Reading the Tea Leaves

With Trump agriculture secretary nominee Sonny Perdue still awaiting a confirmation hearing, which has not been scheduled because the dog appears to have eaten Perdue’s financial disclosure homework, the Forest Service has been trying to figure out what message will best protect its budget from the new boss’ meat cleaver.

The first clue to the agency’s thinking appeared on its homepage today — make timber #1 again. The short post re-arranges the Forest Service’s Strategic Plan Goals by putting “Economic” benefits ahead of “Social” and “Environmental.” [Note how the two titles switch Social and Environmental between positions #2 and #3, while retaining Economic in first position].

The text of the post re-writes the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act’s alphabetical listing of the multiple uses, by which Congress intended not to prefer one use over others, by putting timber first. And if anyone misses the point, just look at the photo.

Will the tactic work to save the agency from massive budget cuts? Should the Forest Service double-down on its image as the nation’s firefighting heroes or turn the clock back 30 years? Can the Forest Service persuade Congress to increase spending to produce more timber in places where there are few, if any, mills remaining, e.g., Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and southern California? Will the Forest Service be able to convince the House’s budget hawks that spending $100 tax dollars to produce $1 worth of timber makes sense in southeast Alaska?

7 Comments

  1. Indeed, there are multiple barriers to doing more timber work. Barriers that aren’t on the Trump Administration’s radar, of course. The USFS won’t be able to do much with, in essence, a 4-5 month work season, every year, with inexperienced crews. Actually, I am going to enjoy watching them trying to increase timber volumes, with the current status quo. You cannot increase timber volumes without increasing the size of the USFS workforce. Their plans conflict yet, they don’t know just how they conflict….. yet The hierarchy of the USFS seems to also not understand that using temps isn’t going to work very well, both in the short term and the long term. ANY plan that doesn’t include workforce issues is doomed to fail. We’ll see if they will consider outsourcing their timber work to contractors, instead.

  2. They will start by grouping sales together to get the volumes up. Which means fewer people will be able to afford to bid on them.. Possibly keeping stumpage prices lower than if more buyers could participate.
    If they had a diverse, consistent timber sales program, people would build mills.
    I think if you look at the last 25 years of public forest management, it has been all about the environment. With no real concern about the social economic impact. Hopefully it is time for a more balanced approach. (And more small sales, am I dreaming or what)

    • An interesting theory, but maybe giving too much credit for connecting policy to the website. They also changed “fish” to “fishing.” Is there something sinister going on there? The second home page feature is the Bears Ears National Monument, which is getting lots of negative attention from republicans (and it looks like they rotate this page monthly, so maybe it was just time). My guess is the person responsible for the web page is clueless about policy issues. But then again …

      • You may be right, Jon. OTOH, this pro-timber posting is the Forest Service’s first homepage change since inauguration day. The Bears Ears page is a hold-over from the last administration (I know, I must have too much time on my hands . . . ). And I don’t think it’s a sinister move, per se. More of a plaintive cry from a small and desperate agency that’s getting no love (i.e., attention) from the new White House. I can imagine the group think: “How can we show our relevance to the new bosses? What do they want?”

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