Federal lands support diverse economies

Recent research by Headwaters Economics asked whether federal lands are an economic liability or an asset to rural communities (summarized in this opinion piece).

On average, we find that from 1970-2014, rural counties with the most federal land grew much faster than similar counties with the least federal land: population grew four times faster, employment grew three times faster and personal income grew twice as fast. Per capita income grew slightly more in places with more federal lands.

This analysis suggests that, in general, federal lands do not inhibit a community’s economic growth. On the contrary, the research suggests these lands have the potential to contribute to a prosperous rural economy.

You can always pick on the details of economic analysis, but here is what this tells me about the big picture.  While there will always be winners and losers, it’s hard to argue that the presence of federal lands is a big reason for the losers.

33 Comments

  1. It would be interesting to see the analysis based on a new querie. “Growth of rural counties from 1990 – 2016, not adjacent to metropolitan counties with cities having a population greater than 30,000. “

  2. This finding is consonant with a ton of research the Trust for Public Land has done on the hedonic value of park land in urban areas — but writ large. Their research can be found here:
    https://www.tpl.org/services/research-library

    Just one more solid example that people find, and are attracted to, value in means other than consumption.

    But just think how much greater the economic growth would be if these public lands were punched chock full of … MOAR ROADS!

  3. Jon, I’m not sure how you came up with a conclusion entirely opposite the results of the study? Unless you are using your own data or knowledge to compare these rural counties to their urban counterparts?

    The more interesting points in my view are that employment and personal income in counties with the most federal land outpaced that of counties with the least federal land during the 1990s even while total population in counties with the least federal lands remained higher. That is, contrary to many popular myths (on both sides) about the impact of reduced harvesting on federal lands, counties with the most federal lands began doing better than their low-federal land counterparts and have continued to do better. Per capita income followed a similar pattern, but it began sooner in the mid-80s.

    @Eric Anderson, thanks for sharing the link to TPL’s research–I did know they were in the research game. Very interesting stuff.

    chelsea

  4. A report by the Sonoran Institute makes some similar points.

    This report changes the debate on protected lands and the economy of the West. This report verifies a clear connection between the prosperity of Western communities and the vast, publicly-owned open spaces that surround them.
    Prosperity in the 21st Century West dispels the notion that public lands hurt local economies by preventing the development of natural resources. In fact, the contrary is true: public lands draw people who want to live and work in rural areas which leads to vibrant economies and better quality of life.
    In the West – defined in this study as the 11 western mainland states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming – mining, logging, and oil and gas development have historically played a significant role in economic development. In a very real sense, our identity, sense of place, culture, architecture and even fashion have been shaped by these industries. However, today these industries provide few jobs. They have not been a significant source of new jobs or personal income in the last three decades.

    This doesn’t mean that resource industries should disappear. They can be an important part of an increasingly diverse economy. In some communities, and for some families, resource extraction will continue to be important. But these are the exceptions. Local leaders in the West who understand that enormous shifts have taken place will be much better positioned to help their communities thrive in the 21st Century’s changing economy. (p 7)

    In rural towns, the promise of good jobs in logging, mining and energy development can be a powerful deterrent to the conservation of public lands. … [However] It turns out there is an inverse relationship between resource dependence and economic growth; the more dependent a state’s economy is on personal income earned from people who work in the resource extractive industries, the slower the growth rate of the economy as a whole. (p 10)

    What is striking – and worrisome – is that the dependence on what should be high wage jobs in mining, oil, gas, and the wood products industry has not resulted in overall growth in personal income. Worse, the opposite seems to be occurring. Possible reasons for this are that boom periods, especially in oil and gas development, can serve as a strong distraction from the need to stimulate other industries and, by so doing, diversify and stabilize the economy. (p 11)

    The slowest growth occurs in counties with public lands that are unprotected and not close to protected areas. These are more likely to be used for resource extraction. (p 15)

    • The presence of public lands in the West is a significant driver of economic growth. • Protected lands in the form of Wilderness, National Parks, and National Monuments go hand in hand with economic growth though some counties fare better than others. • Protected areas are the most strongly tied to growth in counties that are remote and isolated. (p 23)

    Sonoran Institute, Prosperity in the 21st Century West – The Role of Protected Public Lands. http://web.archive.org/web/20070105005615/http://sonoran.org/pdfs/Prosperity%20Report.pdf

    Among the reports other conclusions:

    In all counties in the West, the amount of the county’s land in public ownership is a significant positive driver of growth. (p 3-40)

    Much research by geographers suggests that environmental quality and quality of life may be two sides of the same coin.

    Rural development is most effective in increasing quality of life when it can increase diversity, both in the environment and in the economy, which can increase social capital – the norms and networks that provide for a collective identity and mutual respect. It can also increase standard of living. Efforts to promote standard of living that ignore these dimensions of quality of life may have serious negative consequences for people and places. (p 4-1, quoting, Flora (1998))

    … the keys to success for western counties, measured in terms of economic growth and over the last three decades, is to have a high proportion of public lands, in protected status if possible, and if not protected, then in close proximity to protected areas. Amenities such as ski areas and eating and drinking places are also important, as is an educated workforce, newcomers to the community, and a high proportion of people employed in the producer services, such as engineering, finance, insurance, and real estate.

    A low education rate and a high dependence on transformative industries, which includes mining, oil, gas, logging and wood products manufacturing, contributes to failure. Also detrimental to growth is an economy that is specialized (not diverse), and is distant from larger markets in metropolitan areas. (p 4-3)

    Sonoran Institute, Public Lands Conservation and Economic Well-Being. http://web.archive.org/web/20060702224913/http://www.sonoran.org/pdfs/full%20study.pdf

  5. So, amenity migrants brought their own flavor of gentrification to the wilderness (fringes), while automation and consolidation hit traditional (privately owned) rural economies. If I’m on the chamber of commerce in one of these ‘blessed’ counties, this is great news! But how much growth can these ‘protected’ lands handle before the new tenants love them to death? Reminds me of Ed Abbey’s view that growth and progress are mutually exclusive.

  6. Having lived in rural counties with protected lands in the Pacific Northwest for over 50 years, I will have to ask you to come and view the reality. There are several things that are ignored or misrepresented or I’m just missing. Kevin Turnblom if you are on the Chamber of Commerce or City Council or School Board this is not GREAT NEWS in many if not most of the listed counties in the PNW, in particular Oregon. The change often resulted from a turn over in population from working middle class to service industry and retirement. This has caused many problems especially in Oregon where legislation limits property tax increases resulting in the need to vote in levy’s and/or bond measures for schools and public services. The service industry workers often are near minimum wage without school age kids, the retired folks are often fixed income and also without school age kids. This results in reduced school funding, reduced public services, and more often than not reduced employment opportunities unless you are telecommuting. These groups also spend the least in disposable income. The chart looks great, the numbers look great, get out on the ground and well its not so great. Counties such as Josephine, Curry, Coos, Douglas, Klamath are at or near insolvency, businesses are leaving, schools are degrading. The brightest spot on the horizon is the explosion of cannabis and the expected revenue stream predicted, just ignore the environmental impact to water and deforestation its creating.
    Looks great on paper, but ground truth the facts for the real results. It would really be great if it were true!

    • Greg, I am aware of the ground truth in most of the rural West including Oregon. I highlighted the so-called ‘blessed’ counties, e.g., Deschutes in Oregon, Kittitas or Chelan in Washington, Summit or Iron in Utah, etc. This is where the major growth is, as these counties fill with what my brother affectionately calls hippiecrites. If one wants to argue more people help mobilize the cause of resource protection, that is one thing. But to cite population and economic growth adjacent to wilderness as success stories seems counterintuitive for people flying the ‘keep it wild’ banner.

      BTW my legal home is Clatsop county, almost entirely private and growing rapidly with a mix of the best/worst aspects of resource extraction and tourism. Perhaps desirability and access are more important than property ownership?

      • Never heard of “hippiecrites” but I am in agreement, especially as I look at Deschutes. I spent several years working in and around Clatsop and it has definitely changed also. The other part of the puzzle that I didn’t find in the report was how much commuting increased as 1) desired jobs moved to metro areas and 2) more middle class are content with commuting 40-80 miles to have their career and rural life style all at the same time. Personally, I know of a dozen people from my area that commute 45-60 minutes twice a day. I have often commuted over 3hrs a day. Not an exactly Eco Friendly result from jobs migrating away from rural areas. I guess anything can be spun, but I think it’s more beneficial and constructive to be non-bias if we want real solutions that work long term.

  7. As Matt is making clear in some of his recent posts, the problem with using timber as an economic resource to support rural communities has traditionally been the problem of scale. For myself, it seems absurd to not extract some value from a renewable resource. The question is much value, how fast, and at what cost? Do we want Weyerhaeuser’s managing our public lands with the sole intent of maximizing shareholder value? I don’t. The corps get the benefits and the public gets the externalities.

    My natural resource and environmental law professor Dale Goble used to talk about how nearly all of the modern extinction events can be explained by the advent of some new technology being applied to a natural resource before the full impacts are understood. The entrepreneurs “rush” in with new technology and decimate the natural resource virtually over-night. This has been the case with logging. The “timber community” was never destined to last because the scale of extraction always outstripped the resource.

    I see no reason why amenity values and extracting valuable timber from our national forests has to be an all or nothing scenario. But it will always be “all” rather than “some” if we continue to think that “logging” is something only giant conglomerates can do. In the future, the “scale” must be kept local. If the user is not invested in their place — their home — there is no reason not to externalize the costs on the locals.

    This is the type of discussion we should be having on this blog. How do we maximize the value our public lands can provide to the public — our local communities — by managing them in a way that balances amenity, resource extraction, and ecosystem services values? My answer — Keep the resource extraction part local by encouraging the USFS to contract with local businesses, and encouraging the resource extracted to be value added locally as well.

    The era of assembly line forestry needs to end, and so does the thinking that supports it.

      • In general, I think you’re right. However, I think we’re far from the end of the thinking that supports it. As per my neck of the woods, the public lands include State lands, and Idaho manages a lot. I encourage anyone who is interested to get on google earth and zoom in to North Idaho around the Priest Lake area. To the East of Priest Lake is a mountain range called the Selkirks. The East side of the Selkirk crest is State land. The West side is Federal. Notice any difference? No, here in Idaho the assembly line forestry mentality is still alive and well, thank you.

        But like my conversation with Greg, I’d be interested in hearing more about the enlightened forestry techniques you’re referring to. I can tell you one thing, if it involves as many roads per square mile — and high elevation — as the State of Idaho has punched into the West slope of the Selkirks, it is far from enlightened in my book.

        • –postscript–
          BTW, to be clear, I’m asking in good faith about the need to further discuss the forestry techniques you’re referring to. For myself, I get it. My wife is forester. She works in fire as a fuels specialist for the USFS, but often serves as a project manager and is working on certification as a silviculturalist in the NASP. We talk about issues as they occur on the ground in depth on a regular basis, so I’m pretty well schooled. However, I’m a cynic by nature, and rightly so I believe. I was raised up around Lolo Pass about 25 miles West of the Montana/Idaho line, in an area that Plum Creek/Champion International devastated to the point of a 20 year moratorium on logging being slapped on the USFS. I think a lot of the people on this blog came up similarly. My point is that we often speak in different languages on here, and we’ll never learn to understand one another without actually talking about our positions with specificity. Granted, there will always be some strict preservationists, just like there’ll always be a contingent of timber beasts. But I think the majority of people are willing to meet somewhere in the middle if they “literally” understand one another’s terms.

        • Eric,

          The USFS harvested too much old growth in decades past, as I well know after marking a lot of it (in the Sierra Nevada in the 1980s). I don’t have a problem with regeneration harvests, but back then the agency used that as its primary silvicultural system. As many folks on this forum have said, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, and virtually no old growth is harvested, and management of any kind is limited in those stands, even when harvesting would serve the goal of maintaining them.

          In looking at the Google imagery of the east side of the Selkirks — lands I have not visited, expect in driving thought he area — I see lots of clearcuts, yes, and lots of regeneration. For state lands with a primary mandate to produce revenue on a sustainable basis, this is perfectly reasonable. The state lands are not “multiple use” in the sense that federal lands are. I sit on an advisory board for county-owned timberlands managed in the same way: Revenue goes to a trust fund for county parks, and the forest-management aim is a sustainable source of revenue, forever, by regen harvests on a 55-year rotation. In doing so, we follow or exceed Oregon’s forest practices rules. In my view, this is enlightened forestry. The same type of management for a portion of federal lands would be appropriate.

          • Yeah, I get it. The problem is not per se regen harvest. The problem I see, and I mentioned, is the extent of the road building and the elevation that they’re accessing, and the rate they cutting. If you zoom in, they’ve slicked off a ton of land in a very short period of time, and at high altitude to boot. I’ve hiked extensively in the area and witnessed the stream channels resulting from this type of practice. They’re just blown out boulder fields strewn with pick-up stick piles of logs sometimes 50yds wide with a tiny trickle of water running through them by the end of June. How is this enlightened forestry practice?

            Conversely, bump over the divide and hydrology is healthy well into the fall.

            Even if those lands aren’t managed for multiple use, a fact of which I’m well aware, this approach would not seem to encourage the sustainable management of the timber resource.

            • And I should mention, the past two summers Priest lake has dropped precipitously below levels that the State is contracted to maintain in the interest of water rights. Sooner or later, the State will be sued, as there have already been grumblings. Again, this doesn’t argue in favor proper prior forest resource planning.

  8. Eric you are correct in part, that it doesn’t need to be all or nothing. The problem is that to many “any” is too much. Most large private land owners are growing a sustainable volume and as they enter the third rotation their sustainable cut is increasing. We have virtually locked up national forests for the last two decades. Harvest levels are less than 1% of annual growth. For the sake of argument let’s say there was over cutting previously. Everything that was harvested was replanted, although some was poorly managed, regardless we are now 25 years into a theoretical science experiment. Simple math can tell you what happens if you compound growth of 99% annually for 25 years. The very species that we say were dependent on old growth are dying off after we saved their habitat. Walk thru the old growth or even bastard growth stands and you will see an understory that covers the ground and is now reaching into the upper canopy. This isn’t science or theory, but simple visually verifiable fact. How well do raptors hunt in an area like this? How well do these older stands survive wildfire with abundant fuel ladders into the upper crowns? The answer is simple. Compounded growth has now overloaded the ecosystem with unsustainable levels of biomass. NSO are declining in these stands and are also easy prey since they can’t forage under cover. The very stands which are off limits from management are being destroyed by wildfire. We won’t even get into the effect of lower stream flows on salmonoids due unnaturally high levels of biomass.
    We didn’t need to loose the number of communities that have died off. We don’t need to loose the thousands of acres of old growth to wildfire each summer. We don’t need to loose more wildlife do to over grown habitat. BUT we will as long as policy is dictated by political science – an agenda that is backed by a funded Ph.D. instead of common sense real science. . We could harvest 300% more than current levels and still be less than annual growth, while reducing threats of wildfire and improving habitat in the long term, instead of being short sighted. Over 19% of the public land base is wilderness. How much land needs to be off limits to common sense management?

    • Hi Greg,
      Your critique sounds plausible, but has flaws on closer scrutiny and I’m not hearing any viable solutions.

      First, I take issue right away with your assertion that “ … to many ‘any’ is too much.” You may be correct, but how is the finger pointing productive? The converse is also true, right? So where does that leave us? Without a solution and a lot of bickering is where.

      Second, the rest of your argument is really just a comparison of apples to oranges. You’re measuring the management of private “timber” lands, against public “multiple use” lands. The reason we are in the conundrum we are today, with regard to the public multiple use lands, is that for decades we allowed them to be managed as “timber” lands. We over suppressed fire to save “timber,” at the expense of the larger ecosystem. Now, we are reaping the results of the imbalance. The funny thing is, the timber companies get this. By and large today, their private holdings represent the easily accessible low hanging fruit lands, which they manage as a mono-crop, because return on investment is better. The public has rejected this approach, and the laws the forest service operate under now reflect that fact by hewing closer to their original multiple use directives. Given the aforementioned, please help me understand who is going to do all this “managing”? Certainly not the timber companies, because it’s not cost effective without the U.S. taxpayers subsidizing them. Certainly not the USFS with its budgets that are insufficient for anything but fighting fire. Who? Honestly, tell me how the work gets done? Tell me why post after post on this website — detailing the fact the timber corporations have moved away from this ”public land management” role due to larger global economic reasons — are wrong? I’ll suggest one extremely cost effective approach — let the fires burn. Let the fire adapted ecology re-adapt.

      Third, you mention all the things that we are “losing.” Why precisely are they being lost? We didn’t “lose” timber communities. The corporations harvested the low hanging fruit and moved on. We aren’t “losing” thousands of acres of old growth, or wildlife. It might seem that way to those that only take the short view. In the long run, however, the ecosystem is just rebalancing. If we don’t continue to pour gasoline on the fire we created, the system will return to stability. I understand that from a purely economic perspective it might appear that things are being lost. However, as I posted above, that is only one consideration among many when dealing with multiple use public lands. Granted, it carries greater weight for some than for others, but I think (dare I say it) Congress got one thing right when they passed the environmental laws. There’s more to this world than a quick buck.

      Finally, I have to ask. Could you please clarify the difference between “PhD science” and “common sense real science”? Because this brings me back around to my first point. It seems like finger pointing.

      • Eric
        Viable solutions is exactly what we need, so lets work through this and see where it goes.
        My comment about “….to many “any” is too much.” This is finger pointing and stating one of the many road blocks that this issue faces. There were also those that said “cut it all”, but I haven’t heard that in many years. Regardless, if you sued to cut it all there probably wouldn’t be much standing, on the other hand the ones that say say any is too much have and continue to sue or protest at every turn. This problem directly effects funding which you mention the lack of being an issue. The agencies are hamstrung and spend easily twice as much in layout and sales prep trying to anticipate every problem that will be protested. The solution is to manage at different levels in different areas, accepting that if it were left to mother nature a similar effect would be had. Currently we have a giant cookie cutter that applies to all lands based on designation developed from a motel room in Portland.
        Second, I merely brought up the private land management to point out that they weren’t in the cut and run scenario that has previously been brought up. Private land is a farm, no different than a flat piece of ground in the Midwest that grows corn, this ground is farmed for a crop which happens to be trees. Public lands is a whole different issue, or issues. Unfortunately private property rights seem lost in the discussions.
        You are correct that we have over suppressed fires, but study up on the why. The notion that fires needed suppressed “took off” in the early 1900’s as town after town was destroyed by wildfire, the issue of saving the trees was secondary, but yes it was a reason. Regardless, this has gotten us to where we are today and the idea of letting it burn to “re-balance” the ecosystem is, to be honest, pure ignorance. I say this not to be rude, but because to advocate this policy ignores numerous facts and issues;
        A) The biomass loading is at unnatural levels, so letting a fire burn results in unnatural results. I have been part of the over suppression effort for almost 40 years and in just that time things have changed dramatically, and not from climate change. The fuel loading’s have increased so that equivalent control lines take half again as long to construct, in most cases they have to be twice as wide as 30 years ago which compounds the problem and the cost. Old growth stands that used to have fire burn under the crowns, now are decimated and the habitat destroyed in crown fires, again not natural.
        B) Urban interface has sprawled out into the fringes as populations increase, are you advocating to let these homes be destroyed? How many lives are to be lost because a fire was allowed to burn? Anyone one that understands fire behavior, understands that if you let a fire burn it will create its own environment and can quickly become unstoppable. To advocate the destruction of private property is irresponsible and would be bordering on criminal. There have been numerous instances where fires in a wilderness have been “managed” as let burn fires only to have them suddenly explode and come out of the wilderness and onto private land destroying homes, private property and is some cases lives have been lost.
        C) The let it burn policy and the non aggressive nature that federal fire suppression has leaned to in the past 20 years has created a new “industry”. This industry is wildland fire suppression where we spend more and more to do less and accomplish less. There are probably more private fire fighting companies making more off of federal lands, than there are private logging companies. I say probably only because I don’t have the exact number for you, but you could do a little digging and find out. This is such a lucrative industry that many loggers and equipment operators contract out to fires rather than log in the summer and there are private companies that employ upwards of 500 seasonal employees that sit and just wait for the call. Salaried agency personnel have no incentive to quickly stop the fire and in fact fire deployments are often their only opportunity for overtime – and fire pay and hazard pay. In fact many agency personnel get to retire with full benefits at 55 due to fire careers, then they come back in the summer as AD overhead and continue to make additional money.
        For you third concern. You are saying that we haven’t lost anything. I’ll jump in your boat on this one and say lets go with it. If this is true then there is no reason not to continue to harvest trees at a sustainable level as part of the multiple use idea. If we don’t lose by burning up thousands of acres of Old Growth, then we won’t lose by harvesting the same trees. Although there is not enough capacity in the timber industry to harvest the equivalent of what is burned annually. Since its not a loss to burn up anywhere from 5 to 75 NSO nesting sites in a single fire, or burning all vegetation right to the edge of streams and rivers, we could quit wasting millions of dollars with survey and manage species, just accept that in certain areas there will be an adverse effect. From a purely multiple use stand point we can have recreation, timber harvest, wilderness, and parks at a greatly reduced cost while still not destroying private property if we had viable solutions that were truly middle ground. Additionally, harvesting can be done without subsidy and fire can be reintroduced in a controlled manner to reestablish the ecosystem if in fact we didn’t have the environmental laws that congress passed, but instead had managers that were competent and had the integrity to truly manage for multiple use not special interests. The laws Congress created haven’t gotten us there. I am not advocating for destruction of the environment either, but I can assure you that we can manage with less severe results than letting it burn in its current condition.
        Finally, “PhD science” vs. “common sense real science”. In the latter you develop a theory based on a hypothesis and you test that theory to see what the results are. You can then say that “this” is the result you will get given these factors. PhD science is where you have someone with numerous degrees and even more theories, who also has an agenda or bias or is just after funding. This person doesn’t prove out the theory, but because of who they are or what they are, the theory is claimed as fact. Examples would be the “science” that went into the NWFP, 20 years later we are having the same scientist saying “oops” we might have gotten that one wrong. We have “science” saying if we cut carbon emissions we can stop global warming, because man is the cause. Where were we when the previous climate changes took place and how did those events get mitigated or stopped? And no I’m not saying there is no climate change, because real science has shown that is has previously occurred, but there is no real science that shows by destroying our economy we will actually mitigate this change. Although there are a lot of PhD’s out there getting lots of funding to say exactly that. Some of these incidentally were the same ones receiving funding to prove that we were going to send ourselves into another Ice Age if we didn’t quit emitting green house gases in the 70’s. TMDL’s are another example and the list goes on.
        Eric there are several fairly simple methods to redevelop a healthy forest ecosystem for multiple use without belching millions of tons of CO2 into the skies each summer and without raping and pillaging the landscape, but as long as the any is to much gang has the ability to stop progress at every turn and as long as you have laws that are created based on PhD science, and as long as the agencies continue to promote managers to the level of incompetence, then viable solutions are probably a pipe dream.
        If you consider this finger pointing well you are spot on. We cannot progress forward without holding people accountable and calling out the lies regardless of what side of the equation they come from. We have used Political Correctness to allow this problem to get to the point it is now, and it has not resulted in progress. I apologize if this seems harsh or rude, it is meant as neither.

        • Wow Greg, retired? You certainly have more time to respond than I do. But I’ll hit a few parts that stood out me. How about I start from the bottom?

          “We have used Political Correctness to allow this problem to get to the point it is now, and it has not resulted in progress. I apologize if this seems harsh or rude, it is meant as neither.”
          —I really don’t see what political correctness has to do with anything. I’m not critiquing the finger pointing because I’m worried about people’s feefees. It’s just totally unproductive. And no need to apologize (apparently you didn’t see my tangle with Robin) I’m pretty thick skinned.

          As to the scientists — meh. I’m one, probably of the lesser variety in your book. My wife is of the better variety and probably qualifies as what you call a “common sense scientist,” but like any scientist, she applies theory to reality, observes what shakes out, and develops new hypotheses based on the observations. Some do it well, some not so well, and I’ve not plenty of both. Again, I really don’t think there is any justification for painting with broad brush strokes and assigning blame. Everyone just wants a paycheck at the end of the day.

          You said “there are several fairly simple methods to redevelop a healthy forest ecosystem for multiple use without belching millions of tons of CO2 into the skies each summer and without raping and pillaging the landscape”
          —And? Those are?

          C) You said “If we don’t lose by burning up thousands of acres of Old Growth, then we won’t lose by harvesting the same trees.”
          —No, we lose economically. You ignored the cost/benefit part of my equation. The money isn’t there and corporations don’t think it’s worth it. And “millions of dollars” doing surveys? Really? There is one USFS biologist and a seasonal tech on the entire North Zone of the IPNF.

          B) I’ve addressed this whole WUI thing in multiple posts (See for example my exchange with Robin Stanley in ” Wuerthner II: Forest thinning is snake oil” where you will find a viable “solution” to what we’re talking about). Long story short, I’m tired of subsidizing other people’s luxury. This isn’t a federal issue. It’s County zoning and regulation issue that is subsidized by the rest of the nation’s taxpayers.

          A) In regard to the uncontrollable fires bit, the “solution” is a combination of my aforementioned solution to part (B) above, and using selective harvest to create buffer zones in the front lands. Leave the back country alone. That’s where the economics cease to pencil out and the costs exceed the benefits.

          Now, your “solutions” would be? Then we’ll be having a productive discussion.

          • Eric
            Retired? I wish. I’m a Self employed forester, with a little 2000 acre hobby ranch on the side. But there are 24 hrs in a day.
            One quick point before I get to my solution. When I look at the employee lists for various forests in region 6 or 5, I see far more “ologist” than foresters.
            Solution- let’s start with large areas (25%) of the non-wilderness in each forest set aside similar to the previous AMA’s. As these areas are transformed, they can be expanded to eventually cover the manageable area of the forest. In these areas we determine what the annual growth is. Then based on the forest type – Dry, Wet, etc. – develop a management plan that would mimic natural disturbance without the wasteful destruction. For the sake of time lets do a dry forest site.
            – After figuring the annual growth we develop an access plan that fits the geography, not the moment. Any duplication or redundancy of roads is eliminated. Needed roads are maintained, not allowed to become further liabilities.
            – Based on recreational opportunities, identify specific areas to manage with a lighter touch. Salvage will still take place.
            – Harvest is based on tree growth as determined by crown structure. Snag retention will be determined by species and need.
            – Various types of habitat will be developed but never off limits.
            – Wildfire will be suppressed, but prescribed fire will be used as it fits. Meadow restoration, etc.
            – Harvest operations will be concentrated to basin management areas, except for salvage. Basins will change from year to year. Active nests and dens will be protected but operations will be adjacent not 1/4 mile set asides. Species can move about or be temporarily displaced just as wildfire does, but unlike fire the specific site will still exist.
            – In areas that lend themselves to it, will have prescribed fire used on a limited basis.

            This prescription will grow mature trees and will provide mature trees for harvest, of all diameter classes. It will provide an ever changing landscape and ever changing habitat. It will maximize the growth potential, while still limiting the amount of biomass based on the specific carrying capacity of a piece of ground.
            BUT This will only work if court challenges are limited. If land managers act with common sense and integrity. If the public accepts that nature is an ever changing non stagnant ecosystem.
            A book could list the other prescriptions and details.

            • Well alrighty then. Now we’ve got something to sink our teeth into. I too have one quick point before I hit the substance. I think the ologist numbers in region 5/6 are probably inflated compared to my neck of the woods (R1), precisely due to AMA approach. But things are pretty bare bones on all front fronts around here except fire.
              To the substance. In general, it sounds like you’re describing the Idaho Roadless Rule in some respects. I don’t know if you remember, but when Clinton pushed the roadless rule through, the States were given the option of formulating their own plans. Idaho was the only state to do so. If you’re interested the FEIS can be found here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsm8_036008.pdf

              Now some questions:
              –You said “let’s start with large areas (25%) of the non-wilderness in each forest set aside similar to the previous AMA’s. As these areas are transformed, they can be expanded to eventually cover the manageable area of the forest.” Does that mean you would initially be willing to take an adaptive management approach? And if so, if the findings over time indicated that expansion wasn’t viable, would you be willing to live with that?

              –I agree wholeheartedly with your access assessment. However, I would definitely err toward mothballing higher elevation roads on the basis of productivity declines and habitat preservation. Again, the intent should be directed toward moving active management toward civilization.

              — Which begs another question. In the geographic areas that don’t lend themselves to roads, would you be willing not to suppress fire? I didn’t see much on that issue in your response. But it’s hard to argue against the matrix benefits of allowing fire free reign when possible.

              — In general, it seems you give wide discretion to project managers in deciding how to select/preserve species and habitat concerns. This is obviously where friction would be generated among the environmentally inclined, and also the reason the NEPA system is in place. We both know the timber beast stereotype still looms large in the minds of many who pay attention to these issues. I tend to think they’re a dying breed, but how does one assuage the fear of unfettered discretion without the stick of litigation?

              –Finally (and like you, I could write a book of questions alone but I’ll cut it short for now) in regard to implementing harvest, who do you envision doing the work. Who’s the Forest Service contracting with? I’d prefer to see some sort of priority system in place. I know the USFS is already toying with allowing the states to become more active in implementation, which could be a very good thing in regard to the market participant exception to the commerce clause. Used correctly it could allow the State to favor local contractors over the conglomerates. Thoughts?

              • Eric
                Unfortunately the overabundance of staffing out here isn’t due to the AMA approach, since while AMA’s were identified they have been largely untouched. There are other compounding issues, particularly in Western Oregon where you have checker boarded BLM managed O&C lands mixed in with USFS (who have a minor portion of O&C) and public domain land managed by BLM. The BLM managed land is for the most part timber producing lands, unlike most of the rest of their lands that are range land (whole other discussion).
                In answer to the question of change. Absolutely, if what is being done doesn’t work then modify it to work or take another approach entirely. This is the biggest issue that I have with the current situation. What we have wasn’t based on “common sense” science, it hasn’t worked, and in fact has created a very volatile situation in regards to forest health, yet we aren’t changing it.
                The issue of elevation productivity may exist outside of the PNW but here it really isn’t a factor. Precisely why the cookie cutter approach hasn’t worked. So far in every area I’ve looked at from Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California productivity would be increased over time, habitat would be improved and forest health would be improved. The idea of preserving habitat is a different issue. Habitat long term is never preserved by mother nature and all successful species have managed to adapt or move about accordingly. There have been several fires in the last decade, where if you take a map of the preserved habitat – no touch areas – and then you over lay a fire intensity map you will see a direct correlation in severe fire and preserved habitat. The Klamath Complex of 2014 in region 5 is a stark example. From what I’ve seen on the ground, if you designate an area no touch you are giving it a death sentence. This is due largely to fire exclusion, but it is the fact of what is on the ground now. Exceptions would be wilderness areas where fire has not been excluded for the past 100 years, but again new wilderness areas that have had fire exclusion have been subjected to unnatural fire severity and while they eventually will return to an ecosystem that will support a diverse make up of species, they are decades or even centuries from it now. In most of the forests of regions 5&6 there is very few areas that are removed from civilization far enough that wildfire isn’t a threat to private property, especially given the behavior that has resulted from fuel overloads, bug infestations, and drought.
                In areas that don’t lend themselves to roads or harvest (one in the same) fire must be reintroduced in a very controlled manner, exempt from smoke management and EPA rules, since wildfire ignores these very same rules. Example – We must get clearance to do any prescribed burning and the smoke from these burns must not impact any designated population center which has prevented more prescribed fire than it allows. Yet these same designated areas are often socked in with smoke from wildfires for months at a time during the summer leading to long term impacts and health issues. Not to mention that the reintroduction would have to be done with a whole different mind set, not the ICS system of command where you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars creating a new level of bureaucracy within the agency. Literally, a few people with a plan based on topography and good weather conditions could accomplish thousands of acres a year of primarily low intensity fire.
                Finally the crux of the change. There would still be biologists or techs that would identify actual sites. The actual nest tree for example, no more ghost circles or “suitable habitat sites” just actual occupied sites. Other sites can be identified, but they receive no special protection just as a wildfire gives no special protection. Obviously there won’t be equipment in streams or bogs etc., but there will be harvest based on crown form. To alleviate some concern the marking can be done by forest techs from the agency and not left up to the contractor. The number of employees needed will be much less and the composition of employees will be drastically different. If a manager isn’t competent then the manager needs terminated not promoted as seems to be the case out here. The idea of States being used for implementation doesn’t fix the problem within the agency. The agency needs to clean house and staff for actual needs not individual circles of power and control.
                There is still an industry in existence to implement the harvest. If there was a sustainable level of harvest there would be enough industry to accomplish whatever level existed. Unfortunately, an operator isn’t going to invest 2-3 million dollars in equipment for a maybe this year but not next year situation like we have now. Not sure about the conglomerate problem, out here we have local facilities and operators, although 2 hours to the job is not uncommon any more.
                The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that there is such a bureaucracy of power that trying to implement any change is almost impossible. In order for it to happen people on the top have to be willing to give up positions and/or power and that just doesn’t happen.

  9. It annoys me to no end with all the private forestry bashing and how federal management is so much better.

    In Oregon, private lands are growing more than is being harvested. And yet some question the sustainability?

    The outfit I work for routinely plants 5 different conifer species though we don’t usually plant hardwoods because they seed in rather easily. So how can people claim “mono-culture”? (In fact, I think we are actually forcing an unnatural diversity on the forest!)

    We produce lots of water.

    Just ask our secretaries about all the recreation and hunting permits they write every year. Friday afternoons during hunting season sees them working overtime and getting a little cranky!

    Wildlife – it doesn’t take too much looking to find about anything you might want.

    “The ecosystem is just rebalancing” (a comment above) — Is this the “balance of nature”? I thought this idea had been pretty much debunked.

    [I might add that ALL our lands were acquired as either cut-over or former farmlands. In fact, a lot of our so-called second-growth is actually first-growth as they likely have not had any forest for several centuries. It seems the Indians hereabouts liked to eat and holding the forest at bay at landscape levels (i.e., burning it) provided better forage for game and for foods they could gather.]

    I can assure you, we are not subsidized. We are multiple-use and produce a good variety of goods and services. Either directly or indirectly, our small company supports 130-150 people. And, unlike federal lands, we pay lots of taxes that support our community.

    • I’m curious as to who you think is bashing private forestry and saying federal management is so much better? And speaking for myself, I certainly never said that private timber lands are being subsidized.

      Also, I’m interested in where you came across the “debunking” of the natural balance idea. Source please? While I fully agree — and it’s obvious — that there is no “static” state of balance (which is what I think you’re saying has been debunked), ecosystems most certainly move toward their naturally adapted state. This adaptive state can be thrown out of whack by shocks, such as extreme drought, but will always seek return. That is, unless the shock it too extreme or to long-lasting, in which case the system will find a new, and generally less complex, stable state. Granted, my description here is a highly simplified summary of ecological resilience theory, but that is what I meant by “balance.” My apologies if you were confused, I generally write in layman’s terms on here.

      And finally, I applaud your “small company.” That is precisely the type of localized mixed economic approach that I lobby for on here. For example, check my response in this thread 5 comments above.

  10. Here’s an op-ed that makes some good points: “Select federal lands attract wealthy elites, don’t benefit working class,” by Tim Oren.

    http://www.idahostatesman.com/opinion/readers-opinion/article87464637.html

    “The results show most public lands today have little effect on rural income. The only significant effect federal lands have on rural income is an increase of per capita investment income, concentrated in elite counties located near areas of federally protected parklands, such as Sun Valley, Jackson (Wyoming), Park City (Utah), and Aspen. Investment income includes dividends and interest, private pension payments, and rents.”

    For what it’s worth, I live in an area that borders the Mt. Hood National Forest, where recreation is king, and where the local population of permanent residents who work for a living (and work for a living wage) is declining. Our middle school will likely be closed in the next few years, because there are too few kids to justify its continued operation. They’ll be bused to a town 20 miles west, a “bedroom community” for the thriving Portland metro area.

    • “Public lands, managed from Washington, D.C., do nothing economically for most of us.” Hmm, most of us are “Silicon Valley as an engineer[s], manager[s] and venture capitalist[s]. [With] graduate degree[s] in systems analysis and statistics from Michigan State University.”???

      “Individuals who have earned their wealth elsewhere bring it to the elite locations when they move or retire near parks paid for by the public. — there is no matching, positive effect on local wages.” Interesting. Lets undertake a simple thought experiment. If all the individuals who have earned their wealth elsewhere and brought it to the elite locations were to suddenly pack it up and leave, what perhaps would be the impact on local employment and wages?

      And if, lets say Idaho, were to begin “experimenting” with the former federal lands in the manner of my response to you further up the thread Steve, you can rest assured they would.

      Jeez, whatever happened to the trickle down economics mantra of a rising ship lifting all boats?

  11. “Public lands, managed from Washington, D.C., do nothing economically for most of us. That alone is a reason why we should give Western states a chance to experiment, to manage these lands, and realize greater benefits for their rural residents.”

    The author’s Silicon Valley career has deprived him of knowledge of the purposes of national forests. One of which isn’t doing something economically for local residents.

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