Restoration Economy – Two Views or One?

Furniture maker Ryan Schlaefer starts with kiln-dried pine from a Fort Collins milling and lumber company that buys from a Woodland Park beetle kill supplier. A recent curio case is framed in quarter-inch solid pine on the face, backed up with a plywood core, plus a maple veneer on the outside edge he made with a glue press.

The above photo is from an article sent in by Bob Berwyn here.

Note: I reposted this from Sunday, as it seems like the question “”what does it take to have reached the “restoration economy” and have we reached it?” is fundamental. Because if it happened that there was agreement on a vision of sustainable levels of harvesting to local mills (as in the Jake Kreilick piece below), there may be some places that have “too many/too large (??)” (still not clear on Montana) but we would have other areas (the Southwest, Colorado) that don’t have “enough” capacity to be at that level.

Here is an op-ed from the Missoulian. So not being a Montanan, it would be helpful if Montanans could explain why these two views sound so similar in philosophy, yet there appears to be discord.

From where I sit: People agree that:
There are too many roads
There is a need to restore riparian
But where they diverge is the below concept:
Given that Congress gives Montana $x for federal forest restoration that provide y units of restoration.
You could have y + z restoration done, and have local jobs and the associated economic benefits if some trees went to mills.
If trees don’t go to mills people will still buy and use wood, but the economic benefits will accrue to our neighbors in Canada (for the most part).

Restoration economy has USFS at crossroads

guest column by JULIA ALTEMUS |

At the same time the timber industry was collapsing in the 1990s, natural resource managers, policy makers and communities were starting to realize the social, ecological and economic sustainability of the West was increasingly threatened by declining forest health and closure of the local sawmill.

Stand-replacing wildfires of the 1990s, 2000, and 2002 were the wake-up call, promulgating a series of policy initiatives focused on the restoration of forests and the reduction of hazardous fuels. Prior to 1998, hazardous fuels reduction was not even a line item in the federal budget. Funds had never been requested. From 1998 through 2000, Congress appropriated $93 million a year for hazardous fuels reduction, which escalated to $1 billion in 2001 and $3 billion by 2005. With a 100-million-acre crisis at hand and support from Congress, timber no longer needed to pay its way out of the forest. Federal agencies changed their management focus from merchantable, large-diameter sawlog removals, to small-diameter, sub-merchantable materials.

As a response, place-based initiatives emerged uniting conservationists, labor management, local stakeholder interests and policy makers. All centered on a restoration framework and an emerging local “green” restoration economy, operating within a “zone of agreement” around social, ecological and certain economic values.

By-products of community protection and forest restoration are primarily small diameter trees and woody biomass. Existing and new cottage industries were encouraged to develop and provide for utilization of these sub-merchantable materials. The West was particularly ripe for this conversion due to a growing commitment to restore federal forests.

However, one of the greatest challenges to building a forest restoration economy was finding ways to fund restoration activities when traditional sawlog values were no longer primarily relied upon to offset costs. As a response, congress passed the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2009, authorizing up to $40 million per year to be spent out of the existing Forest Service’s budget to subsidize restoration work across the country.

The October/November 2011 Journal of Forestry published an article by U.S. Forest Service Chief, Tom Tidwell, who is quoted as saying, “The time is right for a restoration economy. The Forest Service is tailoring its programs and projects to a new management environment.” This was news to many in the forest products community. Up until then, restoration activities were a tool in the federal forest management toolbox. It appeared that restoration was no longer simply a tool, but was being used to create a “new management environment.” For those that rely upon sawlog volume to keep mills running, this is a problem.

The proposed “new” forest restoration economy focuses less on ecosystem components and outputs and more on ecosystem functions, ecological processes and outcomes. When economics plays a less important role – in any economy – political and economic regimes emerge within smaller social groups and social networks. Because these political economic regimes influence and are influenced by the organization of both social and political economic capital, it lacks a standard economic value.

With the current national deficit, pumping millions of dollars into federally subsidized forest restoration activities is unlikely unless there is political will to do so. A simple solution is to broaden the scope of projects, allowing the value of the sawlogs to pay for the restoration activities. Harvesting sawlogs within the context of restoration has been controversial and unpopular with most conservation groups.

With a recent move to reduce the federal budget, as much as one third of the Forest Service’s workforce could retire, not in five years or even within the next year, but in the next two months! With the loss of so many seasoned professionals, the Forest Service will likely rely upon social groups and social networks to accomplish their mission. The Forest Service is at a crossroads; whether the new forest restoration economy is the next evolutionary step in a 100-year-old agency or forces the devolution of management to social groups, states and/or counties is uncertain.

Management of our federal forests resources, in a combination that contributes to the three interrelated and interdependent elements of sustainability – social, ecological and economic – is important and keeps us from repeating mistakes of the past. However, economics in the larger context must be equal with other social values.

Julia Altemus is executive vice-president of the Montana Wood Products Association.

Read more: http://missoulian.com/news/opinion/columnists/restoration-economy-has-usfs-at-crossroads/article_093bca28-3dfd-11e1-b200-0019bb2963f4.html?mode=story#ixzz1jYzaEGDT

And Matthew Koehler’s comment:

The following piece was written in 2005, and helps to illustrate just how forward-thinking some in the forest activist community have been regarding restoration of our public lands.

Forest Service should embrace century of restoration
By Jake Kreilick
National Forest Protection Alliance

Even since I started planting trees on the Kootenai National Forest, I’ve had a keen interest in forest restoration. From 1988-92, I planted thousands of trees across dozens of clearcuts. The days were long and the work was exhausting but I valued the experience gained, not to mention the money earned. In the end, these experiences would shape my career path and influence my view of restoration.

When I started planting trees, I believed I was aiding forest recovery. However, within a few seasons I felt like an unwilling accomplice to the wholesale liquidation of massive, ancient forests and colossal roadbuilding projects that were so en vogue under the forest policies of the Reagan and first Bush administrations.

Essentially, we were replacing the rich biological diversity of this mixed conifer, cool temperate forest with an even-aged tree farm composed of the most commercially valuable species. What’s worse, we were making the forest more vulnerable to natural disturbances like insect infestations and fires.

This revelation forced me to conclude that tree planting on national forests was not being done for restoration purposes nor to improve forest health, but rather to perpetuate an ecologically destructive, money-losing federal logging program. Granted, this program allowed mills like Owens & Hurst in Eureka, who recently announced they are closing, to flourish for nearly 25 years before a combination of market forces, corporate greed and environmental concerns changed the timber industry landscape in our region.

My tree planting years fostered a deeper understanding about the many impacts logging has had on our national forests. Despite the fact that the overall cut on national forests has declined from a high of 12.6 billion board feet in 1989 to around 2 billion board feet, the logging legacy lives on in many forms.

Consider the following:

– There are 445,000 miles of roads on national forests – enough to circle the Earth 18 times – and the Forest Service faces a $10 billion road maintenance backlog.

– An estimated 50 percent of riparian areas on national forests require restoration due to impacts from logging, roadbuilding, grazing, mining and off-road vehicles.

– Less than 5 percent of America’s ancient, old-growth forests remain.

– 421 wildlife species that call national forests home are in need of protective measures provided by the Endangered Species Act.

Clearly, America’s national forests, rivers and wildlife deserve better and would benefit greatly from an ecologically-based restoration program, to say nothing of the tremendous social and economic benefits restoration activities would bring to our local workforce.

Since 2005 marks the Forest Service’s centennial, we believe there is a golden opportunity to make the focus of the next 100 years of Forest Service management the “Restoration Century.”

To this end, the National Forest Protection Alliance and our member groups have been involved with a three-year bridge-building effort between community forestry advocates and restoration workers. The goal has focused on developing agreement on an ecologically based framework for restoring our nation’s forests that’s not only good for the land, but also good for communities and workers. While it has not always been an easy process, it has resulted in us finding a surprising amount of common ground.

One of the results of this process has been the development of a set of Restoration Principles (www.asje.org/resprinc.pdf) as a national policy statement to guide sound ecological restoration. The Principles are an essential tool for stakeholders and decision-makers at all levels to develop, evaluate, critique, improve, support or reject proposed restoration projects.

Here in western Montana, NFPA, Native Forest Network, Wildlands CPR and other environmental groups have used the Restoration Principles to work in a more collaborative fashion with the Lolo National Forest. Following a series of field trips and meetings, we believe the Lolo staff is gaining a better understanding of our restoration approach and they are exploring some of our restoration ideas and proposals.

For example, we have taken numerous trips with the Forest Service, restoration workers and a Pyramid Mountain Lumber representative to the proposed Monture Creek Fuels Reduction project north of Ovando. While we remain concerned that this project removes too many trees and that mechanical harvesters will damage sensitive soils, the district ranger has agreed to let us put the Restoration Principles to work on a portion of this project.

This spring, together with Wildland Conservation Services – a local restoration company that has received a service contract from the Forest Service – we will demonstrate the viability of forest restoration approaches that will enhance ecological integrity, protect soils and reduce fuels while putting money in the pockets of some local workers.

Another exciting restoration opportunity looming on the horizon is a water quality restoration plan for Upper Lolo Creek. While the Forest Service’s assessment for Upper Lolo Creek is nearly complete they lack funding to complete the needed road and watershed restoration work to improve water quality and fish habitat. We feel this is a perfect opportunity to collaborate locally with the recently formed Lolo Watershed Group, community leaders and restoration workers to ask Montana’s congressional delegation to find money for this project.

We know that moving forward with a comprehensive restoration program for America’s national forests is going to take time and it isn’t always going to be easy. However, the National Forest Protection Alliance and our 130 member groups across the country are committed to making the “Restoration Century” a reality.

25 thoughts on “Restoration Economy – Two Views or One?”

  1. Just for some needed perspective, the last clearcut I was involved in was 22 years ago, and that was a pure stand of white fir, riddled with freshly-killed trees, bug hits and pitch streamers. Clearcutting is mostly a non-issue, and should be displayed as such.

    I do like the idea of “crafting” improvement projects that locals can “accomplish through alternative methods”. They ARE rather costly, do not cover much ground, and are often inadequate in making a difference. It’s worth looking into but, there is an unusually-high risk of corruption that will require full transparency.

    Reply
  2. The WildWest agenda: Small is beautiful
    September 20, 2006
    Interview with Matthew Koehler, WildWest Institute

    http://web.archive.org/web/20061116203820/http://www.clarkforkchronicle.com/article.php/20060920085536259

    ————-

    ‘Matthew’s world is not the real world’
    September 27, 2006
    Interview with Julia Altemus, Montana Logging Association

    http://web.archive.org/web/20061116203831/http://www.clarkforkchronicle.com/article.php/20060927155347105

    —————–

    “This is Very Dangerous Stuff:” Why does logging Industry official fear true restoration vision for public lands?
    By Matthew Koehler, 10-28-05

    http://git.newwest.net/main/article/this_is_very_dangerous_ftuff/

    See just how some members of the Montana logging industry responded to a positive, pro-active vision for a “Restoration Century” in these emails obtained via the Freedom of Information Act:

    http://www.newwest.net/pdfs/MLA_on_NFN_KUFM_Commentary.pdf

    Reply
  3. Matthew… so below is the interview you linked to above:
    ..
    but the mills that we have talked about in Montana do look like relatively small mills to me. So which ones are “too large” and can you describe why they are not “mom and pop” enough? PS some Montana mills have been the only ones who will take bug-killed trees (from fuels reduction ) from Wyoming, so they are not 100% Montana trees.

    If we drew a line around communities (1/4 or 1/2 mile) and said “we are going to do fuel reduction here and keep it up through mechanical treatments over time (too close for prescribed burning) and if we add that up, that is the mill capacity Montana should have- we won’t litigate you selling those trees” is that what you are saying? We could easily yard up (well, if we had a grad student or intern we could), whether and how many sales that are WUI fuel treatment are appealed, objected to or litigated, by whom and on what basis. Might be interesting to compare across states.

    The only problem I see with this is that that’s not where road decommissioning is likely needed, so we wouldn’t get the boost from selling trees to be able to do more restoration.

    Also, you say it’s the FS that is encouraged to do salvage sales, yet many areas are not salvaged at all.. so there must be more to this.

    Welcome to The Clark Fork Chronicle
    Thursday, November 16 2006 @ 01:38 PM MST
    The WildWest agenda: Small is beautiful

    Wednesday, September 20 2006 @ 08:55 AM MDT
    Contributed by: Admin
    Views: 128
    by John Q. Murray

    The executive director of the WildWest Institute said Tuesday that his organization would like to see Montana’s existing timber mills replaced by multiple smaller mills that are “truly sustainable.”

    Matthew Koehler told the Chronicle that the shift toward a sustainable economy will also require significant change at the U.S. Forest Service, whose contracting practices encourage large operations and whose accounting practices encourage salvage logging in burned forests.

    The comments came during a wide-ranging hour-long interview Tuesday after the WildWest Institute sponsored a panel discussion of scientists at the University of Montana last week. The panelists spoke out against logging in burned areas, which one scientist said now represents half of all logging.

    The interview started with a fairly straightforward follow-up question to that panel discussion: Economists have said that Montana’s timber harvest must increase by 15 percent to preserve the existing timber infrastructure. That infrastructure is essential to making restoration and fuel reduction projects economically viable. If half of all logging now takes place in burned forests and we are not going to log those burned forests any more, would the WildWest Institute support the 15 percent increase entirely in the non-burned areas?

    Matthew Koehler never quite answered that question directly, but instead offered a broad view of his organization’s vision for a sustainable timber industry in Montana.

    Chronicle: Chuck Keegan says that we need to increase the timber harvest by 15 percent, or we could lose the entire woods products infrastructure, as has happened in other western states. If that happens, it would become prohibitively expensive to conduct restoration projects or fuel reduction projects.

    Matthew: That economist is essentially the timber industry’s own economist. Mr. Keegan has been making these somewhat dire predictions for the 12 years that I’ve been following these issues in western Montana. I saw some interesting things on the timber industry website. It appears as if Mr. Keegan is saying that 800 million board feet is needed to sustain Montana’s timber industry infrastructure. Production in the first half of 2006 was 491 million board feet, which is 62 percent of what Keegan calls for. And that’s only in half of a year, so the industry is well on its way, according to these numbers…It would be interesting to know how much was cut in 2005. That isn’t mentioned anywhere.

    You need to keep in mind that the timber industry capacity in Montana was built largely during the wholly unsustainable logging levels from the 1970s and 1980s. Right about 1990 people recognized that the logging and road building levels were unsustainable. Wildlife habitat, soil productivity, clean water, old growth forests, and other resource values were being compromised at the expense of those unsustainable logging levels. So in some regard, we’re being asked now to support an industry infrastructure that was built during unsustainable levels.

    While many of us realize that woods workers are going to be very important as we protect our communities from wildfire and we restore our forests, I’m not sure if that paradigm going into the 21st century is going to sustain the capacity that was built during the unsustainable logging levels. I think the industry needs to get more smaller scale and it needs to get more local.

    What many of us would like to see in the future is a truly sustainable logging industry and quite frankly I don’t think we’ve ever seen that, or even come close, here in the Northern Rockies.

    It is going to be a logging industry that is much more local, that is much more decentralized, and I think we would see smaller mills and smaller processing centers popping up throughout western Montana. Because in addition to the fuel reduction that is going to be occurring around our communities, we need to take a serious look at fossil fuel reduction. Part of what we’re trying to do as an organization is help put Montana and our region more on a sustainable path, not just in terms of where we get our wood products but across all sectors of society. We’re interested in supporting sustainable agriculture, supporting local businesses, Main Street businesses, and not supporting the out-of-state corporations.

    So in our mind it isn’t a choice between having it the timber industry’s way–and that way is largely pushed by the large players in the industry–and not having a timber industry infrastructure here. I think it’s working together to find that sustainability that has been lacking in forest management.

    Chronicle: I’m not familiar with all of the mills in Montana, but our local mills, Tricon and Pyramid, were specifically designed for, or have adapted for, small-diameter wood products. And Pyramid has to do an enormous amount of outreach work with private forestland owners to sustain their supply.

    Matthew: Pyramid is one of the only mills in Montana that routinely mills old growth. In June, we did a stewardship contracting workshop in Missoula, when the participants went up to tour Pyramid Mountain Lumber they were milling old growth Ponderosa pine from the Crow Indian Reservation in far eastern Montana. Trucking old growth across the great state of Montana is clearly not in line with sustainable forestry, not only from an ecological perspective, but from a resource standpoint, whether they came by rail or truck clear across the state.

    There’s lots of other mills around here than just Tricon and Pyramid and Smurfit Stone. I’m talking about some of the very small mom-and-pop operations in the Bitterroot, about Mark Vander Meer’s mill essentially in downtown Missoula right off the Scott Street bridge. He is doing exemplary forest restoration and thinning work, milling those products right here in Missoula, and distributing to customers in the Missoula area. Bob Walker is logging down in the Darby area. He is a big logging contractor down there but he a few years ago invested in a small sawmill down at the Connor cutoff. The wood stays in the Bitterroot, it’s sold to Bitterroot people, and that is the type of sustainable industry that I think any of us envision for the future.

    Chronicle: What I’m hearing is that your organization is not concerned about losing the existing woods products infrastructure, and that you would prefer to see much smaller local operations.

    Matthew: I wouldn’t say it the way that you said it. Three things are at play here.

    First, if we are going to get to a sustainable timber industry here in Montana I am assuming that some milling capacity will be lost.

    Second, the increased globalization of the industry and the fact that our neighbors directly to the north are liquidating their vast expanses of public and provincial forests and much of that wood–80 percent of the softwood in the U.S.–is being dumped into the U.S. marketplace by Canada.

    Third, we saw a housing boom. Many economists have been predicting for years that the housing crash is coming and I think we’ve seen the start of that already in 2006. Lumber prices declined slightly in the first quarter and declined sharply in the second quarter.

    That is just the boom and bust nature of the resource extraction industry. Mills are not immune from the boom and bust any more than farmers and ranchers. I don’t think you can simply say if Montana mills process 800 million board feet of timber we will be able to maintain all that milling capacity. Many other factors are at work other than a supply of raw material. If you are getting 25 percent less in the U.S. marketplace for X amount of raw materials than you got a year ago, you can mill the same amount and you’re still playing catchup, you’re still falling behind.

    I like and respect Ken Verley very much and what he’s doing out there in St. Regis. He’s adapted. They’re clearly looking at creative ways to continue operating. While we might have disagreements with some of the timber sales on the Superior district and in his neck of the woods, at the end of the day if the Forest Service goes through with those timber sales and if they go out for bid, I’ve told Ken I hope Tricon is the successful bidder. Because it makes sense if the Forest Service is going to cut trees in the Superior district to have the logs in that area. It makes sense, especially if you just look at the transportation costs and fossil fuels needed to ship stuff elsewhere.

    I said the same thing to Gordy Sanders up at Pyramid. We might have disagreements about some of the timber sales, but if there are sales on the Seeley Lake district, I hope the logs end up going to Pyramid Mountain Lumber because that makes the most sense.

    Again, that doesn’t mean that I think that those mills are necessarily sustainable, especially with all of the efficiencies and upgrades and automations that we have seen in the industry. That doesn’t mean we can maintain current timber industry employment indefinitely. It takes two workers to do what it took five to do in the late 70s, just from automation and I would assume there are going to be technology advances within the next 5 to 20 years in the industry both in the woods and in the mills that are going to further reduce the need for workers in those industries to mill the same amount of capacity.

    We get too wrapped up in supporting the timber industry. I think we need to look a little bit more at supporting and sustaining our local economy. Logging is going to be part of that. Jobs in the woods in western Montana are going to be a huge part of that. But it’s not going to be the same jobs in the woods that we’ve been doing during the last 30 years. There’s plenty of opportunities out there for a real entrepreneurial spirit to take hold in these communities and for people to get creative and do the protection work.

    Mineral County is still pretty sparsely populated, but even there we’ve seen a significant population increase and that’s only going to continue. A lot of those folks are living out in the woods in unsafe conditions and they need work done on defensible space. Why can’t we all approach the federal government and say, We want watershed and road restoration work done. We want you to find money in your budget to do it. Those are jobs in the woods that require very well-paid, highly-skilled work forces. So there are solutions out there but often times the debate seems to come down to, do we log or do we not log. I don’t see how that serves anyone.

    Chronicle: The Forest Service requires a lot of paperwork. It seems to me that a Mark Vander Meer or a one-or two-man company wouldn’t have the personnel to bid on these Forest Service projects, and in fact, the existing companies like Tricon and Pyramid that have survived are probably the size that they are because they have adapted to fit the current regulatory and contractual requirements that are out there.

    Matthew: That’s a great question. Unfortunately, here in western Montana, the Forest Service contracts are really not set up for the benefit of the smaller contractor. Some of these contractors are small enough that they can’t afford some of the bonds. Some of the contracts are just too large to get done in the time frame that’s required. So we’ve often encouraged the Forest Service to split up contracts into smaller segments so smaller independent contractors can have an opportunity to show their skills and put money in the pockets of their work force.
    A lot of the way the Forest Service is running its contracting, whether on timber sales or just on replacing culverts or doing prescribed burning, the bonding issues, the workman’s comp issues, they’re all really working against the smaller independent contractors and that’s clearly another hurdle and another piece of this puzzle that people need to get together and figure out.

    If you look at the West End [of Mineral County] and the communities of Saltese, DeBorgia, and Haugan, a sustainable vision for managing that part of the Lolo National Forest, you would want small contractors in those communities and they could do the work up in that part of the valley rather than doing some work in that area then going clear across the divide to Judith Gap.

    The single biggest piece of the sustainability problem is our fossil fuel consumption. Again, the more work that can be done locally by a local work force I think the better off we’ll be in the long run.

    Chronicle: Some industries are using credits or allowances and create markets to sell or trade those back and forth. Maybe that model could be used to factor the energy or transportation costs in and make Montana timber more attractive or more available to local companies and local consumers.

    Matthew: It seems to make perfect sense to me to do an entire energy audit of these projects and factor that into the equation. Because again, and I don’t want to pit one mill against another, but from a common sense standpoint, if there is a project done in the DeBorgia area it makes more sense if any logs coming off stop at Tricon. Even though Pyramid might be low bidder, from an energy audit standpoint or just looking more holistically at the sustainability of that project, trucking everything up to Seeley is going to be a huge negative impact as far as looking at that sustainable energy model.

    We’ve thought a lot about this fossil fuel stuff but never about any way of quantifying it. I’d like to talk to some of the professors at the University. It seems like somebody could do their doctoral thesis on just that issue.

    These are the types of creative ideas that I think we can come together and start talking about. Personally I don’t feel as if we can talk about it when we have industry lobbyists telling the public that we don’t support workers and that we want everybody to burn up. I think most people would have a hard time coming to the table when you pick up the paper and you just see your organization or yourself being called names. I’d like somebody to find the last time we called loggers names or called industry lobbyists names. It just poisons the process.

    Chronicle: To tie it all back into the original question…well, first I have to ask a few other things that came to mind while you were talking. Does the Wildwest Institute advocate zero-cut?

    Matthew: The zero-cut effort, as it came to be called–which was somewhat a misnomer–was largely in response to what we saw as the wholly unsustainable logging and road-building of the ’80s and ’90s, through the eight years of Reagan and the first couple years of the first Bush. Logging and road building was astronomical and many of us saw the Forest Service deliberately and maliciously planning road building projects, like daggers, right into the heart of wild country, just to make sure that those areas would not meet requirements for future wilderness designation. There are a lot of roads to nowhere that stretch for miles and end at a clearcut, built at the request of industry just to make sure those places would have the potential for future timber harvesting.

    We had an industry in our view during the 70s and 80s that was out of control. Very few if any people in the industry ever stepped forward and said, Hey, we’re going to pay for this later because we cannot sustain this level of logging and road building. Negative impacts are going to be left on the landscape for generations. And that’s coming home to roost right now.

    So when many of us got together in the early to mid 90s pushing for an end to the federal timber sale program, we had legislation in Congress that would have funded and started the largest restoration program on federal lands that we would have ever seen. So again, it was more of a shift in the paradigm from unsustainable management of these forests to more of a restoration-based economy. There would be jobs in the woods, but they would be different jobs, based more on watershed and road restoration and undoing some of the damage.

    As an organization, the Forest Service is in somewhat of a catch-22. While they’re certainly not logging and building roads at the levels of the late 80s, there is still a lot of damage out there on the landscape and they’ve never addressed a lot of those issues. So many of the projects the Forest Service is proposing now are in these pockets of forest that weren’t cut during the logging frenzy of the 70s and 80s. They are wild unlogged forest and whether through NEPA, NFMA, CWA, or ESA, the Forest Service has a very hard time conducting these projects while still following the regulations and their forest plans.

    Many of us predicted that this would happen. So it seems to us that we shouldn’t be saying, hey, how can we let the agency slide here, even though they’re not following the regulations and not following the law, we need to get logs to the mill. Ethically that doesn’t seem right to us. Under this Bush administration, the rules and regulations have been tilted heavily in the favor of the logging industry, and still the agency is having a hard time following its own rules and regulations when conducting these projects.

    We try through the entire public process to point the agency in a direction that would allow them to do work while still adhering to the rules and regulations. Unfortunately, all too often the agency refuses to do that and that is where we participate in the public appeals process. That’s where you see projects like Frenchtown Face being reversed on appeal. We were telling the agency there were problems with that project for years. But the agency is part of the federal bureaucracy and the federal bureaucracy has problems with inefficiency. You can’t turn the Titanic on a dime.

    Chronicle: The WildWest Institute often says that they just want the Forest Service to follow the law. But your organization has, probably more than any other group over the last 10 years, played a very large part in shaping or creating that law through your litigation.

    Matthew: I think people sometimes feel that the Forest Service is under a different set of rules but they’re under the executive branch. And under the system of government that was set up by our founding fathers, they recognized that the legislative branch and executive branch needed a check and a balance and that was the judicial branch. The laws are passed by Congress and courts are interpreting those laws every day. We’ve been successful in front of judges appointed by Reagan, by Bush, by Clinton, and Carter. Sometimes you have one court saying one thing and another court saying something completely opposite. We may disagree with some of the rulings that come out but that’s the way our form of government has worked for the past 200-and-some years. Out of all the other forms of government that are out there around the world, our form of government with these three branches and checks and balances seems on a whole to work pretty well.

    Chronicle: So to wrap up the original question. Dr. Hutto and the other panelists spoke against logging in burned areas–

    Matthew: We’re really seeing a lot of new science come out. As Dr. Hutto and the other scientists said on the panel, much of the science on post-fire logging and post-fire management has only come out in the last five to 10 years. As an organization, we feel that post-fire logging is one of the most ecologically harmful forms of logging for a variety of reasons. A lot of what Dr. Hutto talked about was just the perception. A lot of this might be difficult for the public to understand–the trees are dead, they’re just going to waste. From a human standpoint, that would be true. But when you look at it from the perspective of the critters out in the forest, there are certain species that spend their whole lives in burned forests. We believe that there’s life in dead trees, that they are critically important for wildlife, and that they add diversity to the landscape. With the science of burned area management being in its infancy, we would just like to see quite a bit more caution. In burned forest, you can’t log the small stuff, because a burned tree 8-10 inches in diameter isn’t commercially viable. You end up logging large standing snags, and those are critically important to the recovery of the forest, both in terms of wildlife habitat, soil structure, and productivity into the future in terms of providing shade for the regrowth that is coming up, keeping the forest moister and cooler.

    Chronicle: So assuming we shut down logging in the burned areas, does the WildWest Institute support the additional logging in the non-burned areas.

    Matthew: I highly doubt that the Forest Service and industrial forest owners or even small private wood owners are going to stop cutting burned trees. They’re going to continue to push timber sales in burned areas for two reasons: The timber industry realizes when they log burned areas, they get fire sale prices. And for the Forest Service, salvage sales end up being a real money-maker because the money essentially goes into a slush fund–the KV fund. So I think there are institutional and bureaucratic incentives for the Forest Service to log in burned areas. I’ve read lengthy articles about how the KV fund plays into the way the Forest Service manages burnt areas.

    We’re trying to encourage the Forest Service to look at fuel reduction around communities. I think if you looked immediately adjacent to communities in western Montana, and making sure that our communities have defensible space, we would see that there could be a significant amount of wood that comes from those areas.

    Reply
  4. “we feel that post-fire logging is one of the most ecologically harmful forms of logging”

    I have many pictures that easily dispute that, and some have been displayed here.

    “there are certain species that spend their whole lives in burned forests”

    There is NO lack of habitat for those species. I see that Matt makes no mention of the destructive re-burns that reduce biodiversity to longterm lows. There is no reason why we couldn’t have both issues covered, with modern Forest Service salvage projects merely “thinning” merchantable snags. I’ve seen complex marking guidelines that leave snags of multiple sizes, for multiple uses. The key to a successful salvage project is to quickly salvage the smallest diameter merchantable timber, before it goes bad. Sure, it is easy to be against the clearcut stlyle of salvage logging, folks.

    “salvage sales end up being a real money-maker because the money essentially goes into a slush fund–the KV fund”

    Yes, and that money stays local, to put back into the harvested land. Yes, there is potential for corruption but, the law is clear about where the money is supposed to go.

    Also, Matt doesn’t mention the methane spewing forth from the rotting trees, when that carbon could be sequestered and the methane levels reduced, through well-planned, modern salvage projects.

    I do agree that industry should be “right-sized” but, I don’t think that levels should be decided by the courts.

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  5. “An estimated 50 percent of riparian areas on national forests require restoration due to impacts from logging, roadbuilding, grazing, mining and off-road vehicles”

    I call absolute bullshit on this one. Please supoort this claim wit hthe data you used that the methods that got you there. Wow…

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    • Especially since stream buffers have ludicrously expanded in the last ten years. Some streams in the Bitterroot have stream buffers that actually extend beyond the watershed boundary!! Basically, that means ridgetops are protected within stream buffers. Do intermittant streams really require a 300 foot stream buffer?

      It seems the trend with eco-groups is to not be against timber projects but, to control all the parameters, through the courts. It’s a better “business model” than the “not one stick” attitude that has been shown as an economic failure with the public.

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  6. To respond to Sharon’s original question: Why do these two views sound so similar in philosophy, yet there appears to be discord?

    Indeed, Julia and Jake are both part of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee, which has spawned numerous local committees working on specific projects. Given the poor log markets and the Forest Service’s budget woes, projects aren’t happening as fast as everyone would like. Yet there is general agreement on a set of restoration principles, which includes an agreement that the sale of sawlogs should be integrated into restoration projects, where appropriate, to offset costs and achieve management goals consistent with stewardship logging. This principle is broadly endorsed by the majority of Montana conservation groups engaged in forest management issues, including a broad diversity involved in MFRC. http://www.montanarestoration.org/mfrc-committee Through the activity of MFRC, the level of discord has diminished considerably, although a small minority of flame throwers outside the process continues to make waves.

    So I was amazed to read Julia’s column saying that MOST conservation groups oppose restoration projects that include the harvest of sawlogs. Not only is this demonstrably not true, but it’s a strategic blunder to marginalize the friends you’re working with and to build up and empower your opponents beyond any semblance of their true numbers. (And based on their past history, that would mean that Julia has decided to rhetorically empower her arch-nemesis, Matthew Koehler, who generally doesn’t play well with others on any side of the table.)

    That is, it’s a strategic blunder if Julia actually wants to achieve solutions on the ground. I thought she did, and I was pleased that this practitioner of collaboration was hired to lead the Montana Wood Products Association. But now her tune seems to be changing as she insists that restoration projects be fully funded with the sale of sawlogs at a time that timber sales barely generate enough revenue to fund the logging itself. And I see Julia falsely assigning the majority of conservation groups with the position of opposing any timber harvest in the context of restoration. If the MWPA is truly interested in creating collaborative solutions, the worst possible strategy is to pose an all-or-nothing scenario and reopen old wounds that have started to heal under the principles of restoration and stewardship. I don’t quite understand Julia’s motive here.

    While some people prefer to paint the world in black and white, the vast majority of forest advocates and practitioners in Montana, including the Forest Service itself, are trying to muddle together through the zones of gray. I advise all parties to not go out of their way to pick counter-productive fights. The challenges are difficult enough without a stick in the eye.

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  7. Steve- thanks for your thoughtful answer to my question.

    I think you are talking about the below quoted parts of the op-ed, so here are my thoughts in reading it as a non-Montanan (my thoughts are in italics):

    The October/November 2011 Journal of Forestry published an article by U.S. Forest Service Chief, Tom Tidwell, who is quoted as saying, “The time is right for a restoration economy. The Forest Service is tailoring its programs and projects to a new management environment.” This was news to many in the forest products community. Up until then, restoration activities were a tool in the federal forest management toolbox. It appeared that restoration was no longer simply a tool, but was being used to create a “new management environment.” For those that rely upon sawlog volume to keep mills running, this is a problem.

    I don’t know exactly what the Chief meant by a “new management environment” but conceivably it could mean one where zones of agreement had been worked out and sawmills could keep running. I’ll look up the JFor article.

    The proposed “new” forest restoration economy focuses less on ecosystem components and outputs and more on ecosystem functions, ecological processes and outcomes. When economics plays a less important role – in any economy – political and economic regimes emerge within smaller social groups and social networks. Because these political economic regimes influence and are influenced by the organization of both social and political economic capital, it lacks a standard economic value.

    I don’t exactly know what she meant by this. Especially the last two sentences.

    With the current national deficit, pumping millions of dollars into federally subsidized forest restoration activities is unlikely unless there is political will to do so. A simple solution is to broaden the scope of projects, allowing the value of the sawlogs to pay for the restoration activities. Harvesting sawlogs within the context of restoration has been controversial and unpopular with most conservation groups.

    Perhaps she meant “national groups” but this is a Montana paper… if as Steve says most in Montana think harvesting is OK, what’s the problem?

    With a recent move to reduce the federal budget, as much as one third of the Forest Service’s workforce could retire, not in five years or even within the next year, but in the next two months!

    I think there are probably a lot that could retire, but the buy out not that attractive to most people (25,000 before taxes compared to working longer and getting smaller amounts for the rest of your life and possibly your survivors) so I don’t think the two months mondo-exodus is real.. one year could be a different story.

    With the loss of so many seasoned professionals, the Forest Service will likely rely upon social groups and social networks to accomplish their mission. The Forest Service is at a crossroads; whether the new forest restoration economy is the next evolutionary step in a 100-year-old agency or forces the devolution of management to social groups, states and/or counties is uncertain.

    I’d like to think that groups could help us with project design, local knowledge, conflict resolution, quality control and monitoring, but young people are full of energy and enthusiasm and will be doing good work very soon. It was not so long ago that we retirees were wet behind the ears (well, 30 years or so, time flies ..), but with a few helping hands we were doing quality work). Further because of the state of the economy and the poor health of the timber industry, federal work is attractive to the “best and the brightest.” They could actually do a much better job than us old codgers. And not spend as much time hankering for the good old days when people came to fix your computers and other people filled out your travel, and you could travel, etc.

    Management of our federal forests resources, in a combination that contributes to the three interrelated and interdependent elements of sustainability – social, ecological and economic – is important and keeps us from repeating mistakes of the past. However, economics in the larger context must be equal with other social values.

    This is kind of philosophical to me so again I don’t really understand.

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  8. I think a “restoration economy” is more theory than practical. It may sound nice but the present economic reality is that it will require subsidies. Expecting that thinning small diameter trees and removing bio-mass will be economically feasible and pay for it way out of the woods while generating revenue to pay for other restoration activities is not reality.
    I remember having a FS resource specialist tell me that economics should not be considered in making natural resource decision, and that person is now a Ranger. Failure to evaluate or consider the economics of restoration projects is recipe for failure. Economics of FS projects is often an after thought in my experience.

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  9. I think we could move to the idea of a restoration economy even though we don’t have all the businesses to do it place right now. My question was where we agree and disagree as to what it is.

    Is the test A “do we use material (and get some value from it ) that needs to be removed for fuels treatment?”

    Or B “can we get enough extra value to subsidize more restoration work than we would otherwise do?”

    I think in relatively mill-deprived areas of the west, we would be happy to move toward A.
    In Montana or Oregon, you might be talking about B.

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  10. i wish there were “like” buttons on this blog…a number of good posts in this discussion so far. Thanks to Sharon for posting the transcripts from the CF Chronicle’s conversation wtih Matthew back in 2006–it was a good reminder for me that we DO have some things in common. As co-chair of the Lolo Restoration Committee–a collaborative sub-committee of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee mentioned above–I have been working with others to consider the “little guy” independent loggers and contractors and improve their access to federal stewardship work. I think this restoration economy is going to require all kinds and sizes of infrastructure, from the portable sawmill owners and small-scale non-mechanized loggers, to the high-tech computerized small log processors like Tricon and Pyramid and the cut-to-length harvesting systems that we are losing due to lack of work and high investment costs. And don’t forget that while the larger mills do purchase a majority of the timber sales (66 of 99 timber sales on the Lolo NF over the last 5 years) and stewardship contracts, they then sub-contract to many local independent contractors to get the work done.

    That said, there are regulatory and institutional barriers to more of that benefit accruing to local businesses. The Forest Service, with it’s lean staff tends to favor big contracts in an effort to maximize time and energy. I think that it is imperative that the FS leadership at the national and regional levels set a tone that values the extra effort involved in putting out more smaller contracts. Some leaning on these individuals from the public would help.

    In addition, as the interviewer in the Chronicle mentions, bidding on federal contracts is not small task. Unlike us “salaried” folks, when you own a business, you only make money when you are creating a product or providing a service, so it can be a stretch to say the least, to expect a small independent operator to find and dedicate the time needed to put together a 30-page technical proposal. these are serious issues if we are really dedicated to moving to a “small is beautiful” paradigm.

    I would encourage anyone else who is interested in working on issues such as these to contact me: chelsea.mciver@business.umt.edu.

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  11. Chelsea, at one time we had thumbs up and thumbs down ratings… so I put them back.. I don’t know any other way of expressing “like” in WordPress- maybe someone else can help?

    I’ll also add back the widget that shows most popular posts.

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  12. Note, if you want to rate a post, you have to first click on “comment” and then the chance to rate it or like it will come up. There is a “plug in” for WordPress that does it but I don’t understand how to get it to work. Any people who do, and are willing to help, please contact me!

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  13. Regarding the Forest Service’s future workforce, things may be more grim than people think. ALL timber positions now require much more knowledge, skills and expertise than in the past. The skill sets are much broader, and tasks demand an ultra-high quality of accuracy and judgement. With more “groundtruthing” threatened/promised, the Forest Service needs to be a lot more accurate in how projects go from planning to implementation. Chances are, projects will be implemented with mostly “Temporary Employees”, with little training and inadequate leadership. It’s what they have done in the past, when workloads were higher and hiring issues were acute. The difference today is that personnel rules are much more stringent on the use of temps. Years ago, temps could work 45 weeks out of the year if their appointments and tours were right. Once the Forest Service admitted to abusing the temps, OPM stepped in to “protect” those employees by limiting their tours to 1039 hours per year.

    Additionally, the failure of centralized personnel for the Forest Service also includes a clumsy hiring process, which hamstrings both applicants and hiring units. The trend is to offer single open announcements, with no hint of which actual locations have actual positions. Also troublesome is the limitation of being able to select only 10 “duty stations” per announcement. Included in the list of duty stations are locations which never hire field-going timber people (Supervisors Offices, Regional Offices, Fire Stations, etc). If I wanted the best selection of people to pick from, I would look into a separate announcement for the positions I want to fill.

    In the past, timber people weren’t offered the buyouts, because of the need to keep that knowledge around. Particularly, Sale Administrators and Sale Planners seem closest to retirements. They also seem the most jaded about the current direction of the Forest Service, regarding timber harvesting. I do know that many timber folks can’t/won’t do Sale Administration, due to the different skills needed to prevent and mitigate logging mistakes, and control the quality of work by the loggers. With the slowdown in logging, there has been very little thought to having adequate replacements. In fact, certification as a Sale Administrator has become much more difficult than in the past.

    All too often, I have seen kids hired right “off the street” and thrown into woods for “training” with a paintgun. Isn’t it odd that there are no standards or Certification programs for the people who wield the paintguns?!?!

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    • Fotoware :
      With more “groundtruthing” threatened/promised, the Forest Service needs to be a lot more accurate in how projects go from planning to implementation. Chances are, projects will be implemented with mostly “Temporary Employees”, with little training and inadequate leadership.

      Fotoware, some very good points especially as they relate to collaborative involvement in projects. Our experience (Lolo Restoration Committee) working on projects on the Lolo NF has shown that the transition of projects from NEPA and planning staff to contracting officers and then Sale administrators is less than smooth and important details, viewed as critical by the collaborative, have slipped through the cracks and not made it into the contract, such as requirements for winter logging and the more sensitive “light touch” units. The prospect of adding temporary employees into the mix will only worsen the situation. As you say, greater accuracy is needed, perhaps in the form of at least one person who can follow a project from start to finish and be involved with the collaborative aspect as well so that the intentions of the ID team and collaborative are reflected on the ground.

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  14. Chelsea: Could you please add more specific details to this statement you made above?

    “Our experience (Lolo Restoration Committee) working on projects on the Lolo NF has shown that the transition of projects from NEPA and planning staff to contracting officers and then Sale administrators is less than smooth and important details, viewed as critical by the collaborative, have slipped through the cracks and not made it into the contract, such as requirements for winter logging and the more sensitive “light touch” units.”

    Specifically, what timber sale(s) are you talking about here? Can you elaborate a little more on just what “important details, viewed as critical by the collaborative, have slipped through the cracks and not made it into the contract?”

    In your view, is this “slipping through the cracks” simply a communication problem? Is it a Forest Service/agency culture problem?

    Why do you suppose that we often hear glowing accounts of “collaboration” in the media, yet we never seem to hear anything in the media about the aspects of collaborative projects that are “less than smooth” where “important details, viewed as critical by the collaborative, have slipped through the cracks and not made it into the contract?”

    Is there an inherent danger for the future of national forest management if the media, general public and politicians only hear about glowing examples of collaboration and not some of the problems associated with aspects of these projects?

    In your opinion, do certain industries, non-profit organizations or politicians have a vested interest in only letting the general public and media know about the good, and not about the “less than smooth” “slipping through the cracks” that’s apparently happening with some of these collaborative projects?

    I know about some of this stuff because my work partner at WildWest Institute, Jake Kreilick, is the co-chair of the Lolo Restoration Committee’s Westside working group. However, I think having you, in your position as co-chair of the Lolo Restoration Committee, answer some of these questions would be very helpful for all of here, as we consider and wade through these important issues. Thanks.

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    • Hi Matthew, It sounds like you’re raising two good, yet separate questions. One is whether Chelsea or others can point to specific examples of something getting lost in translation when a collaborative effort has to interface with FS contracting. The second seems to be about whether there might be some insidious motivation to only highlight positive aspects of collaborative efforts.

      If I’ve understood these right, let me offer a few scattered thoughts on each. As always, its from an optimistic perspective, but grounded in some pretty pragmatic experience, for what its worth.

      In my experience, the slipping through the cracks, as Chelsea calls it, is an issue and one that the agency cares about fixing. I’ve tried a few ways to do this and am working with a variety of folks to push out really basic tools to help reduce the likelihood of these communication problems. A key I see is to invite collaborative partners to participate in tracking that contracting process at appropriate points, perhaps like when draft RFPs are available for review, assuming there aren’t applicable prohibitions. Another key is to invite FS contracting officers (probably someone like a COR-T for those who follow the lingo) to join the collaborative discussions at certain key points so they hear the conversation first-hand and possibly contribute. Part of what can happen sometimes is that technical or legal requirements understood by Sale Administrators or Contracting Officers aren’t understood enough by participants, so the expectations end up being unrealistic from the start.

      On the second question, about why only the good gets highlighted, my sense is that way too many of us are trained to focus on a failure/success model of evaluation, as opposed to shared learning. The former tends to lead to the “no good deed goes unpunished” model of management; the later seems to open up other doors. Again, I’m working with a variety of folks inside and outside the FS to caste up a more learning-oriented approach, complete with tools and techniques for actually doing it. Maybe those and similar efforts can help move the discussion in such a way that we don’t feel as much of a need to focus on “good v bad” examples because even “problematic” efforts can be tremendous sources of learning which needs to be captured and built from.

      Hope this helps!

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      • My point was, how do you get increasingly-complex, collaborative-tuned, mega-vetted project plans, adequate in every way, accomplished on the ground, prior to bid? Such projects usually cover huge areas, and the local talent pools are very thin of candidates who can do the jobs. The smart forests should act quickly to snap up the best crew people, before others can pull the trigger. And, what level of monitoring will be required, and what skills will be needed by the monitors? Can those Forests offer more than 1039 hour temporary appointments? Can those Forests do the required high levels of quality under budget and personnel constraints? It seems odd to spend so much on the plans, and so little on the talent to implement them.

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        • Foto,

          Excellent question and point. In many ways, its the $64K question. One part of an answer is the those collaborative-tuned projects, as you nicely describe them, need to pay as much attention to implementation as to the decision itself. No sense deciding on a Ferrari or even a Ford if an entry-level Kia is all we can afford in the first place (sorry to any Kia enthusiasts!).

          Beyond that, you’re getting at some pretty serious questions about capacity that are stretching the best minds of the agency in very painful ways. And then, when folks in the agency reach out to new partners, constructive critics go on a rant about agency capture or worse.

          My sense is that the hyperbolic suspicion and the constraints on implementation capacity are linked. Maybe stepping back more often and talking about where we’re trying to go would be worthwhile. Maybe we’re ending up with unintended consequences or perverse incentives or flat out disincentives. If so, that’s a trap of our own making, all of us. What are we going to do differently?

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          • Thanks for offering your perspective “Optimist;” however, my question was specifically addressed to the co-chair of the Lolo Restoration Committee, regarding some of the inner workings and projects of the LRC. Those questions still remain. Thanks.

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  15. Hello Chelsea: Any chance that you, in your position as co-chair of the Lolo Restoration Committee, could answer some of these questions I asked you regarding projects the LRC is involved with? Thanks so much.

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  16. So, seems like the honest, substantive questions posed to one of the co-chairs of the Lolo Restoration Committee – regarding some of the inner workings and projects of the LRC – will be going without any response. That’s pretty much been our experience when it comes to some of these collaboratives answering questions in a public forum. Just thought I’d point this out to blog readers. Thanks.

    Reply

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