidized timber industry. It won’t happen without the tax dollars or an abolition of regulations to protect the land and the wildlife.
Montana’s senior senator, Democrat Jon Tester recently got in hot water trying to propagate the myth that lawsuits have shut down timber harvest in Montana. His myth-making was in support of legislation to make it harder to sue. Tester said that all the current timber sales in Montana were under litigation. When he was strongly challenged, he amended it to say half the timber volume in the Northern Region (Region 1 of the USFS) was stopped due to litigation. Region 1 is northern Idaho and Montana.
The Washington Post looked at the claim and gave it “four Pinocchios.” It turns out that a bit over 14% of the Montana sales were under challenge. Only four sales were enjoined by a court. In terms of volume the Northern Region met its timber harvest target in 2014 — 280 million board feet. Only 27.7 million board feet under contract was enjoined.
Lawsuits are often said to be frivolous by opponents of the suits. If “frivolous” means anything other than “we don’t like the suit,” those in Montana were demonstrably not frivolous. Courts hate frivolous lawsuits. They don’t rule in favor of frivolous suits. Instead, they often sanction the plaintiffs. The Alliance for the Wild Rockies in Montana wins more than 80% of its timber lawsuits. This is evidence that there is a problem with the Forest Service producing timber sales that do not violate the laws. The Alliance is hardly one of a kind among conservation groups.
The remedy proposed by Tester and Daines (Montana’s new Republican junior senator) is to make timber sales not subject to appeal and/or not subject to litigation too, and to also impose a legislatively set timber target (kind of like in the old Soviet Union where they tried to abolish markets in favor of production targets). Daines is a particular problem here (on thin ground) because he wants few if any taxes and is supposedly a free marketeer.
Throughout the Rocky Mountains it is obvious to everyone that there is a huge amount of dead timber due to mountain pine beetle infestation and other insects and diseases. This is commonly blamed on lack of logging with no apparent recognition that the dead timber is from the Yukon south to Mexico. In British Columbia and Alberta where the axe and the saw are always the first remedy, timbering has not hindered the pine beetle in the least. This is never mentioned, and, of course, the fact that warm winters are the best friend of the beetle is taboo on the Republican side because climate warming does not exist.
Here are a few details about Montana timber controversy.
GEORGE OCHENSKI: Myth of roadblocks to timber supply debunked. The Missoulian.
Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.
32 Responses to Timber myths reemerge to plague Montana
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I will post some paragraphs from Richard Manning’s “Last Stand: A riveting expose of environmental pillage and a lone journalist’s struggle to keep faith”
I want to tell what the forests
I will have to speak
in a forgotten language
The Forest Service’s numbers, however, are cooked. For instance, administrative costs are hidden. Effects of logging on wildlife are considered “positive”, because the timber beasts argue that logging improves habitat. Those “benefits” are entered on the profit side of the ledger. Capital costs are amortized at odd rates. The costs of roads in the Chugach National Forest in Alaska were once spread over twelve hundred years, thereby levying infinitesimal costs against each year’s proceeds. Wolf used accepted accounting methods to run an eleven-year cash flow analysis of the Forest Service timber program. He says the agency’s claim of a profit is simply false, that the timber program racked up a deficit of $3.3 billion during that eleven-year period, $5.6 billion with interest.
The beneficiaries of this largesse are the timber mills, and why should they turn it down? Why should a single mill owner buck the system only to go out of business and allow another mill to exploit the niche? This is the commons and willing exploiters wait on line. Why should a timber company take pains in its cutting to adopt more careful methods when those methods are more costly and therefore render his lumber less competitive? Why should a Forest Service inspector take pains to enforce more than minimum standards on a logger when that will lead to fewer board feet being cut? The greater the cut, the more money the Forest Service gets to spend on roads and bulldozers and desk-growth. When more is cut, the Forest Service gets a bigger budget, the ultimate goal of all bureaucracies. Deficit accrue to the Treasury; growth accrues to the bureaucracy. (page 73)
This is forestry at its harshest, not really forestry at all, but more a form of strip mining. At its most severe, this sort of cutting proceeds across very large clearcuts, hundreds of acres at a time stripped not only of mature, usable trees, but of all trees, all vegetation. The sawable is sawed, the marginal is burned, the limbs and brush are burned, the land is burned and then a few years later crews plug in genetically and economically acceptable saplings. A forest is reduced to the mountain’s equivalent of a Midwestern cornfield in a massive ecological and genetic experiment. A couple of hundred years from now, we will know if it worked. If it doesn’t we will know the corporations got the last of the wood out fast and cheap.
Arnold Bolle has a name for this. Bolle is a softspoken old man, dean emeritus of the University of Montana’s School of Forestry. Likely he had a hand in the training of more foresters than any person in the West.
“It’s Nazi forestry. You clear off that old junk and put in a good genetic quality in orderly rows as if that’s the whole reason God created trees, just for our benefit,” he once told me. “It’s a very comfortable thing to think that man is in total control and everything is obeying us.” (page 35)
When Champion bought its lands from Anaconda, it did not know what it was getting. Much of the land was too harsh for trees, even by the rocky standards of Montana. Much of the land flowed over dry, south-facing slopes in areas more suited to grasses and sagebrush. Some trees did grow on these places, but by only owing to quirks: come a few wet years in a row, a cold summer of the sort that happens once in a century, and a few seedlings catch. A forest then rises by the strength of its own moisture-holding shade, an up-by-the-bootstraps operation. Champion was clearcutting such places, Runyon told me. The accident of nature was being reversed.
Methods and foresters’ artifice did not matter in such dry places. Likely, once cut, those sites would never see trees again, at least in the sense humans understand “never”.
I wonder how we will guard our trees and, more important, the forest. Are humans to be trusted with this task? We have given our trees to the corporations, and they are so harried by the predations of international markets that the next quarter is their only hurdle. We have entrusted the forests to foresters who believe that they are visionary in ensuring the next generation of trees. They generally mean to protect the existence of “rotation-age” trees which live about sixty years, just long enough to be cut. (page61)
Trees are planted. In sixty years or so, childhood for most species, they grow to something that can be fed to a mill, more and more a chip mill, a large enough stem to be ground and glued into something resembling a board.
Foresters have done this long enough – in this country, about a hundred years – that they now feel confident to overrule the hand that nature has exercised through the millenia. They do this by planting trees, a matter of pride for the profession. During recent years, it has become fashionable for the timber corporations and professional associations of foresters to commission advertisements in environmental magazines. These generally feature a photo of a tender hand on a vigorous young sapling. A copy block announces the millions of times this nurturing has occured in recent months, that the companies and foresters are concerned with the future and the future is their planted trees. We are advised that wood is America’s renewable resource and that every day is Earth Day for a forester.
There is a certain cynicism behind these pronouncements. Many of these planted trees will not grow, and the companies know it. Champion officials, for instance, admit they have cut exceedingly dry slopes in Montana, areas that once grew trees by accident of a few wet years. Once stripped of the snow-holding canopy of existing trees, these baked slopes will remain deforested. Even on friendlier sites, accidents happen. A drought follows the time of planting and so all the young trees die. By the time planters are able to revisit the site, brush takes hold and chokes out the effort. Or somebody makes a wrong choice about strain and species. Somebody misreads the wildly varying conditions of mountain slopes. Then the variables such as aspect, slope, and rainfall wipe out a plantation. Timber companies, however, do not commission advertisements about these failures. (page 95)
++…something that can be fed to a mill, more and more a chip mill, a large enough stem to be ground and glued into something resembling a board.++
I get this author’s point, but something he really ought to consider if he is being honest. If younger trees are being harvested it means maybe other older ones might be left alone in other areas. And, importantly to his point about forest products that are ground and glued together – they are often from an engineering standpoint structurally stronger, dimensionally stable, and importantly cost less than the real thing. Oriented strand board (OSB), and engineered floor joists (also lighter and stiffer) the stuff you see in modern home building are these products. Dimensional lumber is a less desirable product, and may cost as much as 3X more! Ah, but what is truth, when you can make emotional arguments.
The paper in the link below is a bit dated, but the relative differences between the cost of a timber sale on state land (or private land for that matter) cost less than USFS (or BLM) timber sales, and they typically turn a profit. There are also a lot of national forests in the arid West that should not be cut, maybe even more in a climate changing world. Four factors seem to top the list according to the author of this piece – the cost of road and bridge construction to more remote areas, the cost to prepare and administer a FS timber sale, and the nature of the harvest technique (selective or clear cut – the FS seems to like the latter), and the cost of compliance with environmental review analysis processes (let me emphasize the word PROCESSES which involve lots of labor to write reports and do reviews, often inefficiently).
All four factors cost the federal government more (let me say this again, federal labor costs here are huge), which is why FS in large part does not make much profit on its timber sales. Afterall, they have no statutory incentive to make a profit on their sales, and the FS is a huge labor cost gobbling bureaucracy. Let’s also factor in these access roads/bridges are typically one time expenditures, and will be mostly available and in sufficient shape for the next rotation cut or access to future timber sales, all the while the access is made available to recreationists (a subsidy of sorts). I don’t think Mr. Ochinski addresses these aspects in his opinion piece.
One of the keys to getting assent from all of the private parties, the “stakeholders,” is not to build new permanent access roads or bridges. These often-thought-to-be investments are one of the major reasons why Montana national forest logging in the past lost money.
Also in the Montana N.F. past, enormous amounts of money were spent regenerating the logged forest on steep national forest mountain slopes. One way to avoid this is to not reforest, but that would be timber mining, not harvest. The other way is not to log the the steep slopes at all in the Bitterroots and other places.
I just happened to be reading about this the other day:
Sidenote: My home is about 30 years old now – and some windows are going to need replacing. I was surprised how nice the manmade materials are – and they won’t be affected by water damage. We need to make the move away from relying so much on timber, IMO. We don’t have that kind of world, or luxury, anymore. Not only has the natural supply been drastically reduced by use, development, etc. – but our large world population is too much for it to be sustainable.
“We need to make the move away from relying so much on timber,”
We have to be careful here, remember we moved from paper to plastic in the grocery store and look at the problems that’s caused.
Yes, plastics have been terribly abused, like the DDT of modern times. (By that I mean not a thought to environmental effects, just how it could benefit humans). We need to be more concerned about the environmental effects of the things we use, you’re right.
What’s wrong with reusable grocery bags? I do slip up occasionally, but I always recycle the plastic bags – sometimes to pick up trash at my beautiful walking spots.
++ timz. There will always be multiple factors to consider: full costs associated with manmade material that replaces wood; the chemicals needed in the production; the disposal of waste products and which RCRA waste category they are in; how long will it take the finished product to degrade in the environment (if it ever degrades) and the energy costs in the production of the product. These are just a few that I can list without giving much thought. When these products that are used to replace wood or to reduce the use of timber begin piling up on our world it is a trade off. Is that trade off worth the long term costs? Plastic is a perfect example and we are decimating out ocean and many species of fish and birds because of our plastic waste. It ain’t just grocery bags. Plastic is killing this planet and the planet’s inhabitants.
We will never get away from using wood, nor should we. I have a 1921 house. It’s stone, but I guarantee the frame is wood, and likely, virgin wood. The floors are the original wood floors. No pun intended, but this house is solid as a rock. My mom’s house is a 1914 wood craftsman. It’s a solid house that needs a LOT of work, but the point is these are old houses that were well built with wood and/or wood frames. We’ve survived many Oklahoma tornadoes and we’re still standing. The doors in our houses are wooden and not that material (don’t really know what it is but I will never have it in any home I inhabit) they use now for doors in these new homes. We will not get away from wood products. If we examine the long term pros and cons it’s unlikely we should even try to get away from wood.
I don’t for a minute think we should get away from wood. Using wood has no necessary relation to cutting timber at a loss.
Boy, that was a long jump to a conclusion wasn’t it.
I said we should get away from using it so much. Ease the pressure on our timberland and trees, with climate change we are going to need our trees standing, and plenty of them.
I realize plastic is more than grocery bags, it was but one example. We don’t have all day to list everything. Some manmade materials could help, and of course, we can devise ways to make them safer (if we can put a man on the moon and all that….) Sadly, fuel costs and petroleum are going to be with us for a long time. I used to think I would want only natural products in my house, but I don’t believe it is sustainable, especially in a future of ten billion or more.
I should clarify ‘manmade’. Not only plastic and those kinds of materials, but other natural materials that could be put together in ‘manmade’ ways – stone, earth, cement. We’re already doing these things. Houses that are suitable for the environments they exist in – hot and dry, rainy, tornedo-prone.
What we fail to grasp is it is not plastics, logging, water use per se that is decimating our oceans and lands and water supplies – it is us in our multitudes, and all the things we want but do not need without restraint. None of these things would harm the landscape so much if there wasn’t so much taken by us. It’s not all the fault of us today, our forebears with each succeeding generation took greedily with no thought to the future either. Balancing the needs of humans and the environment? We passed ‘balance’ sometime back in the 1960s, I believe.
Doing things the same old way is not sustainable any longer, unless we want a future with only ourselves in it and living in an artificial environment to sustain us.
Older homes are a different story altogether. I think older homes should be preserved and continue to be lived in. Out-of-control new construction is something else. You make it sound like ‘plastics’ (not unlike climate change) is an alien from another planet that just happened to us – we created it, and what’s worse, we throw it out of car windows, leave it behind on beaches and the oceans.
The Great Lakes and its fish are being poisoned by cosmetic, superficial microscopic plastic cleansing beads that no one gave a crap enough about to consider the effects they would have in and on the environment!
Does that mean it shouldn’t have a purpose that is reusable or for long-term use. Absolutely not. Aren’t we capable of disposing of it and handling it properly?
People used to say ‘would you do that at home, or do you live in a barn?’ Self-restraint went out sometime in the 1960s too, it seems.
I agree with much of what you’re saying, Ida. Quite honestly, I have no answers. When I see some of the old pictures of the forests and the size of the trees in the PNW that were logged in the early part of the 20th century I get sick at my stomach. On I-5 between Seattle and Bellingham, WA there is a rest stop. This rest stop has the remnant of a tree trunk (don’t remember the species) and it is huge. Huge. The signage states that size of tree was once common in that region. If I remember correctly, it states that size of tree doesn’t exist anymore because they were logged before they started using silviculture
methods that saved some parts of those stands.
I do think there is useful purpose to the composite ‘wood’ (non-wood) used in some decking and other products where dampness will cause wood rot in a fairly short frame of time. My house has a basement and a cellar (very scary cellar!) and they both need work. When I do the work on the cellar I’m going to look at using the composite wood for the door frame and think it will last longer than wood.
It sounds like Gary Humbard’s post hits the most important components.
It sounds like Gary Humbard’s post hits the most important components.
Yes, I think so too.
I sure don’t have all the answers (understatement of the year!), and I do hate disposable plastics. The composite wood materials resemble real wood a lot, tho, and hopefully will last a very long time.
My roof has held up with all the snow, and our summers are damp and humid too. But I like it.
Thanks for some of those excerpts, Mareks. I’ve seen giant Doug Fir clearcuts on private lands near Lake Roosevelt, where I exactly wondered: how many decades or centuries will it take for ANY Doug Fir to grow there again. It may have taken them hundreds or thousands of years to occupy the site. The erosion was horrible too – steep slopes. I expect that guy made lots of money, so he can leave the moonscape he created.
I reviewed wood products in Canada the other day, hoping to see a dramatic fall in cutting (we use far less paper, right?). It was interesting, but mostly depressing. Less paper, more other things.
I have a funny addition. People in MI have asked me several times how big Doug Fir get here. I used to have some on the south property line, planted by neighbors, and trying to blot out the sky – one thing the tornado did right was to remove them (it turns out that, yes, they can fly). I smile and reply to ask again in 200 years; 500 if you want a good answer. We just don’t know.
Rork have seen clear cutting in BC after hiking through healthy forest and coming right up to the edge of the clearcut. It really was devastating to see. Like you, I wondered when would anything ever grow back?
It is upsetting to see. I should correct my statement about ‘we need our trees standing in the future’ to add ‘we need our trees to fall in the forest (naturally) to replenish the soil’ too. 🙂
We also need to grow many trees for their desirable properties. Woods have varied uses; a few examples from the past and present: black willow for its strength to weight ratio for artificial limbs, persimmon for its density in golf clubs, basswood for butter boxes, fast grown ash for resistant to shock for bats and shovel handles, hickory for strength in hammer handles, white oak for whiskey barrels. There are also the woods that are used in the ground or damp conditions that resist decay and are useless for this task until the have heartwood – the darker dead wood in the center where chemicals that make the cells rot resistant are deposited – this takes hundreds of years in some species. Young redwoods and western red cedar are worthless for rot resistance.
There is a big difference in the properties of slow and fast growth Douglas-fir which is the most important structural wood in the west.
I know rot resistant decking has been made out of recycled plastics but it sure is hot on bare feet when the sun is out.
This was one reason I liked the “Clinton Plan” for west coast forests which were to be grown to different ages and with mixed species.
The demand for wood leaves us with a few options. First we can rely on the vast majority of wood coming from private and state lands or we can expand the timber base and yes, subsidize the timber industry and rely on more federal timber.
During the past 20 years in the Pacific Northwest, federal timber sales are down 80% (mainly due to the protection of northern spotted owl habitat) and the cutting of private timber land has made up the deficit. There may not be a dollar cost, but there is a HUGE cost to the environment. Short rotations, 120 acre clearcuts, minimal environmental protections and tree farm practices are just some of the costs.
I advocate for expanding the timber base by increasing federal timber sales which must meet the most strict environmental regulations and yes, subsidize the timber industry. The Forest Service has some of the best scientists in the US and they are quite capable of determining where, when and how timber sales should be designed (i.e only 14% of sales were challenged in Montana).
Currently, the FS and BLM can sell up to 70 acres of timber using categorical exclusions without the ability of the public to protest or appeal. President Obama gave this authority. I doubt any additional authorizations will be provided to prevent protests and appeals since the vast majority of sales are not litigated.
Approximately 80% of BLM and FS sales in the Pacific Northwest consist of commercial thinnings and none of them are “clearcuts”. I would suspect the same in the inter-mountain region. If you fly over forest land in the west, almost every clearcut younger than 20 years old is either on private or state land.
The mission of the USFS is “to achieve quality land management under the sustainable multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people”. The mission of the BLM is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations.
Selling timber sales which meet the most stringent environmental requirements while providing some of the demand of forest products is clearly in line with the mission of the agencies. It would be a huge success to reduce the bureaucracy of the FS and BLM, but that is a different subject.
“The demand for wood leaves us with a few options. First we can rely on the vast majority of wood coming from private and state lands or we can expand the timber base and yes, subsidize the timber industry and rely on more federal timber”
I beg to differ Larry. Perhaps our species would recognize other options (if better educated) and with that knowledge, get a clue about what we waste and start managing the waste, wisely.
Right now there are hundreds of thousands of landfills, all across this country, just waiting for the right sort of “design team” to come along 🙂
At my local dump site the other day and someone had dumped quite a few old windows into the dumpsters. The frames were broken and the glass was toast (after being tossed into the dumpster) but geez would of been nice to have those windows for a greenhouse.
Might need to set up a community bulletin board “One man’s trash” etc.
Yes. Reclaimed wood is trendy now too, and beautiful. Used brick, hardware, glass, and there was even something I saw for countertops that resembles granite but made from recycled materials, nice looking too:
Here’s how it worked out for us–from an article that was written as our house was being built 13 years ago:
“In the garage, the builder places wall studs farther apart and by using mill ends and scraps instead of virgin wood, he is able to build this house using 20 percent less lumber than more conventional methods. Less wood also means more insulation and better fuel conservation.” Additionally, our decks are Trex (recycled milk jugs) instead of wood, the siding is Hardiplank (cement & wood fiber composite), half of the flooring is maple tongue & groove from a former basketball court, the deck railings and some roof support timbers are salvaged from an old barn, the deck spindles are small diameter ponderosa pine logs that had been the barn’s corn crib, and most of our interior doors and woodwork were salvaged from a 1920s-era tailor shop that was being gutted.
A hugely successful nonprofit business in Missoula salvages and re-sells building materials: http://www.homeresource.org/
Big thumbs up Kathleen 🙂
“I doubt any additional authorizations will be provided to prevent protests and appeals since the vast majority of sales are not litigated.”
Sure wish this was correct, but the 2014 Farm Bill allows clearcuts up to 3,000 acres with no NEPA review, no appeals, and no court challenges.
So, unfortunately, the push by a clueless Congress to ‘get out the cut’ a la 1970s and 80s continues unabated. Montana’s Democratic governor Steve Bullock nominated 5 MILLION acres of national forest lands to be hacked down under the Farm Bill’s “logging without laws” provisions. And of course Montana’s Democratic Senator, Jon Tester, voted for and heartily upholds logging without laws, including his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, which congressionally mandates logging levels on national forest lands — a new and terrifying precedent from a Montana senator who has clearly lost his way a long time ago — like when he exempted wolves from Endangered Species Act protections, a first in the 37-year history of the Act. UGH!
I was unable to find information in the Farm Bill allowing up to 3,000 acres of timber removal without court challenges. It is my understanding that categorical exclusions allowing the removal of timber up to 70 acres are the largest tracts of land allowed without protest and appeal.
Please send me the link allowing up to 3,000 acres without court challenge.
Go to this Link: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-113hr2642enr/pdf/BILLS-113hr2642enr.pdf
Type this in the search(With the period) “sec. 8204”
And you’ll get that section of the bill. Also, keep in mind that during the Bush II administration Mark Rey and Bush put together a host of different CE logging provisions. The 70 acre one was specifically related to “green trees” only. But there was a 250 acre “Salvage” CE, a 1,600 acre “fuel Reduction” CE, etc, etc.
I was incorrect to say that CE’s have no court challenge. They can be challenged in court, but they don’t have any objection (i.e. appeal) process.
‘‘(1) PROJECT SIZE.—A project under this section may not exceed 3000 acres.
‘‘SEC. 603. ADMINISTRATIVE REVIEW.
‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subsection (d), a project described in subsection (b) that is conducted in accordance with section 602(d) may be—
‘‘(1) considered an action categorically excluded from the requirements of Public Law 91–190 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) (NOTE: PublicLaw 91-190 is NEPA)
Price paid for lumber is nose diving. This puts the squeeze on profit margins for the company purchasing the taxpayer subsidized logs. Should this hold or prices plummet even further look for no bids at public lands t.s. auctions.
Thanks for posting the link to the lumber prices Don.
The information at the link expose yet another timber industry/politician public lands logging lie.
As you can see in this article the logging lobbyists in Montana are claiming: “Timber prices have risen substantially.”