Charter Forests Revisited

Two letters from the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Straka has a good point about state trust lands.

The Forest, the Trees, Conflicting Goals and Poor Policy
Traditional forestry would produce healthy, wildfire-resistant, sustainable forests, and a profit if that was in the objectives.

Jan. 13, 2014 3:42 p.m. ET

Robert H. Nelson did a great job of highlighting U.S. Forest Service management problems (“Taking an Ax to Traditional Forest Management,” op-ed Jan. 2). However, forest management on national forests is anything but traditional. Traditional forestry would produce healthy, wildfire-resistant, sustainable forests, and a profit if that was in the objectives. The Forest Service used to produce a profit and even turned 25% of it over to local counties to cover expenses of rural roads and schools. Since 2000, under the Secure Rural Schools Act, Congress has directly made these payments. Last year that was nearly $330 million. What was once a use-based, profitable forest is now a “welfare case.”

The idea of charter forests is excellent. A better idea might be to turn the forests over to state management using Mr. Nelson’s idea of retained federal ownership and oversight. Many Western states already manage state forests and easily generate funds for schools and other activities, while still actively managing for social and environmental goals. From the very beginning of the forest reserves, Western concern has been these huge assets wouldn’t be developed to their potential. What is needed now is traditional forest management, and the states are best positioned to provide that.

Prof. Thomas J. Straka
Clemson University
Clemson, S.C.

Wild lands (sometimes called forest land) are complex ecosystems with many objectives. The owners (the public) are convinced that their “objective” is the only one that is right, whether it be hikers, hunters or bird watchers. Professional managers with extensive natural-resource training are not allowed to make decisions that conflict with a special-interest group’s objectives or opinions. I have negotiated at the local level and reached agreement with various environmental groups on issues only to have the agreed decision overturned by their regional or national organization because it wouldn’t fit with their regional or national objectives. In addition, often a user’s complaint to a politician results in interference in making a sound decision which is best for all the competing resources. That is one of the main reasons for the low morale in the Forest Service.

The only solution is to have special-interest groups make their concerns and objectives known to the professional resource managers, step back, and let them do their jobs just as the professional teachers are allowed to do in charter schools. That is what they are being paid to do.

David Dahl
Tucson, Ariz.

9 Comments

  1. When I was a junior forester and Assitant Ranger, timber sales were laid out to make a profit with no regard to wildlife, scenics, etc. I layed out clearcut blocks to have a good space betweent units (spruce) so the next harvest would have good cutting units. when it looked like thee was not enough timbe to pay for the road, the cutting units became bigger with less acreage of trees or none between the cutting units. We got the cut out, the company made a profit, the counties got their money but little was left for brush control (the spruce beetle was there) and reforestation. Looking back after 50 years: the beetles probably would have gotten a lot of what I had proposed to leave, the area has regenrated to an acceptable level, but it will be another 200 years before big spruce (24″ dbh) is back. Good foest management? I am not sure. The company which the cut the trees got the easier timber and then shut down. “Cut out and got out.” I guess I would use the term “timber mining” which is okay as long as we were not looking at a 120 year rotation as many would have liked it to be. This is in Colorado where most, if not all, timber should not be in a timber base. Thee is no way to get regeneation in five years.

    • Isn’t it true that the 20% harvested in the first entry paid for the access roads, and therefore everything after would have been gravy? Except that there seldom was “an after.” And yes, the beetle did get it…and it will be another 200 years before there are 24″ dia spruce on what…oh….95% of Colorado that wasn’t logged. I wonder if “natural” regeneration would even meet the five year stocking requirement? I’ve seen beautifull spruce regen on shelterwood units…and isn’t that what the USFS moved too after the spruce beetle salvage clearcuts of the 50’s and 60’s didn’t regen? I don’t think anyone wants to wrap their head around the idea…that there “isn’t” any more old growth in Colorado….oh….I spose there must be some old growth cottonwoods around. Of course there will always be some untouched islands…just as Mother lets some green trees survive a MPB epidemic…but does anyone care to speculate what percentage of OG mother nature just terminated? Oh…but that’s right….it wasn’t nature….it was climate change. yeah….that’s the new out for all of us.

      I also agree that the 2500 miles of FDR’s in Northern Colorado that must be cleared of MPB hazard trees shouldn’t be “part of the timber base”…and thus we shouldn’t have to be paying $1000/acre in stewardship contracts so some gray pony tails can make it to their favorite wilderness trailhead. Man….if you wanna be part of nature….you gotta take the bad with the good….nobody cleared the trails for Lewis and Clark. I’m guessin after a beetle epidemic choked the trails in Indian times….the Native’s just plain didn’t use the wilderness area for 30 years….OR burnt it off.

      Just funning with ya.

  2. I like how the second writer describes hikers, hunters and bird watchers as “special interests” as if they are somehow less worthy or important than loggers – a “special interest” all their own.

    The difference, of course, is that non-consumptive (or less-consumptive) uses of forest land conflict with each other on a far lesser basis than timber sales. Hikers, hunters and bird watchers can all use the same plot of land simultaneously. Loggers don’t share so easily.

    • Nothing like a clear cut to open up the view and let the sunshine in while hiking in the woods, oh those loggers are at it again. (of course the loggers very seldom decide what gets logged and what doesn’t)

  3. David experienced some of the same traditional forest management as I, during the late 50s-60s in western Montana. Is this the type of “tradtional management” that some folks are longing to bring back to our national forests? I hope not. I am not proud of some “get out the volume” efforts I was involved in back then. It might have been good timber management, but surely was not good forest management.

    And what makes any state’s management of their school lands any more perfect than what is happening on our forests, except that they are cutting more timber and banking more bucks. And I know that many of these state land timber projects will never pass muster in respect to federal environmental laws or regulations. It is plain and simply a give-away to local interests and the timber industry.

    • Ed,
      State Trust management may be far from perfect but, as you point out, it is managing its timber resource and the feds are not – not an insignificant matter. It is providing jobs, supporting families, schools, local governments, and local industries. The feds are not. It is operating at a profit. The feds are not. It is keeping its forest lands healthy and productive. The feds are not. For more details visit this webpage, http://www.wvmcconnell.net/?page_id=591 and its link

  4. Steve – Fact check on this one: “The Forest Service used to produce a profit and even turned 25% of it over to local counties to cover expenses of rural roads and schools.” I always thought it was 25% of revenues, not profit, which would make this argument a little different. (But am I wrong?)

    “The only solution is to have special-interest groups make their concerns and objectives known to the professional resource managers, step back, and let them do their jobs …” I think that’s close to how it works now: the public provides input to the forest planning process, which produces the objectives for a national forest, which are used by the professional resource managers to decide what kinds of projects and activities will happen where (as long as they can get the paperwork right). I haven’t followed the charter forest discussion much, but it sounds like the main change would be to decide the objectives for a national forest using little or no public input.

    • I always thought it was 25% of revenues, not profit, which would make this argument a little different. (But am I wrong?)

      You are correct. It is (not “was”) 25% of the sum of the price paid for the timber plus the cost of reforestation and brush disposal (the so-called K-V and BD deposits). Before 1976, these post-logging costs were deducted from the nut from which the states got their 25% cut. The states screamed bloody murder during the 1976 NFMA debate because the Forest Service was inflating its post-logging rake-offs to finance office overhead, rent, utilities, and salaries of higher-level managers (Randal O’Toole’s Reforming the Forest Service is the best analysis of these fiscal shenanigans). Oregon’s 4th district (where more timber was cut than anywhere else in the nation) congressman Jim Weaver resolved the issue by requiring that these post-logging costs be included in the 25% payments, ensuring that the Forest Service could continue to inflate its expenses while the only loser would be the U.S. Treasury, which often had to make the 25% payments from tax dollars because the FS had spent all the timber revenue to cover its own costs.

  5. Ed, a “give-away to local interests and the timber industry”? Nothing is being given away in Washingtons State’s forest trust lands. Timber was sold and harvested, not given away. The state distributed more than $75 million to counties in 2013 — the counties’ share as beneficiaries of the trust. That’s not a give-away, but shares paid to owners of the trust.

    My county has a parks trust fund. Most of the revenue from the sale of timber on County-owned land goes into the trust, which helps pay the cost of operating county parks. Is that a give-away?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *