Brinda Sarathy’s Pinero Presentation

Thanks to Brinda Sarathy for this presentation, and also to Char Miller for sending. It is interesting and possibly serendipitous that we are discussing our future workforce- what happens when the FS either doesn’t have enough money to, or is forced into the ideological trap of, contracting.

If “the problem” is “federal employees take too long to get and cost too much (to paraphrase critiquest of planning), we have different solutions. Solutions include contracting, volunteers, concessionaires, and just reducing management (say dispersed recreation).

Even within contracting, though, there are contractors who follow federal laws (labor and immigration) and those who don’t. And it appears that the law-abiding are disadvantaged.. not IMHO a particularly desirable public policy.

I watched Brinda’s entire lecture and reflected on the time period I remember, when we were gradually changing from force account work to contracted work, for tree planting and cone collecting. I know many of the blog readers were also involved in this work in the same time period. I’m hoping that you will add your own views and historic perspectives.

There are so many interesting questions that her work raises; here are some of mine, feel free to add yours in the comments:

1) What agency’s responsibility is it to ensure that immigration and labor laws are being followed? Why or why not are those agencies doing their job?

2)Which laws that the FS must follow do contractors have to follow? For example, do they have to do diverse hiring? Is anyone checking on that? Presumably contractors are more “efficient”; how exactly do they get to be more “efficient”, by paying their workers below minimum wage, not having the same requirements as federal employees or ? (this is really the same question as about concessionaires, isn’t it?)

3) The spatial scale of benefits and 8A set-asides: if, as Brinda’s graph seems to show MOST contractors in southern Oregon in the ecosystem services business are should they still qualify for a set-aside? Should set asides be more flexible based on the specific kind of contract and the spatial scale?

Brinda mentions as a recommendation using “best value” contracting. Previously on the blog here, we cited this FS letter (Ron Hooper, 2007) on best value contracting that used the language from the 2006 Approps Bill on local workers:

n evaluating bids and proposals, give consideration to
local contractors who are from, and who provide employment and training for, dislocated and displaced workers in an economically disadvantaged rural community, including those historically timber-dependent areas that have been affected by reduced timber harvesting on Federal lands and other forest-dependent rural communities isolated from significant alternative employment opportunities:

4) Has this letter made a difference? Why or why not?

One thing I wanted to mention about her point on Paul Bunyan (apologies for my X treme-pedantic observation)- actually some people (based on this note from Wikipedia) think the character originated as a French-Canadian, I guess which would make him a “white” male but not a US citizen.

Here’s the link to Brinda’s presentation.

Note: I started a new category called “Workforce” for this multifaceted topic of “how the work is to be done.”

32 thoughts on “Brinda Sarathy’s Pinero Presentation”

  1. I worked with one of the largest FS contractors for 12 years (Hoedads 1974-1986) doing a variety of forestry labor but mostly tree planting. Now virtually all that manual labor is done by Latinos, an almost invisible labor force sometimes making less than we did decades ago.

    Without a doubt the Latinos could outwork most anglo crews but the real competitive advantage those contractors running them had was that they were a largely docile work force, too often illegal back then, and due to that would put up with conditions we never would have. Contractors could work them into the ground and never hear complaints. It was cruel and unjust. I would have preferred that local workers had been given some precedence but what really galled me was the profits made off this exploited work force. Currently in SW oregon, contractors running “guest workers” can dive on bids and win contracts out from under people following regs about payment of workers.

    I know that this has been changing but it is a long time coming.

    BTW, I could see why it made much more sense to use contractors for planting and other short duration jobs needing a lot of experienced people but using contractors for things like stand exams was BS, it could have been done by FS crews and the idea that money was saved by using contractors was also BS.

    And now, instead of district fire crews, private contractors are too often relied on to keep crews sitting for months, often without any work, waiting to go out on fires. People I knew on fire crews in Oregon became broke and homeless that way if there was not a good fire season. This is saving money on the backs of the poor.

  2. Interesting comments from Greg. I agree with his point about local contractors losing out on work to businesses that utilize migrant laborers via the H2B program. Here in Montana, both the majority of the tree planting and pre-commercial thinning contracts are going to these companies, largely based out of Oregon and N. California. I do agree with Greg that for tree planting, perhaps the day has passed when local, or even American laborers are willing to do that back-breaking work. But in the case of pre-commercial thinning, there is no excuse. We have a lot of skilled thinning crews and I’m sure had far more at one time.

    Brinda asks some very good questions about the ability of the Forest Service to monitor these contractors that are using migrant laborers. In the vein of Sen. Merkeely’s American Jobs in American Forests Act (language here:, I think State’s should strengthen their due diligence and requirements for approving the use of H2B workers–I’m not convinced that these businesses have really tried hard enough to find local workers.

    But I also believe that land management agencies have a responsibility to structure their contracts to be accessible to local contractors–so no more of these multi-forest, multi-year IDIQ contracts, and no more leaving the pre-commercial thinning out of stewardship contracts and instead putting it out via task order to their “stand-by” migrant crews.

    Finally, regarding Sharon’s question about efficiency, it is my experience being married to an independent logger/forest practitioner, the time he spends invoicing clients, providing free estimates, etc. is not paid. I imagine in the case of federal contracting, preparation of technical proposals and other administrative work goes unpaid at least some of the time. For small businesses, if your aren’t producing something, you’re not getting paid, so if your equipment breaks down–you are SOL.

    I guess my point is really a question: is the pursuit of efficiency always in our best interest? The same could be asked about the pursuit of “lowest bid”. Some say government workers are not efficient and waste tax payer dollars, but they are also able to provide stable incomes for their families and stability for their communities, which is something many small forestry businesses struggle to do.

    • Chelsea- within my lifetime we went from force account planting to contract planting. Could the culture have changed that quickly, that that work changed from being acceptable “Anglo” work to unacceptable (that would be, in my age class, from us thinking it’s OK, to our kids not thinking it’s OK ? Indeed, I think that that would be a good topic for the “People’s Research Agenda”. Also in terms of backbreakingness, digging fire line is pretty high up there also, yet I see crews of all many ethnic persuasions still working. I have to wonder if it’s the pay, more than the physical difficulty. Or perhaps planting baby trees is not as appealing to the male sensibilities as “fighting” fires? Just throwing out hypotheses here…

  3. I look forward to watching this presentation in the coming days.

    I’ve mentioned these “Restoration Principles” a few times on this blog over the years.

    The principles were developed in 2002 and 2003 following many meetings between forest activists, restoration practitioners and scientists. At one point, the effort to craft the restoration principles included representatives of the “Mobile Workforce.” Personally, I found inclusion of those representing the mobile workforce to be a welcome addition while crafting these principles, especially since most of us hadn’t thought about issues of restoration and restoration contracting from the perspective of the MW, such as our initial thoughts about having the restoration work done by a “local” workforce . Suffice to say, there is a lot of outright racism and also a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding concerning the MW.

    Here’s a little snip concerning the MW from the principles:

    6. Economic Framework Principle—Develop positive incentives to encourage ecologically sound restoration.

    Economic Incentives Criteria

    Investments in restoring ecosystems should be applied across land ownerships in cooperation with willing landowners and should be tiered to regional and local ecological needs.

    Successful restoration on public lands requires reforming federal agency funding mechanisms and contracting procedures to remove incentives for ecologically and socially damaging activities. Such reforms should include the following:

    1. Specific appropriations must commit consistent, adequate multi-year funding for all aspects of restoration – assessment , implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and adaptive management.

    2. The current timber sale program continues to give priority to economic interests and is not appropriate for restoring forests. However, restoration byproducts derived from ecologically based restoration projects may have value secondarily. Contracting mechanisms, therefore, must be developed that are driven by ecological objectives.

    3. Contracts for restoration work on public lands must be awarded on “best value” rather than “lowest bid” criteria. Best value should be based on desired ecological, community, and work force objectives, which ensure contractors possess the necessary skills and capacities to carry out high-quality work, have successfully performed such work in the past, and provide social and economic benefits to communities.

    4. Preference for “best value” contracts on public lands should not exclude any business or group of persons, but should be given to local crews and small businesses, underserved communities, and mobile workers, who can demonstrate direct knowledge and experience of the ecosystem in which the work will be done. Procurement mechanisms should encourage contractors to include a training and employment component that will increase the capacity of existing displaced timber workers and mobile workers to access and perform high-skill, long-duration work.

    The Mobile Workforce consists of economically disadvantaged, under-represented and culturally diverse crews of migrant and community-based forest workers who perform services such as tree planting, thinning, brush disposal, prescribed burning, trail construction, and so on.

  4. Matthew… I don’t understand about the “Mobile Workforce”.. are you saying that if you have a project in, say, the Blue Mountains, that people from Wyoming, Pennsylvania, or Michoacan should have equal opportunities to bid on those contracts as people in those communities?

    Let’s just call them all “non-locals” for the time being…are you saying they are “culturally diverse” within crews or among crews?

    This may seem pedantic, but I think it’s really important to talk about because otherwise we have diverse 😉 policies that may be working at cross purposes.

    I’m sure racism is a factor in some people’s minds, but as with all imputations of bad intent, let’s see if we can find other (rational) explanations for people’s behavior.

  5. Sharon, I don’t understand what you don’t understand.

    The Mobile Workforce consists of economically disadvantaged, under-represented and culturally diverse crews of migrant and community-based forest workers who perform services such as tree planting, thinning, brush disposal, prescribed burning, trail construction, etc.

  6. OK, let’s start with “economically disadvantaged.” Conceivably the only reason a person would work on a reforestation crew is because they need a job. So…. how do you measure “economically disadvantaged”. Perhaps, if otherwise the household income is 0.But then wouldn’t everyone be equally disadvantaged (other income of 0?).

    “underrepresented” in the civilian labor force? or underrepresented in say “reforestation crews in southern Oregon”? or ecosystem services workers in the Pacific Northwest? This seems like a highly scale-dependent measure.

    “Culturally diverse crews”- Do you mean two genders and a variety of cultures on a crew? ‘Cause I’m not sure I’m seeing that on many of the ones Brinda is talking about.

    How can the community-based crews fall within the definition of “Mobile”? If Mobile means both driving 10 miles to the unit or driving 2000 miles from Pennsylvania, does Mobile really have meaning?

    • Honestly, Sharon, you have no idea what “economically disadvantaged” means in terms of minority, migrant workers and the well-documented past and current poor treatment of such workers in the US? Or you’ve never heard any examples of these same minority, migrant workers being “underrepresented” in terms of labor rights and justice? Also, I assume “culturally diverse” means non-white in this context. And I’ve never heard of gender coming under the “culturally diverse” banner.

      I didn’t write the specific language of the Restoration Principles, although I was a participant in the development of the Principles at a few meetings, a were a few dozen others. As I recall, representatives of the “Mobile Workforce” (that’s not my name for them, but how they identified themselves) attended a meeting in Spokane and educated us about some of their contracting and labor issues, as well as some of the great work they are doing to help restore national forests. I’m sorry if some of the details have been lost to memory over the past ten years. I would sure think that Brinda Sarathy would know plenty more about the subject. Thanks.

      • First of all, Matthew, I don’t intend to pick on you in addressing these questions. Obviously I’ve thought about those terms before. There is a bit of shorthand which I would like to unpack.

        So there are a variety of individuals who are economically disadvantaged and towns or ethnic groups are on the average relatively disadvantaged. Who are we picking out for what attention here, and why, compared to others?

        Looking at this from the balcony, we give out taxpayer dollars to do useful work. We can give it to federal employees, or contractors. Contractors have been chosen because they are cheaper. why are they cheaper? Because they are not following the same rules that federal employees would have to (say safety, time off, health plans)? or are they are just “better, more efficient”. Now why would that be, since conceivably the same people in the community would be hired as temps or by a contractor?

        I don’t know this to be the case, but it seems like people who blow off rules (pay rules, safety rules, immigration rules) bid less and if no one’s checking they are “successful.”

        Then we wonder why people are mistreated. I would propose we study and understand why or if contractors are cheaper, and if contractors were all equally held to following all laws, would they still be cheaper than temps, and why.

        Because it seems like if we tried treating immigrants “not legally allowed to work” with all the rights and protections as “immigrants legally allowed to work” and non=immigrants , then others would be able to compete effectively with them. Or if we granted them legal status, new folks would be imported who could be mistreated and underbid the immigrants already allowed to work, the current citizens and the newly legalized.

        That’s what Brinda’s work seemed to show about the effects of the amnesty.

        Am I missing something?

  7. My worker managed contracting cooperative worked from Alaska to Arizona, bidding on FS and BLM jobs, mostly planting but a variety of other labor as well. This planting work (KV funded) was of course highly dependent on the level of federal harvest and allocated funds for replanting old clearcuts which peaked out decades ago. With the decline in those in the early 80s, we took an economic hit as well as the other dozen cooperative contractors in the NW, almost all of whom folded to make the story short.

    The problem is that in order to keep working year round you have to work in a variety of locations, there is usually not enough local work to keep a crew busy all year. We planted the Oregon Coast range in the grim winter months, then followed the retreating snow line into the Cascades, northern and central Rockies. That kind of migratory work appeals to younger people but hard for any stability. And planting will get you through only half the year anyway.

    This kid from DC did learn the hard work, lots of younger people could as we did, many of us not from laboring families. But a problems for any inexperienced crew is competing against other contractors running highly motivated crews, most lately latino who could work inexperienced crews into the ground. And baldly stated, there is no #%$ reason why anyone should have to work *that* hard, it did not have to be so brutal, impelled now by the exploitation of a captive force of mute guest workers.

    Spending time in the busted logging towns of the NW, I much regret that few other young people now have this opportunity . And despite the fact that they ran many coops out of business, my heart went out to the illegal workers whose contractors competed against us, some of the hardest working people in the country.

    BTW, we took a lot of pride in our work although maybe considered “poor” by many more comfortable people. My friends still in woods work call it “the fellowship of the rain gear”.

    In the long run my planting crew ended up kicking out 4 lawyers, an MD, 4 PhDs, and a senior level FS fire commander amongst other things. Those chained to their desks seemed to have pitifully narrow lives in comparison. It used to be that many FS people worked their way up starting with manual work, but few do that now. In later years I did the manual work again since I loved it so much, but now so much manual labor outside fire fighting is done by an almost invisible work force. To those who looked at me as some kind of lost white trash stuck in the work, I made haste to toss my Cornell doctorate at them since i did not like being viewed as trash.

  8. Contracting can work but a lot of costs are borne by marginalized workers. Unlike federal workers, the contract crews are not paid for the often onerous amount of travel time to work sites which can add up to 4-5 hours/day. When we worked in my cooperative, we camped out as close to sites as we could to minimize that but almost all contractor crews now put their people up in motels far from work, and the workers often have to pay for that.

    In and out of academia on research grants, in 2004 I worked on a “restoration” project using brush saws to clear riparian plantings. Money was from local watershed council through a temp agency since it was easier. We got $8.50/hour compared to FS summer temps next to us making at least $12/hour. And since we could not ride in FS vehicles, we had to use out own for which we were not paid a nickel. One day I put in 105 miles between job sites, and that is on the job, not commuting to the station.

    Of course since we were considered white trash this did not matter and it had gone on a few years with nobody speaking out until me. I could have put in a formal labor complaint and sunk their boat fast. The GS-12 fish bio recognized this problem and apologized to me, since I was of course a better sort unlike the others. Would he want his kids out there working like that?

    It has become acceptable to treat workers like that, and even worse when they are brown and half hidden.

    And that is too often what happens to the rural labor force, since it was typical we were not supposed to complain,

    The only decent laboring jobs are often with the government in rural Oregon.

    This task should have been run through the FS district but of course taking on more federal workers is discouraged.

    It was a small piece of money with only a month of work, like much restoration work.

    • Greg, thanks much for these observations. It’s great to hear on the blog from someone who has been there.

      So what I am hearing from you is not that the (some) contractors are making things physically worse or unsafe or paying below the legal rate, but that they are cheaper because they are simply paying workers less and then transferring the costs to the workers themselves- not actually paying what most of us would consider to be the true costs.

      And the workers have to go along because there are no other jobs in their community and they need the money.

      Is that an accurate read on what you said?

  9. I keep talking about the forestry labor cooperative I worked with for 12 years. Here is a link with a number of other links to the articles listed below.

    Hoedads Reforestation Cooperative


    ^ “Hoedads Celebrate Reforestation History”. West by Northwest Online Magazine. Late Summer 2001. Retrieved September 13, 2009.

    ^ Steve Nix. “hoedads-the-tool-the-cooperative.htm”. Retrieved October 3, 2009.
    ^ a b “Tree Planters: The Mighty Hoedads, Back for a 30 year Reunion, Recall Their Grand Experiment”. Eugene Weekly. August 1, 2001. Retrieved September 13, 2009.

    ^ Stuart Brand, ed. (1980). The Next Whole Earth Catalog. ‘Point.

    ^ “Back to the Woods, 30 years later”. Register Guard. July 30, 2001. Retrieved October 3, 2009.

    Heilman, Robert Leo (Autumn 2011). “With a Human Face: When Hoedads Walked The Earth”. Oregon Quarterly.

  10. Yes, that is accurate but of course more complex than that but close enough.

    The contention is that some contractors using guest workers can;t possibly be paying the legal rate at the prices they got the contracts.

    I know in the PNW the FS regional office is cracking down on this but I am vague on the details. I can find out more. I have been out of this for some years but have close friends still involved in contracting.

    We can talk by email more on this and i can put you in touch with ethical friends who can speak to this much better than me.

  11. Another very interesting exchange of ideas… Can private sector motivations (which will most always seek to optimize profit) be harnessed toward public interests? I believe Sharon was getting at this question most accurately when she asked whether private contractors would be more financially “efficient” if they had to follow all the same rules that federal employees must AND these rules were enforced. If we level the playing field, we may indeed find that there is less difference between utilizing private contractors versus federal employees from a cost perspective, relative to a given project. However, it may still make more sense in the long run to move toward private contracting as a way of creating a more flexible work force that can ebb and flow as needed. This allows decision-makers more freedom to focus squarely on doing what is “best for the land”, rather than being distracted by an additional consideration of what is most likely to keep the agency workforce employed over time.

    So, let’s hold contractors accountable to the same standards as the federal govt in terms of pay, safety, work day restrictions etc (and stop fussing with whether it will save money at the front end), and then figure out what kind of permanent workforce is needed to be sure the design and implementation of management plans are in the public’s best interest (thereby saving money in the long run by a more streamlined permanent federal workforce).

    Just some thoughts to add in. I know this is a stark oversimplification but…

    • Well, Mike, the only thing I think about “what is most likely to keep the workforce employed” and “ebb and flow as needed” is that given the other jobs available in any given community, the choice of which way to go could make locals more or less competitive. And I’m not advocating a particular path, I’m just advocating being conscious that the choices of how to procure services have outcomes for the community and for other sources of workers..

      It is just very peculiar to me that this important topic has never been studied. It seems fairly simple. Compare regulations for contractors to FS requirements. Then review whether contractors are following the regulations. Seems like the latter would be FOIAble.

      Maybe someone has done this work, but we haven’t seen it?

  12. I’m on the same page with you Sharon. Seems like this could be a really interesting topic for more research. Does anyone have any good info on this? Once we’ve got solid number (comparing apples to apples), then we can move toward other questions regarding whether this would be a good idea or not.

  13. A very interesting thread, indeed. Going back to Sharon and Matthew’s exchange, I want to make a few points and ask a few questions. First, assuming we follow Matthew’s restoration principles–which I like for the most part–how do we rate local workers against migrant workers if bidding on the same job and if not using lowest bid? Is this explained somewhere in the principles? If I were to re-write them I would clarify to say that local crews with good past performance would be given first preference, and migrant workers second-also assuming that they had good past performance which includes treatment of workers and following the laws. Within the last category, migrant workers who were American citizens would be given first preference before workers on H2B visas–a program that is supposed to allow businesses to bring in workers only when there is a shortage of American workers.

    I also think we need to be careful about painting tree planting and reforestation work as work that one only does if they have no other choice. As Greg pointed out, many people find this work very rewarding and enjoyable, especially if part of a larger mix of varied project work. I believe this is how many successful contractors are making it–by being multi-skilled–in the case of my husband, he can do smallish thinning jobs in the summer and winter, riparian/restoration planting in the spring and fall, small-scale logging in summer or winter, tree pruning in the early spring, custom milling and other arborist work any time of year. These are the kinds of businesses we should be encouraging–they provide opportunities for workers with fewer skills to get in and learn, and workers with more skills to plan, manage and conduct more complex and varied work.

    To take this one step further, I think the way we think and talk about tree planting and tree thinning is very much colored by the way that the Forest Service (I can only speak to this agency, do not know about BLM) has implemented service contracting–that is via large contracts (both dollar, acreage and geographic distribution). Were the Forest Service still using the ‘green slip’ program or something similar for service contracting where contracts were much smaller and scaled to a local workforce, the above business scenario I described would not be so rare. We assume that these contractors have to specialize in one or two things–either low-wage work such as planting and thinning, or higher-wage, higher-skill work such as logging or other equipment-intensive work.

    I’m sure I had more points, but I’ll stop for now.

  14. Chelsea- thanks for reminding me about falling into the trap that the work is “only if they can’t do other work.” I even remember when tree planting and climbing trees for cone collection was done force account, and even I liked climbing trees, although I certainly wasn’t as fast as the contractors. But it certainly wasn’t that I didn’t like the work. Plus there are so many youngsters nowadays that are in great shape due to rock climbing and more extreme fitness work that I was into back in the day.

    And tree planting is good honest work with a positive result that you can see at the end of the day. Many people (at least in the old days) preferred that to indoor work for a variety of reasons.

    I looked around on the internet about H2B visas and found

    A. Criteria for Determining Employer’s Eligibility

    The employer must satisfy the following conditions to import foreign workers under the H-2B visa:

    1. The job and the employer’s need must be one time, seasonal, peak load or intermittent

    2. The job must be for less than one year

    3. There must be no qualified and willing U.S. workers available for the job

    B. Criteria for Determining Employee’s Eligibility

    You are eligible for the H-2B Visa provided:

    1. You have a valid job offer from a US employer to perform temporary or seasonal non-agricultural work

    2. You intend to return to your home country on expiration of the visa

    Seems like the way the FS structures the work could lead it to being either eligible for this program or not..

  15. Chelsea et al,

    Thanks for all of your insightful information. Sounds like you’ve got a lot of experience in this arena. I really like the way you’ve analyzed the situations in relation to the Montana Forest Restoration principles. In particular, I think your recommendation for an amendment to the restoration principles that gives first preference to “local” with good past performance over “mobile” workers with good past performance is a good ting in terms of building local community resiliency, even though it may bring up some pretty touchy topics politically. To be blunt, I am wondering if many of the “local” people in question are poor whites, while many in the mobile workforce are non-whites. Is this a correct understanding (generally)? If so, I think there is a real need to have honest dialogue that speaks directly to this tension. If its not correct, well then I’ve learned something new…Any input is appreciated. Thanks.

  16. Mike, I agree that it is best to be upfront about this, even if touchy politically. We will never resolve any problems if we don’t talk about things people disagree strongly about. All that will happen is that the two parties will use the issue to try to beat each other over the head and try to win the next election. As a citizen of a swing state in this election, I am right in the thick of such things and no number of op-eds saying things have always been this way are going to change my thinking (whew, thanks for letting me vent!).

    I would bet that the composition of the workforce varies by region of the country.
    I don’t know that there is data available about it.. anyone?

    I think Chelsea makes a good point about logging and other equipment intensive work.. we could be seeing two different kinds of work in terms of workforce as well. I do know that people have surveyed “loggers” in various parts of the country for various reasons and perhaps have data on their ethnic composition.On the other hand, if they lack legal status, and there are language barriers, they might be unwilling to come forward. On the third hand (sorry if I sound like an economist ;)), the logging/forest products community is small enough that the composition would be known probably by anyone working in a given area.

  17. Yes, I agree with you Sharon. Its really important to be upfront as much as possible regarding the politics of these discussions. I think its most important to speak plainly about one’s biases and objectives. We can model what we would like to see more of in our national politics.

    Thanks again to Chelsea for bringing up some interesting stuff to kick around. I know there was a lot of work done about ten years ago to try to move toward promoting more localized workers doing smaller-scale projects but I’ve lost touch with that conversation. Can anyone point me to the best site for updated information? I’ve got a few in mind but would be interested in learning more. I also think its interesting to consider the potential (going back to some earlier conversations) for requiring large-scale contracts/projects to be segmented into differing areas that utilize local small-businesses. Is this already happening? Again, pardon my ignorance on this. Mathew or Chelsea (or others), do you know if this is happening in MT?

  18. Sharon, Mike and others–Being somewhat obsessed about these issues as I am, I can confirm that most tree planting and thinning work on federal lands is being accomplished by contractors who use the H2B visa program. I found this website to confirm my suspicion where you can look up applications by state (contractors are required to submit an application to each state they intend to utilize H2B workers in, how many they would like to use and what they plan to pay them). The website is here:

    I am in the midst of a study looking at participation of local businesses in the SW Crown CFLRP project here in western Montana and this study has shown that only 30% of labor-intensive work (primarily tree planting and thinning, and a few other categories) went to local contractors between 2005 and 2011. Local being defined as businesses from any county that touches the SW Crown project boundary–5 counties total.

    Not to stray too much, but I have also looked at timber sale records on the Lolo NF and found that for the same time period (2005-2011) the vast majority of timber sales went to Montana businesses. However, what is interesting in this case is that most of the sales, by number and volume, were purchased by sawmills. This makes me wonder what effect this trend is having on independent loggers in the state.

    @Mike, I’m not sure I would categorize the local thinners I know as poor whites, nor are they all young and single. I know and know of a handful of thinning crews in this region, many of whom are about the age to have young families and who seem to like the work. Again, the folks I know in the industry do it because they love it, not because they feel they have to. I think it would be fascinating to profile the restoration/forestry workforce in the region to get a better understanding of their specialization/breadth of work, age of proprietors and workers, attitudes about federal contracting and general feelings about the work and industry in general. Another item for the People’s research agenda (or a masters thesis).

    I’m sure I have said too much already, but I want to make one clarifying point: the restoration principles quoted by Matthew are not the Montana Forest Restoration principles, but a different set of principles developed by conservation/environmental groups across the country. The principles quoted by Matthew actually go into much more detail regarding the restoration workforce and contracting, which I applaud.

  19. Chelsea and Mike- for whatever reason, I share your interest. So we would need to get some funding to get a graduate student (and possibly a university or FS professor to supervise the graduate student). Let’s do some more exploration of potential interested professors and funding sources.

    Everyone: I think I will review Brinda’s book chapter by chapter and note interesting things… would anyone like to join me in virtual book club?

  20. Chelsea,

    Your research is really interesting and was enlightening to me, particularly with regard to the stats on the SW Crown project. I had been assuming that “local” folks were really benefiting from all aspects of the project implementation, but apparently not as much as I had thought. Its also surprising to me that so much work is going in the H2B program. Again, my assumptions were otherwise. Thanks for your clarification on the “poor whites” terminology. I hope that didn’t come across as condescending in any way. I just don’t know too many people who are monetarily wealthy that do tree planting and other good restoration work in the woods. I completely understand that many people do choose this work because it is good meaningful work. I actually worked on a tree planting crew for a couple seasons many moons ago and could have gone that route myself. The “second” paycheck is the work environment, camaraderie of fellow workers and the sense of accomplishment and doing something good for the land. I get all that and sometimes envy people who do that work.

    Its also interesting, although not as surprising, that many of the timber sales are purchased by sawmills. As you already know, the commodity driven downward pressure on timber value forces sawmills to bid directly for timber, so that they can better control the cost of the actual timber harvest through subcontracting the logging at lower prices. Independent loggers are stuck because they are not able to out bid sawmills and are then left to take whatever contract work they can get from the sawmills. But this is the nature of the industry right now. As long as timber coming off NFs must compete with the global commodity market, there will always be downward pressure on timber values, which forces this situation. The alternative of independent loggers bidding on timber sales directly might be good in the short term for the independent loggers, but could lead to further sawmill closures over time. The larger system is just not as sustainable as it should be for local businesses all around….at least that’s how I understand it currently.

    Finally, thanks for the clarification on which restoration principles Mathew has been citing. If these are the principles in which Sustainable Northwest and NNFP were involved, I do recall when those principles were developed and I actually participated in their creation when I was on the Board with NNFP. I had been assuming (again incorrectly) that many of those principles had been incorporated into the MT Forest Restoration Principles. I hereby commit to doing my homework on all such principles! 🙂

    Sharon, I’m swamped with work so I’m not sure I can take on another reading project. But I’d be happy to stay involved if another reliable person might want to summarize the chapters. 🙂

    • Mike,
      Thanks for the insight as to why mills are the predominant purchaser of federal timber sales, I’m not sure why I hadn’t put it together, but it is very helpful for me to understand, especially since I will be presenting the findings from my research to the SW Crown this week.

      And just to I’m not focusing on the “bad news” in regards to the SW Crown, nearly all of the heavy-equipment work went to local contractors, which is great because as we all know that tends to be high wage, high skill work.

      Overall, roughly half of the dollars invested so far via the CFLR Program went to local contractors and another 35% went to contractors in other parts of Montana. Not at all bad numbers.

      Also, in reference to the poor white discussion, my point was more that many people choose to be “poor’ and work in the woods rather than be potentially “rich” by doing something else.

      • Chelsea,

        Since you are presenting on the SW Crown, I would encourage you to ask Gordy Sanders about how the timber sale purchasing works out. I asked him earlier today and he clarified that Pyramid most often gets out-bid by loggers from whom Pyramid then buys the logs. There is a lot more to how this all works, but it did seem to contradict what you were finding in terms of who gets the timber sale contracts. My statements may hold more true with other sawmills that are more commodity focused than Pyramid, but since Pyramid has moved more into niche markets with their products, they also carry higher “fixed” costs, which inhibits their cost margins on the purchasing end of things.

        Gordy did also clarify that there are “certified” logging companies that are independent, and then there are independent loggers that do not carry the same certification. The latter have it really hard these days because they are not able to bid on FS timber sales due to FARs I believe. In any case, give Gordy a call if you are interested (and let me/us know what more you learn).

        Cheers, Mike

  21. OK, too many principles, too little time…

    Are there

    1) Matthew’s forest restoration principles from NGO’s
    2) Montana forest restoration principles
    3) NFF principles

    Are 1, 2 and 3 the same???

    Yes, I am willing to read and summarize the chapters. There are also many interesting citations.

  22. Howdy,

    There are the MT Forest Restoration principles, and then there are the National Restoration Principles of which Mathew is speaking, at least that I am aware. The latter are the principles in which NFFP (National Network of Forest Practitioners) was involved. Just for clarity, NFF was not directly involved in any of the negotiations. I was on the NFFP Board at the time these principles were being created. The section regarding the Mobile Workforce that Mathew cited was included because of NFFPs influence in the process. Prior to NFFP’s involvement, most of the NGO environmental groups were not focusing on worker’s rights (not because they were opposed to worker’s rights. It just wasn’t their focus). Those principles were completed in 2002 or 2003 as I recall.

    • Hello: I’ve been out hunting the past four days so am just catching up. I think Mike sums up things pretty well here, but again to restate:

      The National Restoration Principles “A Citizens Call for Ecological Forest Restoration: Forest Restoration Principles and Criteria” were developed in 2002 and 2003 following many meetings between forest activists, restoration practitioners and scientists. Our organization, and many other forest protection organizations and activists, had a roll in developing these Principles.

      A copy of these Restoration Principles

      As I recall, a few years following the development of the National Restoration Principles, an effort got underway in Montana to development a set of Montana Restoration Principles. This effort, mainly in 2006 and 2007, was a direct result of the crafting of the National Restoration Principles and many of the same Montana organizations and activists that were involved in the original National Principles, also took part in developing the MT Restoration Principles.

      So that’s a brief timeline as I remember it. I will say that there is a real worry among some of those who helped develop the MT Forest Restoration Principles that the Principles have sort of been hijacked by the MT timber industry, Forest Service, certain MT politicians and some MT ‘collaborator’ environmental groups (see supporters of Tester’s mandated logging bill, for example) to justify questionable Forest Service projects, which many of us believe are not following the spirit or intent of the Montana Forest Restoration Principles. There has also been concern expressed by longtime participants in these processes that the entire statewide Montana Forest Restoration Committee has similarly become co-opted by politics and the agenda of the timber industry and environmental ‘collaborators.’

      In other words, the situation with both the Montana Forest Restoration Principles and the Committee could be summed up rather nicely by reading Caitlin Burke’s new research study, which we highlighted here on this blog in March: Who Litigates, Who Collaborates and Why?


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