Senators: “we need to be increasing timber harvest”

Press release from Tester’s office. Note the mix of Rs and Ds.

(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are leading a bipartisan coalition warning the President against reducing timber sales on U.S. Forest Service lands.

The Senators are joined by Senators John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

The Forest Service’s budget proposal for 2014 would cut timber sales by 15 percent. The Senators say the plan threatens jobs in rural communities and is inconsistent with the agency’s forest restoration goals.

“At a time when we need to be increasing timber harvest, the Administration’s blueprint sets us even further back,” the Senators wrote President Obama. “The cuts would have serious consequences for counties and businesses in our states and across the country. We urge you to reconsider proposed cuts in timber sales and instead find new ways to boost timber supply in a responsible manner.”

The Senators note that in addition to boosting the market’s timber supply and creating jobs, increasing the timber harvest will help to mitigate wildfires. Dead trees combined with historic drought to burn a near-record 9.3 million acres nationwide in 2012.

A letter from the senators is here:

28 thoughts on “Senators: “we need to be increasing timber harvest””

  1. The letter states:

    “It is troubling that at a time when we need to increase timber harvest to…increase overall market supply.”

    Really? Who would’ve known that the timber markets actually need more supply. Every single news article about the timber industry and lumber consumption and the housing industry over the past five years has talked about the very low lumber demand, not how demand is so great and supply so little. In fact, US Lumber consumption is only 58% of what it was in 2005. Yet, are we running out of lumber currently? Do builders not have enough 2 x 4s and plywood to build houses? Is the local hardware store running out of lumber products to see? Of course, the answer to all these questions is obvious. Even at the reduced 58% lumber consumption from the height of the housing bubble there are plenty of wood products being produced to meet demand.

    But hey, more loggin’ is always the solution right? What in the world are we going to do with all these cut down trees?

    P.S. By the way, did any of these Senators vote against NAFTA? Or against any other of the numerous “free trade” agreements Congress has passed over the years? Have any of these Senators ever not claimed that more resource extraction (of trees, coal, oil and gas, etc) was the solution to any economic problems?

    • Yes, more logging is needed now, because demand for lumber is up.

      In an article in the may issue of The Forestry Source, “Wood Markets Looking Up After Long Slump,” Hakan Ekstrom, president of Wood Resources International, said:

      “Housing starts are up, there’s more optimism about the future, and there’s more interest in building and renovation. Builders are more interested in having an inventory and are willing to pay a little bit more for wood. That has rippled through the whole system in North America, which means that there is more demand for lumber, and this is in addition to the demand from Asia.”

      Even at the depths of “the long slump,” we were still importing lumber from Canada. As I said in another recent post on this blog, it would be better to import less and produce more lumber in this country. In effect, we have exported jobs to Canada that are needed here.

      The article is here:

      • Follow up. Received this info today from Random Lengths. An indication of increased demand….

        Western lumber output up 10.4% through March

        Through March, western lumber production totaled 3.435 billion board feet, up 10.4% compared to January-March 2012, according to Western Lumber Facts published by the Western Wood Products Association. Production in the Coast region was up 11.2% during the first three months of the year; Inland production rose 6.9%, and output in the California Redwood region was up 30.5% compared to the first three months of 2012. Western production for the month of March totaled 1.165 billion feet, 7.7% ahead of the March 2012 total.

        New Canadian lumber output ahead of year-ago pace

        Canadian lumber production in February matched that of January at 2.03 billion board feet, 5% ahead of February 2012. Through two months, production was 7% ahead of the year-earlier pace. Quebec was 17% ahead of the year-earlier pace, at 870 million board feet. Alberta was 6% ahead of the 2012 pace, at 597 mmbf, despite a 3% drop from January to February. British Columbia similarly fell 3%, finishing 2% ahead of the year-earlier pace at 2.15 bbf.

  2. Matt. What are we going to do with all those cut down trees? We could sell some of them from the Apalachicola NF to Rex Lumber Co of Bristol, Fl. that has been begging the ANF for the past 20 years to sell them a few. The ANF now cuts 8% of its annual growth. I just read that the Rough and Ready Lbr. Co. of Cave Junction, OR is shutting down because of lack of Forest Service stumpage. Are those mill-owners who’ve been testifying at Committee hearings just been making things up? Please, Matt!!

  3. Please, Mac!!! You honestly believe that any industry is always completely honest about their finances or operations when they lobby for more taxpayer subsidized access to trees, coal, oil and gas, tar sands, etc?

    I mean, when the big banks went crawling to the American people and asked us to give them hundreds and hundreds of billions to “save the big banks” did you honestly believe the big bankers were being completely honest with the American people?

    Besides, we’ve very nicely debunked on this very blog much of the non-sense that Rough and Ready Lumber shut down ONLY because of a lack of national forest logging.

  4. The challenge is to utilize whatever is cut (for restoration purposes), for the greater good. Diverse products can help sustain the wood products industry. I am one who believes we can have a win-win situation, as soon as people recognize the opportunity and are able to craft it into success. I am also one who believes that America isn’t educated enough about site specific science to accept the projects generated. Luckily, more people are abandoning preservationism, and accepting that conservation is better. Somewhere in the middle is where our policies should be.

    Has Congress noticed that much of the fingers are pointing at them, now? It IS good to see this is a bi-partisan effort.

  5. “Note the list of Rs and Ds”

    Having duly noted the list, it allows for illustrating the vacuous trumpeting of the “bipartisan coalition” qualifier while both parties are embracing the same failed policies of free market fundamentalism which created the myriad market failures in national and international timber production, etc., in the first place. Plus, created the too big to fail (and jail) banking system running amok on Wall Street and elsewhere. So what is this bipartisan coalition doing about that? Nada. That’s to protect predatory Business as Usual, and the maldistribution of wealth, and the disappearing middle class and the exponential increase of American poverty.

    The fact is, there is no meaningful electoral choice of an “opposition” party as long as both parties embrace the same neoliberal agenda of regressive tax policies, ignore failed policies of deregulation, privatization, and corporate outsourcing of governmental functions which delivered us to our present environmental and economic precipice.

    For example, Alaska’s Senator Mark Begich(D) routinely takes positions that would inspire a Blue Dog and a gunshot Reagan himself, to howl — whether Begich is proudly grinning with the rest of the NRA sycophants in opposition to background checks — despite a clear majority of Americans wanting to see less school massacres — or embracing tried-and-failed lies of subsidy-dependent timber extraction at all costs policies, or siding with recidivist environmental criminal oil companies, while preaching even more deregulation and taxpayer subsidies are needed to make Arctic oil drilling more affordable for oil companies which already enjoy fantastic quarterly profits. (I won’t bring up the bipartisan lunatic, suicidal conspiracy of ignoring the climate threat this extraction represents to all nations of the planet.)

    Add to these inconvenient truths the tired fictions of senatorial hucksters claiming a 15% reduction in heavily subsidized timber harvests “threatens jobs in rural communities and is inconsistent with the agency’s forest restoration goals.”, and we find ourselves facing the same Orwellian double speak policies which created our regional and national predicament in the first place. (I won’t even get into the excruciating details of externalities of these failed economic policies, here.)

    Begich and Murkowski’s advocacy for “restoration and stewardship” on the Tongass is a perfect example of how the meaning of language itself gets sequestered in the unchallenged lies of elected leaders.

    First, the SOPA clearly demonstrates timber sales are increasing on the Tongass.

    Second, the levels of taxpayer subsidies necessary for providing timber jobs has increased exponentially on the Tongass.

    Third, the heavily subsidized timber “industry” still accounts for about all of one percent or less of the regional economy. Our regional economy is quite healthy because it was diversified after the abysmal failure of the USFS administered Long Term Contracts.

    Fourth, Southeast Alaska’s rural communities are far more threatened by Murkowski’s and Begich’s bill (S.340) advancing the Sealaska corporation’s land grab privatizing 70,000 acres of public lands on the Tongass, and expanding the insufferable externalities already experienced by the native communities which were devastated by Sealaska’s past unsustainable timber extraction and round log export.

    Fifth, “Restoration and stewardship” on the Tongass is financed entirely by “revenues” (another fiction if they are dependent upon taxpayers to fund extraction) derived from unsustainable old growth logging which is decimating subsistence resources necessary for rural residents to feed their families.

    Of course, when these hard facts are actually documented (see the comments on “Tongass Timber Economics 101” on this website and by independent sources (since the mainstream infotainment news media has no time to vet truth or fiction because it focuses on profits instead of journalistic ethics), we get to witness the conspiratorial silence of the lambs.

  6. I am not an economist or a wood scientist, but maybe someone can help me out:

    Who speaks for the owners of private-sector forestland? Are private-sector forests unable to supply enough wood? Are mills dependent on wood from NFS lands able to produce quality materials at competitive prices? Is cost the only reason the US imports wood from Canada and Europe, or do wood properties also matter?

    • I’m not an economist or a wood scientist either…so what I say is only my opinion. And these numbers are off the top of my head…and are rounded up to support my bias!(how bout that for honesty)

      I don’t think “wood properties” has anything to do with it. Most of British Columbia’s timber comes from lodgepole pine…the same kinda lodgepole pine that grows in Montana.

      The last I looked,Canada supplies 30% of our timber (or lumber). Before timber litigation…in 1988…the USFS used to supply 20% of our timber…that’s down to 5%. Canada and private lands in the south took up the slack. (I’ve often wondered how many shuttered mills in the U.S. were dismantled and moved to Canada). “Experts” believe that because of the mountain pine beetle epidemic in British Columbia(30 million acres) and “sustained yield” problems in eastern Canada that Canadian exports will be cut in half. When that happens, or how long the MPB killed lodgepole can be salavaged before it “checks” or rots,exports to China (massively growing),housing starts, or if the “experts” are “off,”…are the variables here. But you could be seeing up to 15% of U.S. supply of timber disappearing.

      I bought Weyerhauser stock in 1992 (thankyou greens!), and at that time, because of intensive forest management, they were projecting their harvest would increase by 15% by 2010 (I bought it again a year ago…thankyou MPB!). They, and similar efforts by other “industrial” forest company’s, probably had a lot to do with softening the impact of USFS declines…but I doubt they’ll be able to squeeze much more out their turnip. The South is our timber basket today…but the last I looked they were harvesting like 90% of what grows every year…pushin that “sustained yield” envelope. But…they have a lot of pulpwood plantations that could be allowed to grow into sawtimber. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of British Columbia mills are dismantled and moved to the South.

      In the south, USFS lands make up like 3% of the total forest area. In Montana and the west it’s 60%. Private lands,(and state of course-5% of forestland), and I don’t mean Plum Creek-I mean the ranchers, have been carrying the sawmills. You wanna know where private lands are in Montana…go to Google earth…every “inholding” has been harvested. A mill owner told me that, “Ironically, the MPB has been a blessing for us,since the private landowners want to get rid of the dead trees.”

      I don’t buy into the “this economy is the new normal.” Hey…I remember the President Carter years! Someone enlightened me to the fact that what drives “housing starts” is simple “demographics.” This country’s population grows by 1% a year. There’s a lot of 20 somethings out there who are ready to start families…or at least move out of their parents basement…if they can get a job! The longer the “Obama economy” drags on (had to get a dig in at him!)…the closer we get to MPB rotting trees. If an “eventual” booming economy intersects with rotting trees…everything will go according to plan. And this time Canada won’t be able to save us…and I doubt the South will increase production by 30% to make up for it. Groovy. There’s only one source for that extra timber…you guessed it…and we’ll see how “green” the American people really are.
      But hey…if you wanna make money in the stock market…buy what I sell.
      (the comments in this story are the opinion of the author and doesn’t represent those of the station).

  7. The Senators (and some of the commenters) are under a mistaken impression that logging = restoration. Sometimes yes, but not always. If Wyden wants more restoration, he should fund restoration, not more logging.

    Also, Andy Kerr published a opinion piece (worth reading) in the Grants Pass Daily Courier providing additional perspective on the Rough & Ready mill closure. Kerr, Andy, May 1, 2013. Sawmills Must Adapt to Stay Relevant. Daily Courier, Grants Pass, Oregon.

    • Of course, it all depends on definitions and site-specific science. Matching tree densities to annual rainfalls is a major part of “restoration”. Adjusting species compositions back to a more “natural” profile cannot be accomplished through preservation. Resilience and fire safety are important for us humans, too. Certainly, the Forest Service is making a multitude of decisions to do nothing on particular pieces of land as part of its “restoration” efforts, too. We cannot cling to a “do no harm” mindset regarding forest management. The last several decades have shown us that harm has been done, and continues to be done, today, by inaction in correcting those harms. Passive restoration isn’t working for some of our public Forests.

  8. I’d like to know more about the scientific basis for a statement that “Passive restoration isn’t working for some of our public forests.” As well as pinning down “some of” a bit.

    • Just look at the size and frequencies of larger wildfires in Oregon and Washington. Principles of “passive restoration” have been incorporated, either through litigation, or through wildlife set-asides. Indeed, some eco-groups want National protections that apply to all Forests, regardless of site-specific science. I still claim the middle ground, wanting solutions that fit the land. As long as we continue to lose critical habitats to high intensity wildfires (as well as other wildfire impacts), our forests will continue to degrade, in favor of “whatever happens”. It is the first week of May, and we have habitats burning, already. I’m not willing to stand by and watch. With climate impacts ahead, are you willing to just hope everything will be fine?

  9. The science I see actually shows the overwhelming correlation of above-average wildfire is drought. The research shows that thinning has little or no effect on wildfire impact in forest lands.

    If you have some actual research to support your viewpoint, please cite it.

    • “The research shows that thinning has little or no effect on wildfire impact in forest lands.”

      That is more of a general statement than I made!!! I’d also have to say that it is quite false. There are plenty of examples where crown fires dropped to the ground when they hit thinned stands. Placing thinning projects in strategic areas, like ridgetops, increases their effectiveness. Also, the benefits of thinning projects extend much further than just in fire safety. Yes, there are short term logging impacts that are quickly offset by forest health, forest growth, and forest resilience.

  10. Kevin…here’s a good study that contains a synthesis of other research relating to “fuels treatment thinning efficacy.” Thinning and post-surface fuels treatments are very effective. Thinning alone…not so much. Slash is the problem. When the slash is RX burned, or piled and burned, or MY particular favorite-“whole tree harvested,” the fire severity is much reduced. WTH is a relatively new treatment (past 20 years)and has only been “studied” in a couple instances. It is the only method used where I live, and I assume it’s now widely used on most forests. The trees are skidded, limbs and all, to the landing where they are mechanically delimbed. The “huge” slash piles are then burned,scarified,and re-seeded. I posted some photos somewhere on this blog of a WTH stand one week after harvest. There is NO slash.I would like to see more research dealing with the efficacy of WTH, with no RX burn. I gots a feeling someone is looking at that now on the Wallow fire.

    I do believe It is very applicable to the forest where Larry lives. It’s very effective in “warm-dry, Moderately warm-dry” ponderosa-doug fir forests that evolved with the low intensity frequent fire. Grand fir-engleman spruce forests? Not so much. I Have no clue how it applies to your “west side” Cascade Range forests.

    What I do believe Larry proposes, is to log the “fire suppresion generation” of trees. 100 year old trees that have now grown to merchantable size, and also contribute to densities WAY over historical levels. In my day of swinging a chainsaw…we used to dread trees smaller than 12″. With the advent of mechanical WTH,it is very economical to harvest these “small diameter” trees. I’ve seen thinning timber sales, where I would estimate that 90% of the trees cut were under 12″ and none over 16″, and the mill is making money on them. Of course, you need a mill.

    I would think that “restoration thinning” of these “fire suppresion generation” of trees would be a zone of agreement you could get behind. To add a touch of snarkiness, I do find it ironic that 6 generations of foresters put out fires so our generation could make lumber from these trees, and now we want em to burn.

    • Derek, thanks for sharing the report from on the 2006 Tripod Complex fires in dry mixed conifer forests in north-central Washington State.

      It’s a thoughtful piece of research, self-published by the agency rather than in a peer-reviewed journal. (Was it later accepted for publication?) It’s based on small site sample sizes, necessarily very hands-on choices of treatment sites and control sites. It is based on one fire complex in one biome. It measures severity in terms of tree survival, necessarily without making reference to long term biodiversity impacts of the treatments or wildfire. It notes some important question for follow up, not addressed by this study.

      As such, it could be a useful brick in building an edifice of understanding around when certain kinds of thinning help, and what they help. That’s appropriate for the project!

      What it is not, is a close-out reference showing that thinning is good for the forest, even in the one specific biome studied.

      With those significant limitations noted, here is a key and interesting conclusion by the study authors:

      “This study provides strong quantitative evidence that without treatment of surface fuels, thinning alone is not a viable surrogate for prescribed fire in these dry, mixed conifer forests. In contrast, thinning followed by prescribed burning to reduce surface fuels appears to be an effective strategy for mitigating wildfire severity.”

      • Similarly, there are no studies out there that say thinning doesn’t reduce wildfire (and prescribed fire!) impacts. There will never be a comprehensive compendium of studies that will “save the forests” in one fell swoop. However, there are plenty of examples where thinning HAS reduced fire impacts. Many feel that similar treatments on similar sites would result in similar benefits. We have also seen where unmanaged forests, like on the Biscuit, did not fare well. Wildfire mortality cannot be accurately measured until at least five years have passed.

        I have, firsthand, seen the aftermath of many very large wildfires in my life. The Biscuit, the McNally, the Cedar and the Rabbit Creek Fires were all well over 100,000 acres. Preserving overstocked forests and hoping that wildfires, including human-caused ignitions, will burn “naturally and beneficially” is probably not a good plan for our public forests.

        • Vegetation Recovery after Fire in the Klamath-Siskiyou Region, Southern Oregon

          “In general, post-fire revegetation is rapid and profuse in the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion.”

          Biscuit Fire 10 Years Later

          “Bernard Bormann, with the Pacific Northwest Research station, had been studying the forests’ of the Siskiyou mountains for years. When the 500,000 acre Biscuit fire burned through his research plots, he first thought all was lost. But in the 10 years since the fire, he’s been able to compare life before and after fire to reveal an amazing amount of new information about how life returns to the forest after fire.”


            49 spotted owl territories were affected by the Biscuit Fire. 40 of them had at least 40% old growth. After the fire, only 17 of them had at least 40% old growth.

            “With up to 80,000 acres of suitable habitat gone, there might be up to 40 pair that there is no suitable habitat for.”
            … Leo Webb, wildlife biologist

            This is a double whammy, with northern goshawk nesting habitat gone, as well. It makes sense to manage current rare habitats, to ensure they survive wildfires. Such areas represent a vastly important bridge, as future habitat remains decades away. Remember, both owls and goshawks are territorial, and there is only so much nesting habitat to go around. Additionally, each and every nest tree is an important piece of each pair’s reproductive productivity. They need a SYSTEM of nests!

            With Biscuit studies, one can easily skew results when the jumbled mosaic of the area’s complex geologies are not addressed. I’m pretty sure that no owl territories have grown back, yet. Um, when are they due to come “online”??!? 2150?

            • In the Eugene BLM District – where I’m on the Resource Advisory Committee – in the Siuslaw Resource Area, alleged forest management for owl habitat improvement includes timber sales planned to reduce canopy cover from 80% to 40% in LSRs.

              The manager declined written request to evaluate thinning alternatives reducing LSR canopy cover to 60%.

              I don’t believe the approach of thinning from closed to open canopy will help spotted owl survival. I believe that in these cases, the claim of owl habitat management is a trojan horse for commercial logging.

              Could you suggest how we might define the difference between real forest management for habitat improvement, and forest management alleged to be for habitat improvement that isn’t – in a way that a full spectrum of viewpoints could trust?

              • One example we are trying is to thin from below, taking trees between 10″-15″, within a “PAC”. The main goal is to reduce fuels in advance of a prescribed fire application. I believe that some sub-merchantable thinning will also happen.

                In core nesting habitats, I wouldn’t be in favor of much canopy reduction. Nests need cover from predators. Besides, the litigation liability seems too high for me, as well. Chances are, any work within such an area would be non-commercial. Maybe felling and hand-piling for burning could be part of a larger Stewardship Project. Projects in foraging habitat should retain large, healthy trees. Thinning from below is also recommended for those areas, with more opportunity to “pick and pluck” some valuable larger trees, crowding larger and better trees. I also think that a clumps and gaps strategy would be good, for many stands.

                I believe we can “sculpt” forests which will survive and fit well with the realities of our shared existence. In many instances, habitats dictate how that land is managed. Some eco-groups want burned areas to retain their protections, even when the habitat is gone. Yes, we can point at the past and say “WRONG!” Is that getting us anywhere? The “slippery slope” doesn’t really exist, here in California, as the ban on clearcutting and highgrading is now 20 years old. That doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case in other parts of the country.

                The times when the Forest Service could sneak stuff by in projects is long gone. Whenever I see them trying another “end run”, I just shake my head and roll my eyes. Proposing stuff that cannot win in court is costly and wasteful. IMHO

    • Yes, Derek, we have been doing this for 20 years, now. Mechanical harvesting is very big here, with whole tree harvesting being the norm. We are working on using the slash for biomass power but, there still aren’t enough burners, close enough to the forests. Most of the current installations were located to burn agricultural waste in the Central Valleys. As long as we still have people like Chad Hanson opposing ALL timber sales, we will continue to face litigation, despite voluntarily eliminating highgrading and clearcutting in the Sierra Nevada.

      Edit: We, generally, cut trees from 10″-18″ dbh. Larger trees can be selected if they are crowded. ALL trees above 30″ dbh are off limits.

  11. Thanks! The press release appears to be an interesting anecdotal report. Don’t see it as solid science, though.

    Our intuitive sense of fire, and of the value of fuels reduction, is so strong – as well as so drilled-in culturally – that it takes very careful sampling over a number and variety of incidents to get a strong independent result regarding determining factors.

  12. As the early men (& women) who first tended the family fire observed: if you don’t put fuel on the blaze, it goes out. Ever since then mankind has been culturally conditioned to believe that this is true. Solid science is needed to confirm this belief.


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