What is the “best” forest value?

Folks, this is from an op-ed by Andy Geissler, a forester who works for the American Forest Resource Council in Eugene, Oregon. He is writing about a previous op-ed on the recent expansion of a national monument in SW Oregon.

The Jan. 12 guest viewpoint headlined “Expanded monument could benefit economy” offers a strange and disturbing perspective on how economic value is placed on certain commodities, and likewise, how Oregon places value on its economy. The context is the expansion of the Cascade Siskiyou National Monument in Southwest Oregon.

The authors assert that “the economic value of tourism associated with an expanded monument would vastly exceed the value of timber that could be extracted.”

I believe the flaw in this approach is that it assumes that whichever commodity generates the most economic value is inherently the “best” or most useful commodity.

I can relate to this, as I live very close to the Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon, which attracts more than four million visitors annually. Those visitors certainly have an economic impact, but most of the folks in the local communities don’t get much of a benefit in terms of well-paying jobs. We’d be much better off if some of the former jobs in the woods, trucks, and mills were brought back — jobs that pay far more than most the recreation and tourism jobs here. And I think we could have both. For us, a more-diverse local economy would be much better than one so largely tied to tourism.

FWIW, two of the 14 homes along my rural road that sold last year were bought as vacation homes. That makes 5 homes now that sit empty most of the year. It is rare that these new owners spend any money here….

13 Comments

  1. Well actually the protected public lands in Mt Hood NF increase the quality of life for residents in Hood River, Sandy and other towns around Mt. Hood. The tourism related jobs get some attention but they aren’t the real driver. The former mayor of Hood River told me the real economic impact comes from the companies that the recreation opportunities and quality of life assets attract to Hood River. There’s a drone company in Bingen, WA. with subsidiaries in Hood River that employs almost 700 tech engineers at salaries in the $100 K range. That’s a significant economic driver that far outstrips a job in a feller buncher or on the green chain in the mill in Parkdale.

    The economy continues to evolve and there is lots of evidence that protected public lands are a magnet for businesses in local communities. Our thinking about forest management must evolve too! Trump has shown there’s an appeal to going back to the 1950’s but that isn’t the best path forward.

    • Old Woodsman, you’re partly right about the high-tech companies attracted to cities near the Mt. Hood National Forest, and I’m sure this is true for other forests. Insitu, Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing is headquartered in Bingen, Washington, and employs 1,050+ folks. But this is a global company with offices in California, the UK, and Australia. Only about 200 of its employees live/work in Bingen. That might be good for Bingen and Hood River, but it doesn’t provide well-paying jobs in the smaller communities, such as where I live, that once thrived on forest products. Of courrse, those days are long gone and aren’t likely to return. However, I think there is room for timber to be a larger part of the local economy than it is now. For example, the Mt. Hood might increase its annul harvest so as to provide revenue that would pay for maintaining the forest’s roads, many of which are crumbling and which are heavily used by recreationists, hunters, etc. The same goes for other infrastructure — campgrounds, for instance. A relatively small increase in the timber sales program could pay for maintenance that otherwise isn’t being funded, and a certainly to annual harvests might be enough to get one or two mills to reopen.

      • Timber harvest is allowed under NFMA only for “timber production” and “to protect other multiple-use values.” It sounds like you’re advocating logging as a “bake sale” to fund operating costs. I think that’s a stretch.

        • I see that argument, but I don’t think that this NFMA language was designed to protect other values by raising money to do some entirely different kind of management activity. That would be pretty much a blank check (so to speak) for just about anything.

  2. An observation I’ve made the past few elections is that there is a real divide in this country; I’m talking about rural vs urban.

    For most of this country’s history, we were a very rural people while, in the past few years, we’ve become a very urbanized people. Rural people knew where their bread and butter (and virtually every other thing they used) came from. Today, I’m not sure that is the case with most urbanites.

    As I look at the presidential red and blue states, I see the blue states as dominated by urban centers and the red states as being much more rural. If one looks more closely by looking at the county level, the red becomes much more prevalent all across the country.

    I see the urbanite as being more dependent on government services for their daily needs: streets, garbage, electricity, water, sewers, traffic lights, police, freeways, social services, and so on. The ruralite is less dependent in that they head off into the field or forest.

    Where I’m going with this is that the urbanite by virtue of their much greater numbers in so many states pretty much dictates (imposes?) policy on the ruralite. I especially see that when drone manufacturers move into places like Bingen, WA or tech companies move into Prineville, OR – they change the character of their respective communities. Or, as Steve observed on his rural road, rural homes become vacation homes for the urbanite. For the most part, communities like these need these companies because their natural resource industries have been forced out of business.

    Like it or not, the ruralite still provides the bread and butter for the urbanite. People need bread and butter; they want tourism, a luxury. As the op-ed writer points out, there is a place for both to exist in the same community.

    “Old Woodsman” doesn’t seem to realize that the operator of a half-million dollar feller-buncher (a hi-tech machine with a computer, GPS, etc.) is very highly trained/skilled and makes a wage that is well above average. Even though they may not have a college degree, my observation is that a skilled operator understands the forest in much the same way as a forester.

    • “Rural people knew where their bread and butter (and virtually every other thing they used) came from. Today, I’m not sure that is the case with most urbanites.”

      I would say that, in general, during the same era in which “rural people knew where their bread and butter came from” was also the era where, in general, people living in cities also know these things.

      I would also say that, in general, today both rural people and people living in urban areas (perhaps because that’s where there might be more jobs and opportunities, or perhaps because they lack the resources to move out of a city) don’t know where their bread, butter and most all their products come from.

      • I would also say that rural people are more dependent on government services (and subsidies) than urban people. Regardless, timber harvest isn’t a simple yes or no thing- it’s affected by mill prices, automation, and competition with Canada and elsewhere.

        • Roy, this dependence sounds to me like one of those things that could go either way depending on what things economists count “in” and “out” in “government services” and “subsidies” depending on the answer they want. Even the cities they pick (e.g., D.C. or Colorado Springs vs. Atlanta). People know I love economists. but I have seen a lot of studies on the same thing with different results.

  3. “I believe the flaw in this approach is that it assumes that whichever commodity generates the most economic value is inherently the “best” or most useful commodity.”

    Didn’t we used to hear the timber industry using this approach when logs were the only thing that generated much economic value?

    (Shall we tourists go on a lumber mill tour and get some wood samples?)

  4. I went skiing yesterday and noticed that the area trail map had all these proposed trails on it. While riding a chairlift I happened to talk with a longtime employee of the area and asked him about the proposed trails. He said they had approval for them in 1985 but since then the local forest has resisted issuing the permit. His comment was, “this forest is suppose to be for multiple use, but it’s not”.
    Which I think pretty much sums up our current public land management. It’s all about doing as little as possible when it comes to multiple use. I think the prominent idea is to leave it alone, except when it comes to “restoration”, like fire and tearing out roads.
    One mind set I do think is also prominent with those who have no connection to our production of natural resources is that if we don’t make monuments and wilderness out of our “wildlands”, they will be destroyed. This is not necessarily true.
    The land added the Cascade Siskiyou Monument isn’t a monument but a forest. I believe as a society we have a responsibility to take care of this forest and that includes wisely utilizing its resources without destroying them. Which I know we can do.

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