Chad Hanson: “Activists’ Quixote-like goal: No logging on public lands”

Today’s Greenwire has an article on Chad Hanson, “Activists’ Quixote-like goal: No logging on public lands.” There is much to discuss here — the pros/cons of Hanson’s goal. However, I hope all of us will stick to the issues and avoid the usual snide remarks. I, for one, wonder why Greenwire produced this story. There’s no news here — Hanson’s stance hasn’t changed, and there’s no new study to back his views. At least the article aims for balance — for instance, by quoting Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, a timber industry group.

My main disagreement with Hanson is his proposition that “the federal timber sales program must be ended in order for ecological management of our national forests and other federal forestlands to occur.” In other words, “let nature take its course.” But that ignores human influences of nature, such as fire exclusion, grazing, development, etc. The best example is the management of the giant sequoia groves in the Sierras. If one wants the giants to survive, some of the competing white fir will have to be cut — they’re too big to remove with a prescribed burn, now. So, either you conduct active forest management or watch as the giant sequoias weaken and die. To some degree, that applies to vast areas of federal forests.

12 Comments

  1. Greenwire has been doing a series of longer articles on a variety of issues, and featuring a wide variety of people. Guess this one, which was actually published last Thursday, August 3, is the latest.

    Here’s the full text. And jeez, if former Congressman Jim Leach wouldn’t have said “The effort was not 100 percent Don Quixote-like” what would Greenwire have titled the piece?

    Activists’ Quixote-like goal: No logging on public lands

    Marc Heller, E&E News reporter

    Published: Thursday, August 3, 2017
    National forests provide 2 percent of annual U.S. timber production. Chad Hanson would like to cut that to zero.

    Hanson, a forest ecologist and director of the John Muir Project in Bear City, Calif., is dusting off a radical-sounding idea that not too long ago had the support of more than 100 lawmakers in the House: Stop logging on national forests.

    “It’s an idea whose time will come,” said Hanson, who has begun raising the notion with congressional offices even though, he said, he doesn’t expect a Republican-led Congress to pay much attention. “We need to re-energize this campaign and never give up on it.”

    Hanson said economics and environmentalism are on his side. The nation’s 154 national forests, comprising 193 million acres of forest and grasslands, have seen timber harvests plummet from more than 12 billion board feet in the late 1980s to 2.5 billion board feet last year, suggesting the forest products industry doesn’t really need federal lands, he said. Forests that aren’t cut regularly for timber make better habitat for wildlife and may be less prone to big wildfires, in Hanson’s view, in part because fires happen more frequently in forests where human activity such as logging may increase the risk of ignition.

    Forest communities would be better off, Hanson said, by focusing on recreation in and around the forests. Federal funds formerly used for the timber program could be used for a jobs program to help protect at-risk homes from forest fires, while communities shift their economies. That’s a suggestion in line, he said, with a February analysis from Montana-based Headwaters Economics suggesting Western counties shouldn’t count on commodities like timber alone to fuel economic growth, although the report cites timber among the valuable resources from federal land.

    “The real gold in the West is tourism, not timber,” Hanson said.

    Supporters of logging say Hanson has the problem backward. Federal forests’ shrinking share of the timber harvest is a symptom of an industry impaired by overregulation, they say, and forests that haven’t been cut at all are filling with deadwood just waiting to be ignited into out-of-control fires. Two lawmakers — Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) — have said there’s plenty of demand for fresh timber in their states, which national forests could help fill.

    In some states, such as New Mexico and parts of Montana, national forests are sawmills’ livelihood, said Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, a timber industry group. Those mills would likely shut down, he said, even as private forests nationally make up any gap from missed federal timber production.

    “The biggest forest health problems facing the Forest Service are in the regions where they have the fewest mills and loggers to help them thin and manage the National Forests,” Imbergamo said. “Zero cut is an idea whose time never was. Suggesting this now, in an era with high fire danger due to overstocked forests, is dangerously irresponsible.”

    In Montana, declining federal timber sales have contributed to the closure of 30 mills and the loss of 3,400 jobs in the last 27 years, according to the Montana Wood Products Association. The remaining industry supports 7,000 jobs, with labor income of $319 million and sales of more than $900 million, said the association’s executive director, Julia Altemus.

    “The conversation should be centered around how we increase the pace and scale of the current program,” Altemus said. “This is the only economically, ecologically and socially responsible thing to do.”

    John Muir Project

    Hanson has been stirring up forestry circles since he founded the John Muir Project in 1996, a few years after seeing the effects of clearcutting on a 2,700-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail through California, Oregon and Washington. He has a law degree from the University of Oregon, and he worked for the Oregon-based Native Forest Council — “dedicated to the preservation and protection of all publicly owned natural resources from destructive practices, sales, and all resource extraction” — while in law school.

    In 2015, Hanson and a fellow researcher, Dominick DellaSala, wrote a book called “The Ecological Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires,” which challenged the idea that managed forests are at less risk of catastrophic wildfire than forests that are largely left alone. He has said recently that forests infested with bark beetles aren’t the big fire risk many foresters say they are, and that some lawmakers’ push to thin those forests could actually increase fire risks (Greenwire, March 9).

    Hanson’s organization, the John Muir Project, is part of the Earth Island Institute, based in Berkeley, Calif. Earth Island is an environmental group financed in part by liberal-leaning organizations such as the Kresge Foundation, San Francisco Foundation and Silicon Valley Community Foundation, a connection its critics say only proves there’s an agenda behind its science.

    The John Muir Project doesn’t hide its philosophy, declaring on its website that “the federal timber sales program must be ended in order for ecological management of our national forests and other federal forestlands to occur.”

    Now Hanson has quietly stepped up his efforts, hiring an aide, Samantha Spagnolo, to attend forestry-related hearings on Capitol Hill, visit lawmakers and provide counterpoints to legislation such as a proposal by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) (H.R. 2936) to loosen environmental restrictions that delay forest-thinning projects — a bill that has advanced in the House but faces tougher odds in the Senate.

    That can be a delicate balancing act for Spagnolo, a recent college graduate who admitted she would rather go further, building a “lumber-free America” where houses are made from recycled steel rather than trees. She said she avoids bringing up that idea with lawmakers, who already need convincing about logging on federal lands, and Hanson said he’s not advocating for it.

    “I’m not looking to do that, although I agree we do need greater protection on private lands,” Hanson said. Some proposals, he said, would be to stop harvesting the biggest trees, dead or alive, and to restrict harvests in recently burned areas that need to recover. “As a forest ecologist, it’s all about the biodiversity.”

    Their efforts bump up against a forest products industry with deep pockets for political action. The industry spent $14.6 million on lobbying in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, citing information from the Senate Office of Public Records. Political committees for forest products companies contributed $4.7 million to congressional candidates in 2016, the organization said.

    Cost arguments

    The last time banning logging in national forests was seriously discussed in Congress, in the mid-1990s, a Republican took the lead.

    That was Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), who in splashier moments led the call for the investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s dealings with Whitewater Development Corp. Leach, a moderate Republican, had fans in the environmental movement, scoring a 76 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters in 1998, including for a vote blocking increased timber activities in national forests. More than once, he introduced or co-sponsored legislation called the “National Forest Protection and Restoration Act” to end logging on national forests, gaining as many as 112 co-sponsors in 2001 but never more than a few fellow Republicans. The bills never reached the floor for a vote.

    “I think the environmental case is a pretty powerful one,” Leach told E&E News in a recent telephone interview, recalling the struggle between environmental “purists” and logging interests when he worked on the issue. Although some colleagues told him his idea was a stretch, Leach said, many said they agreed with his assertion that halting logging in the long run would be a more responsible and cost-conscious way to look after federal lands.

    “The effort was not 100 percent Don Quixote-like,” Leach said.

    Leach made economic arguments as well as environmental ones. As a steward of its assets, he said, the federal government shouldn’t pay private parties to reduce the value of those assets — a practice that costs the government hundreds of millions of dollars a year, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense.

    The Government Accountability Office has cited poor tracking of timber-related expenses by the Forest Service. In cases where the agency did estimate the costs, the GAO found timber was a money-losing venture. From 2008 to 2014, the agency spent $139.1 million on road-clearing and other timber-related activities in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, only to make $8.6 million from timber sales, the GAO said.

    “Instead of profiting from the sale of taxpayer-owned timber, we actually lose money,” said Sohini Baliga, director of communications at Taxpayers for Common Sense. “The new administration has voiced support for overall budget cuts at the Forest Service alongside increased timber harvest from federal lands, but we are concerned without major reform in the federal timber program, this will only spell more revenue losses for taxpayers.”

    Timber has been part of the Forest Service’s mission since the agency’s founding by Gifford Pinchot in 1905. More recently, in its strategic plan for 2015 to 2020, the agency included a pledge to “promote and develop markets for sustainably grown wood, particularly for low-value timber and for use of wood as a ‘green’ building material.”

    Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell has said he wants to boost timber sales to 3.2 billion board feet next year, from 2.9 billion board feet in 2016. That could start to reverse the slide in timber harvests that began in the late 1980s with the decline of old-growth cutting and increased protection for wildlife such as the northern spotted owl.

    Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, whose department oversees the Forest Service, has come down firmly on the side of logging, telling a House subcommittee in May that trees are “crops” that “ought to be harvested for the benefit of the American public” (E&E Daily, May 26).

    State forestry officials warn against a hands-off approach to national forests, which they say puts neighboring private and state-owned lands at risk.

    “Fire and insects know no boundaries,” said Gary Schiff, policy director at the National Association of State Foresters. “Active forest management is a good thing.”

    • A) Hanson as quoted above gives us opinion instead of science with his only evidence being key words like:
      1) “may be”
      2) “may”

      B) Positions taken by Hanson which have been disproved by sound, repeatedly validated science long before and after he arrived on the scene:
      1) Hanson “challenged the idea that managed forests are at less risk of catastrophic wildfire than forests that are largely left alone”
      2) “As a forest ecologist, it’s all about the biodiversity.” – So why does he advocate for large homogeneous stands and natural clearcuts? Why is it ok to destroy biodiversity with large mega fires but not with a mix of small heterogeneous stands that serve to reduce the spread and extent of fires thereby reducing catastrophic loss of biodiversity, smoke hazard to health, soil and water quality, infrastructure loss, and to reduce the risk from catastrophic loss by insects and disease pandemics?

      C) Not related to Hanson’s statements above are the economic claims of Leach, Taxpayers for Common Sense and others who want to stop the sale of federal timber while only looking at the profit on a sale basis instead of looking at total system costs net of revenue for fighting mega fires as well as controlling insects and disease, protecting forest dependent species, human health issues, loss to adjoining landowners, insurance costs, infrastructure costs and loss of life.
      As Leach said: “As a steward of its assets, … the federal government shouldn’t pay private parties to reduce the value of those assets”. However, we need to look at the entire system which includes the benefits of forest management prescriptions to reduce long term total costs after eliminating fear fed costs that have no significant benefit over independent professional audits, continuously improving Best Management Practices and non contradictory laws/regulations/policies.

  2. It’s the “to some degree” that is the issue. My observations are without the resume of many contributors here, but in my opinion timber companies and their industry representation are like the kid who promises to exercise restraint while alone in the candy store with a pocket full of money. The industry’s history in the forest led to irreparable damage in many areas (particularly habitat wise) and many of us simply don’t trust that human nature can be forever amended at will.

    • Jerry, the timber companies or logging contractors that work for the USFS are required to follow strict rules about what to harvest, where not to work, and so on. The issue is that Hanson says the USFS should do no cutting, even the most benign, well-planned harvest — no logging, period.

      • Slight tangent to this thread, but a message I hope Chad Hanson will get. Article in Science Daily: “Humans have been altering tropical forests for at least 45,000 years.” Subhead: “Tens of thousands of years of controlled burns, forest management and clear-cutting have implications for modern conservation efforts and shatter the image of the ‘untouched’ tropical forest.” Would Hanson and others have protested this human interference in nature?

        https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170803091931.htm

  3. Steve’s point is very salient with respect to the Sequoia NF. I have witnessed the distressed condition of this forest firsthand. We assume that drawing a line around the Giant Sequoias will preserve them. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner with these kind of forest management decisions. Chad assumes that humans are not part of the ecosystem which is an idea of great consequence.

    • The Giant Sequoias are one prominent example. Similar conditions exist in p. pine and other older forests, especially in the Sierras and the east side of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington — white/grand fir, Doug-fir, and other species have “invaded” and now are competing with the larger, older trees.

  4. We’ve had this debate on harvest vs. no harvest on federal lands for 25+ years now. The results of greatly diminished harvest is on the ground. Many of the points have been hit on previously, including specie transition, over burden of biomass, and continued decline of protected species.
    The idea that the industry doesn’t need federal timber because it has declined from 12 billion to 2 billion shows the backwards thinking of Hanson, and similar claims made by Ernie Niemi. Using this type of reasoning, we should quit protecting the NSO since it has declined despite protection measures over the last 27 years so protecting its habitat doesn’t work, which I don’t think will get a lot of serious buy in. The impacts on local communities from Wildfire, the loss of life and private property when federal fires leave federal lands also seem to be left out of the equation. Human life and private property is a hindrance at best with their way of thinking.

    • Forester 353, I agree: We’ve had this debate on harvest vs. no harvest on federal lands for 25+ years now. But I think the public in general is starting to see things more clearly, despite Hanson’s work. A colleague in California who focuses on public attitudes recently told me “the tide is turning” as far as public acceptance of active management — though not necessarily clearcuts.

  5. I’m developing a hypothesis that the big states for timber industry can’t get away from the timber wars as a lens for everything on FS land. When was it that Jack Ward Thomas wrote about “running about on the field of battle, bayoneting the wounded”? Meanwhile there are states doing fuel treatments where the results can’t be sold due to markets, which we wish we had.

    In 1970 I watched LP work on the Estacada Ranger District as a part of an OMSI summer science program for high school kids. This is 2017, 47 years later. Like health care, construction, roads, mining or any other technology, practices have changed a great deal and become more efficient, safer for workers, and more environmentally sensitive (see certification as example). To me the question is “if you need to do veg management anyway, why not sell it and produce a product that people use, if you have to move it offsite (and do what?) or burn it as alternatives?
    Colorado young green business people came to us when I worked for the FS and thought they would be helping the country and the environment by using the products of fuel treatments and substituting for other products. But they didn’t have the history of the timber wars.

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