Changes in Longitudes, Changes in Attitudes about Wood Products

Got an idea for using beetle-killed wood? Loans are available for forest product businesses in NW Colorado.

From this article, it sounds like Californians are thinking that federal lands should provide some value to counties, but the old ways won’t work.

Fight over forest use snares rural school funding
By Michael Doyle – Bee Washington Bureau
Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 | 07:50 PM

http://www.fresnobee.com/2012/02/15/2723930/fight-over-forest-use-snares-rural.html

WASHINGTON — California’s rural schools are caught in a fight over funding and forests, and there’s no clear resolution in sight.
With millions of dollars and myriad trees at stake, a key House committee on Thursday will push a Republican-led plan that explicitly ties rural schools-and-roads funding to more active logging, grazing and mining on individual national forests.
The plan replaces an expired funding scheme that delivered $47.8 million to rural California counties — including Fresno, Madera and Tulare — in Fiscal 2010.
The bill set for approval by the GOP-controlled House Natural Resources Committee boosts logging and aids counties that are home to untaxed national forest land. This is huge in California, where 18 national forests span some 20 million acres.
The federal government once funded rural schools and roads based on timber harvest revenues, which collapsed partly because of new environmental restrictions. Starting in 2000, the Secure Rural Schools Act provided more secure funding.
John Wilborn, director of external business services with the Tulare County Office of Education, said the additional funding can be “significant” for some of his county’s smallest rural schools.
The Secure Rural Schools Act expired last year, following several extensions.
Emphasizing the commercial potential of public lands, Western Republicans want to connect new rural schools-and-roads funding with the individual forest’s average timber harvest revenues between 1980 and 2000, a period of particularly heavy logging.
In 1988, for instance, timber sales exceeded $218 million from California’s 18 national forests. Last year, timber sales from the same forests tumbled to only about $19 million.
There are 155 national forests in the U.S.
“Active management of our national forests is necessary to help rural communities create jobs and to fund roads, schools and emergency services,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chair of the House resources panel.
The House bill would set up a two-year transition period, giving counties a chance to opt out of the new funding stream and revert to the less-generous old system. The bill would also sidestep some environmental reviews and block lawsuits challenging some timber projects.
Skeptics counter that the specific revenue targets and bypassed environmental standards will damage national forests.
“Perhaps most troubling, this proposal creates a false expectation that we can return to the peak timber production levels of decades past,” Undersecretary of Agriculture Harris Sherman warned the House panel last year, adding that “the market conditions that supported those levels simply no longer exist.”
Instead, a number of congressional Democrats including Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer want to renew for five years some version of the Secure Rural Schools Act, with guaranteed funding dropping by 5% each year.

I completely agree with Harris about the current conditions. But I can also see different ways of building up wood based businesses, plus I think a “locally grown” label for California forest products might be worth exploring. Californians are very sensitive about environmental issues, so I would think that appropriately grown local products, if labelled, might have a greater advantage if publicized in the marketplace.

This reminds me of discussions with my major professor at Berkeley, Dr. Bill Libby who was quoted saying

“We Californians are really not very good conservationists – we’re very good preservationists,” Bill Libby, a professor emeritus of forestry at the University of California, told me. “Conservation means you use resources well and responsibly. Preservation means you are rich enough to set aside the things you want and buy them from someone else.”

I couldn’t find any of his articles on the topic readily, but here is one on the same topic by Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee (at the time) a Starker Lecture at Oregon State from 2004 here.
Although Colorado doesn’t benefit from Rural Schools as much (or at all, haven’t looked up the figures), here is some thinking about generating new industry. Thanks to Bob Berwyn for this.


Summit County meeting to focus on regional financing program

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —Even as the pine beetle outbreak slows down in Colorado, state and regional officials are redoubling their efforts to find some use for the vast tracts of dead trees left behind and to jump-start businesses that could help build a sustainable forest product industry in the years to come.

A new fund set up by the Colorado State Forest Service and administered through the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments is offering loans to help businesses that harvest, remove, utilize or market timber from beetle-killed stands and other forested areas in northwest Colorado.

The Forest Business Loan Fund will provide community-based financial lending capital for timber and wood products businesses to expand their capacity to more economically remove and use timber, develop new market opportunities, and help address employment concerns in forest-based communities. This fund is currently limited to businesses in counties serviced by the Northwest Loan Fund.

The loan fund will be the featured topic of discussion at today’s (Feb. 14) Summit County Forest Health Task Force lunch at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco (12 p.,. – 1:30 p.m.) with Kim Langmaid, of the National Forest Foundation and June Walters, of the Northwest Loan Fund.

Funds will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no closing date to apply, but applications are encouraged to be submitted by April 30 for timely consideration.


At first glance, this topic also seems more partisanized than it does in Colorado. Maybe partisanization favors getting stuck in positions and not mutual finding a new way forward. That was the case when I worked as a staff person in the House of Representatives in the 90′s. I was the environmental and science and women’s issues staff for a Democratic Member, and the R’s wanted to update and improve (or mess with, depending on your perspective, ESA). We were told we didn’t want to enter discussions with them to find out what their issues were, because we wanted to characterize them as ESA-haters for future elections. Working with the other side only had downsides in that context.

7 Comments

  1. If ever there was a “good time” for a crash of the Forest Service timber sale program, this is it! With demand for wood very low, and rising fuel costs promised, and a return to uneconomic diameter limits, now is the time to abandon the current system, which clearly isn’t satisfying the courts. The 2001 plan should also be litigated, as being inadequate to protect Endangered Species habitats from catastrophic loss, due to unnatural fuels buildups. Their plans “weren’t adequately analyzed” as to the probabilities of losing the timber industry’s essential contributions, as well as the severe inadequacies and liabilities of applying prescribed fires in today’s real world of legal conflicts. Even before the SNF was signed, scientists were questioning the wisdom of applying politics to forest futures.

    Also, NOWHERE is anyone pushing for those 1988 figures. Those were based rampant clearcutting and highgrading, none of which has been done since 1993, as per CASPO guidelines, voluntarily-imposed. Currently, the levels have been reduced to about 1/30th of those 1988 levels. The 2004 plan was at about 1/13th of those 1988 levels.

    I think it would be quite interesting if we could see a Democratic plan to reform the system, as they will soon HAVE to concede that the 2001 plan was a colossal mistake. How far will they let the rural poor fall?!? How many clinics, schools, hospitals and businesses will close? How many more illegal activities will occur in the woods? How many more roads will fail, due to a lack of maintenance? How much more rural child poverty will happen? Yes, there ARE consequences to those Judges’ political decisions.

  2. Foto/Larry said, “Also, NOWHERE is anyone pushing for those 1988 figures…..”

    Ahem, Larry.

    The U.S. House has proposed a bill (“Federal Forest County Revenue, Schools, and Jobs Act of 2012”) that would mandate a dramatic increase in national forest logging as a way to fund rural county schools and road maintenance. In fact, as the Headwaters Economics analysis below found, this bill would mandate a 1500% increase in national forest logging across the country. An increase that would triple the logging levels from 1987, the high-cut year for national forests.

    ——————-

    Can Mandated Timber Harvests Save County Payments?
    Analysis of the Draft “Federal Forest County Revenue, Schools, and Jobs Act”
    By Headwaters Economics
    UPDATE February 17, 2012

    The U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands is considering a draft of House Resolution 4019, the “Federal Forest County Revenue, Schools, and Jobs Act of 2012” (County Revenue Act) that would mandate commercial timber harvests on National Forests as a way of replacing the expired Secure Rural Schools and Community Self‐Determination Act (SRS) payments to local governments.

    This brief provides a summary of the data and methods we used to estimate timber harvests required to meet annual revenue targets, and how state payments will change relative to current SRS payments. We will provide additional information on the economic context and potential of the County Revenue Act in a following brief.

    Our analysis finds:

    • Based on 2010 timber prices, the timber cut required to meet the minimum revenue target as defined by the County Revenue Act is 33.2 billion board feet, 15 times greater than the actual 2010 national timber cut of 2.1 billion board feet, and nearly three times higher than the record‐single year timber cut of 12.7 billion board feet in 1987.

    • The County Revenue Act would create winners and losers among states compared to current county payments under SRS. For example, the County Revenue Act would deliver $154.3 million more to Oregon counties and $12.9 million less to New Mexico counties. Nationally, the County Revenue Act would increase annual county payments over average annual SRS payments from 2008 to 2011 by $230.5 million, a 50 percent increase.

    The full analysis, including STATE BY STATE ANALYSIS for both for needed timber cut required and payments of the draft bill compared to current SRS payments, can be found here: http://headwaterseconomics.org/wphw/wp-content/uploads/CountyPayments_House_Analysis_Feb2012.pdf.

    • That is simply blather, rhetoric and spin. Congress would be incredibly stupid to waste time wanting a solid 1988 dollar era windfall from today’s National Forests. Here in California, there is zero chance that long-established rules, laws and policies will be jettisoned, in favor of “industrial logging”. The dollars would continue to be based on the 25% of timber receipts, in this real world of California. However, if the timber industry chooses not to participate, due to economics, everyone loses. Is the cutting of trees with an average diameter of 14.5 ” dbh too big, throughout the Sierra Nevada? Should ALL 20+” trees be forever protected from logging? Should every tree that goes from 19″ dbh to 20″ dbh gain magical untouchable status?

      Pretending that such a plan could ever be enacted is almost as ridiculous as proposing it. AND, isn’t this exactly what I have been predicting?!? It’s good to see that the pendulum is showing signs of going back towards the middle. As people talk more and more, hyperbole from both sides will be rejected, and, maybe, a way that works for most people might be achieved. The counties should be happy with what they get from collaborative, sustainable, economical and ecologically-beneficial timber projects, which need to be allowed to proceed.

  3. Regarding the beetle kill, in Colorado, “jammers”, or tongs-pitching machines, could be used on existing roads to pull excess fuels up to the road, for disposal or sale as fuelwood. It would have to be a service contract but, I think it could be done economically with such a set-up. A talented operator with the right machine can toss the tongs up to 250 feet down a slope. Erosion shouldn’t be a problem except in concentrated fuels. I don’t know if this could really work but, it is an idea worth looking into.

  4. Let’s look at one part of Foto’s argument: “The counties should be happy with what they get from collaborative, sustainable, economical and ecologically-beneficial timber projects, which need to be allowed to proceed.”

    I reply: No. The counties should be happy with a fully-funded, equitably devised Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program. That’s the only “secure rural schools” help I’ve seen that makes any sense.

  5. I agree with Dave. We have a fairly sizable restoration project in the works and the local county wants regular timber sale contracting rather than stewardship contracting in order to maximise 25% funds. They also want the jobs. The problem with reverting back to the 25% fund is that the value and volume of timber sold can’t come near to what it was 20 years ago. So the 25% fund would not come near to what secure rural schools or the 25% fund provided back in the day. This is a rural county with cronic double digit unemployment and relies on the funding from secure rural schools. I’m not sure what a restoration economy is but, it won’t come near making up for the payments under Secure Rural Schools. A PILT type program may be the best answer.

  6. If it is merely CASH that the counties want, wouldn’t it be easier to to just boost the 25% figure to a higher number? ANY boost to timber volumes will be met with lawsuits. Is THAT really what you want?!?!? Sure. it’s easier to just throw money at a problem. If you have tons of money to toss around.

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