It’s Friday before a three-day weekend, so here’s a short one. Twenty-eight years ago, while serving on the National Forest Products Association’s federal land planning task force, I suggested a way to use the FORPLAN model to calculate the timber opportunity cost from environmental protection. First, have FORPLAN calculate the maximum sustained yield of timber assuming no discretionary environmental protection. Second, sequentially impose environmental protections – the timber volume difference between the two is the opportunity cost of protecting the environment. Forest Planning published my article (thanks Randal) and Doug MacCleery took it with him when he made his move from NFPA to USDA as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Agriculture in the Reagan Administration. In 1982, Doug re-wrote the Carter Administration’s 1979 NFMA rules and added benchmark analysis as a planning requirement.
Benchmark analysis had only one purpose – to highlight the cost of protecting wildlife habitat, ensuring clean water, and keeping the forest pretty for people to enjoy. The thought being that if people, and decisionmakers (like OMB), only knew the dollars they were giving up, they would rally around increased national forest logging. But it was not to be. When it comes to public forests, no opportunity cost appears too high to pay for their protection.
I’m delighted to add my nail to the benchmark analysis coffin. Forest planning is challenging enough without adding gratuitous and divisive analysis that provides no information of real use to national forest managers or the public.