Subpanel to explore discrepancy in state-federal logging levels

From E&E News..
Here is a link and below is an excerpt.

For example, Washington state’s Department of Natural Resources over the past decade harvested an average of 566 million board feet per year on roughly 2.2 million acres of state forests, generating about $168.6 million annually, or more than $300 for every thousand board feet, according to Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council.

But on the 9.3 million acres of federal forests in Washington, 129.2 million board feet was harvested in 2010, earning $651,000, or $5 per thousand board-feet, Partin said.

The discrepancy is due in part to the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, which lengthen project reviews on federal lands and subject many of them to lawsuits, Partin said. In addition, higher slash disposal and road maintenance costs on Forest Service lands bring less money back to government, he said.

“There are opportunities to do a better job of managing our national forests,” he said.

Some have proposed increasing harvests by lifting NEPA, the 1969 law that requires full disclosure by agencies of the environmental impacts of federally authorized or funded projects.

For example, Oregon lawmakers last year proposed placing roughly 1.5 million acres of the state’s federal forests in a timber trust where NEPA would be replaced by state law. Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) last Congress proposed phasing out Secure Rural Schools by requiring the Forest Service to meet revenue targets through timber harvests that would be exempt from NEPA.

But while Bishop’s subcommittee has pledged to shine a spotlight on NEPA this Congress, environmentalists have argued the law is critical to ensuring that the public has a say in how its lands are managed (E&E Daily, Jan. 16).

Most environmental groups support thinning projects that avoid old growth, reduce the severity of wildfires and gird forests against pests. But few groups have endorsed clearcuts, which are common on state forests and help account for the greater harvest levels.

There is a hearing tomorrow at 10.
Here’s the link. Can’t tell if it’s televised..

So here’s my take. When the Forest Service had the Gridlock Reduction effort, I worked in NEPA in DC. My boss, Fred Norbury, used to say “how can we say it takes too long and costs too much, when we don’t know how long it takes or how much it costs?”. The FS has been tracking how long it takes, since, I believe, but not how much it costs, neither NEPA work nor appeals. And for some reason, despite the Administration’s desire for transparency in government, we seem unable to find out how much litigation is costing. I’m just pointing out that we could have a more meaningful conversation about costs, if the Forest Service, OGC and DOJ would keep track of them and tell the citizens and their elected officials. In my opinion.

10 thoughts on “Subpanel to explore discrepancy in state-federal logging levels”

  1. What a coincidence. I just did a story on “State vs. Federal” timber sales…and used Washington as an example. I also used British Columbia. For the last 10 years, excepting therefrom the last 4 years of recesion, the Ministry of Forestry in B.C. put 1.2 billion dollars into the treasury from timber sales for 600 million in costs. I might also add that the “province” of B.C. owns 98% of the forest. The Canadian Feds own only 2%. That’s akin to Montana owning what the Forest Service does now. The state of Washington made $3.00 for every $1.00 in cost. So did Idaho. Every state timber sale program makes money, while the feds lose. Why is that? If the states can do it, why can’t the feds? The “below cost timber sale” always was a scam. Let’s create below cost sales, and then decry them. Hell, the contractor paid for the roads all along.

    I guess I should add, that the cost for “sale Prep” and “sale admin” isn’t really that much higher than the states. In fact, most USFS timber sales in MOntana make money, but when you figure in the “sunk costs” of the NEPA EIS…they lose. Of course, the USFS refuses to tell the people how much it costs to do NEPA…but we can find clues in the rare cases where the USFS has “contracted” out NEPA EIS’s. Where the USFS really loses money, as far as the “project economics goes,” is in the follow up treatments…PCT, RX burning, once again my favorite money wasting pop forestry…the “slashing and burning of small diameter trees @ $600/acre,” “active road decomissioning” at $15,000 a mile. One could go on. Slashing of small diameter trees maybe pure forestry…but you’ll never see the states waste money on that.

  2. “In addition, higher slash disposal and road maintenance costs on Forest Service lands bring less money back to government, he said.”

    There IS value in spending money on this, and other non-commercial tasks. The more money generated by timber can pay for more things like thinning submechantable trees. The higher the value of the sawlogs, the more goals we can accomplish, especially in Collaborative projects.

    • Larry, I certainly don’t have a problem with timber sale “profits” staying on the forests (i.e. stewardship)to fund non-commercial. I’d rather it stay there than go into the rat hole of the treasury. I love PCT and I don’t have a big problem with rx burns. But on a lot of these projects I look at in Montana,they spend way more on this peripheral stuff than what they make in profits, which means it comes out of the budget, which means less is spent on preparing more EIS’s for more projects. Now, I don’t know how much of these peripherals really get done? It would be neat to scrutinize a typical Forest budget and see how much is spent on “slashing small diameter” trees…but …my eyes glaze over to easily. Lord knows how much more good non-commercial could be happening if the USFS didn’t have to spend half a million dollars on one EIS to assuage our radical friends. But then, I guess the public doesn’t have a right to know that.

      I also don’t mean to bash the USFS too much. As I’ve shown before, on non-litigated forests in Colorado and Arkansas, they can be pretty damn effecient. I’ve tried to wrap my head around, and seek balance, on how much blame do we assign the radical enviros and how much blame lies with the USFS for declining timber harvests.We all know the USFS wanted to reduce harvest in the 90’s…the whole “new perspectives” thing came about under Bush…not Clinton. Here’s a thought experiment. If there was no litigation…say like in British Columbia…how much would the USFS have reduced harvest in the 90’s in response to “changing public values”? 60%? 50%? I’ve always wanted to know how much Jack Ward Thomas would have liked to see harvest set at. Must be that “cone of silence” thing Sharon talks of. I guess what I’m driving towards…is on some forests, like those in Montana, it seems the USFS culture has been to manage them more like a national parks than on forests like the Ouachita where they harvest about 60% of what they did in the 80’s. Maybe it’s a matter of the USFS letting “timber sale program money” flow to places of least resistance. Maybe it’s all my imagination. Maybe it’s the “dreamy Oxy.” Anyway, I think the USFS employees do a damn good job, when their hands aren’t tied. Believe me, I know.

  3. A 3 year informal study by the National Forests in Florida t showed that sale prep was 72% of the total sale cost and 27 % of the sale prep cost was EIA (NEPA) related. NFs in FL had no appeals or litigation.

    For a comparison of state (Oregon, Trust Managed) v. federal (Siuslaw N.F. NW forest plan) see slides 16 and 17 of the PowerPoint linked to A huge difference.

    On Tuesday 26 at 10:00 AM (EST) the House subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation will hold a hearing on this very subject (state v federal timber mgmt). These hearings are streamed on the house TV channel Could be worth watching.

    • Thanks Mac.Who do you think gave me the idea? I’ll watch. Now, I wonder how much a nice liberal state like California makes off it’s timber lands? Might be fun some cold winter night.

      • With a shortage of mills in some areas, and a virtual monopoly in other areas, there is plenty of room for improvement. It seems to me that we have time-tested NEPA boilerplate for our thinning projects. It is hard to make a case that cutting 2% of the green trees between 20 and 30 inches will impact spotted owls. Most of those trees are growing too close to bigger and better trees. Cut trees average about 15″ dbh. With clearcutting and high-grading eliminated, lawsuits have shifted to salvage projects.

        Timber sales have been all-but-gone from southern California since the 80’s. There is just one mill south of Sonora, and it is barely staying solvent, drawing timber from five National Forests. Most of that volume has come from fire salvage. The Inyo and the Toiyabe no longer cuts trees, either.

        To further complicate things, the Mendocino, Six Rivers, Shasta-Trinity and Klamath NFs have to follow the northern Spotted Owl rules. Ironically, the listed owl gets less protection that the California Spotted Owl. They have more difficulty with their NEPA, compared to the Sierra Nevada.

  4. Instead of comparing cost of timber sale administration, it would be better to compare the outcomes of management. I have been following this counter-factual talking point (“private lands are better managed than federal lands”) for years and the evidence is strongly opposed. Numerous studies show that federal lands typically have better habitat for fish & wildlife, produce cleaner water, store more carbon, provide better recreation, better amenity values, lower road density, contribute more to recovery of listed species, and the feds make better neighbors.

    • With 40 million acres of bug-killed forest, and many years of increased wildfire mortality, I have seen enough of the outcomes to know that doing nothing is the wrong thing to “do”. Forest resilience cannot be “preserved” into existence. Finally, many people enjoy managed landscapes, not even knowing the land was logged. Comparing preservationism to 80’s style clearcuts is not the right comparison.

    • Tree, Don’t know about those “numerous studies” but having worked for the U.S. Forest Service for 30 years and observed them closely for another 39 (including endless hours in the woods), I just wish that all those good things you credit them with were true. For a real world look at Forest Service v private, take a look Deep Creek

      The F.S. does some great work but just doesn’t have the where-with-all to manage its land, and there’s no reason to think that Congress will ever provide needed direction and funding (think sequester).

      Makes sense to me to turn potentially highly productive timberland over to someone who can manage it for timber. Just as wilderness is now being managed for solitude, spiritual renewal and “the wilderness experience” and scenic areas are being managed for esthetics.


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