The “Logging” or “Timber” or “Forest Products” Industry: What’s In a Name?

In our recent discussions, the timber industry (or wood products) industry has been called the “logging industry,” at least by Matthew. I first became fascinated by what industries are OK environmentally and which not, when I worked on an assignment with the Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Clinton Administration. I was the Science Lead on a CEQ/OSTP Interagency effort to review US regulation of genetically engineered organisms released into the environment.

At the same time, the 2000 Planning Rule was being cleared and I helped folks at OMB to understand the rule. It seemed at the time the timber industry on public lands was questionable from the environmental perspective, but the biotech industry was not particularly questioned, even the mild recommendations of our team did not go forward. I remember the meeting where we presented our findings to George Frampton, the Chair of CEQ at the time. Many of us were surprised that “environmentalism” was strong in some areas, and weak in other areas. I also thought the role of the science community was an interesting contrast, since the “listened to” scientists thought logging was harmful to the environment, but that ge organisms were harmless and in fact, the salvation of the future. We can still see that today. Clearly the same scientists can’t know about both (well I know something about both, but I am not among the “listened to” scientists. How governments choose to partition their environmental inclinations across industries would be worthy of some graduate student studies.

I wondered why one industry was so important and the other rejection-worthy. I had a variety of hypotheses, of course
1) who donated to the campaign
2) the amount of bucks generated
3) did not capture the attention of environmental groups to the same extent (or not as effectively).

In Colorado, we had a curmudgeonly wonderful columnist named Ed Quillen, who used to refer to “the Committee that really runs America”. I can only guess that the timber industry had a falling out with the Committee at some point, while the biotech industry did not.

Sometimes I wonder whether folks project all their guilt about using resources onto one convenient industry. so we do not examine the semiconductor industry or the medical equipment industry, (or even agriculture) with the same fine-toothed environmental comb.

Anyway, if we could talk about an industry who provides products for people by their extraction techniques rather than the products they produce, let’s think about that:

I just got back from the family place in western Kansas, so we can think of wheat and field crop farming as “the cutting industry” as in Custom “Cut”ters or “cut”ting hay.

We could think of vegetable growing as the “picking” industry. Or oil and gas as the “drilling” industry. Sometimes we talk about coal as the “mining industry” but mostly the “coal” industry. Now we have molybdenum and other mines in Colorado, so we call those the “mining industry”, perhaps because if you are mining these other minerals than energy, there are so many of them.

So let’s look at solar industry might be the “cell manufacturing” industry. Wind might be the “turbine manufacturing” industry. I just think it’s interesting how people talk about these things, with my concern being that talking about extracting as opposed to what the product is removes us from the link between us and our lives and the products we use. You can’t look out the window in my town without seeing a great many wood products in construction and reconstruction, in art, in furniture, and so on.

8 thoughts on “The “Logging” or “Timber” or “Forest Products” Industry: What’s In a Name?”

  1. Sharon, while I’ve never heard of anyone refer to farmer’s as the “Cutting Industry,” except for you just now, you seriously can’t believe that I’m the only person to ever refer to the “logging industry” as the “logging industry

    I mean, seriously, do a google search on “logging industry” and see how many thousands of references you come up with. For comparision sake, I just did a search on “cutting industry” and found zero about farmer’s.

    • Matthew, I didn’t intend to pick on you, but you did use the term and I have no idea how many other people use it. Words are important and, conceivably, thousands of people are choosing to use that term for a reason.

      • Yes, Sharon, I and likely tens of thousands of other people around the world, have used the term “logging industry” when we talk about the “logging industry.” (Like I said, do a “google” search and you will see). The term seems to apply just fine, as I’ve also seen people in the “logging industry” talk about the “logging industry.” Again, I’ve never ever heard anyone (except for you) call farmer’s part of the “cutting industry”….so your comparison doesn’t make much sense to me. What’s your beef with calling it the “logging industry” anyway?

      • I agree, words are important. But there would be no light to shed Sharon, because an “industry “is “economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories.” (That would certainly qualify Plum Creek.)

        So traditional environmental advocacy hardly qualifies as an industry.

        However, that is actually the crux of the matter. If we had a sustainable society that functioned without killing the very systems required for its long term survival; an ethical economic policy; and a government effectively regulating industry, we would not need citizen environmental advocacy.

  2. And, huh? What does this even refer to:

    “It seemed at the time the timber industry on public lands was questionable from the environmental perspective, but the biotech industry was not particularly questioned, even the mild recommendations of our team did not go forward.”

    Who is it, Sharon, “from the environmental perspective” that you think wasn’t doing any questioning of the “biotech industry” on public lands? Was this one person? Or was it an entire conservation movement? Seems to me that most everyone with an “environmental perspective” has questioned aspects of the “biotech industry” whether it’s GE trees on public lands, or splicing a sperm whale gene into a tomato. You seem to build up some interesting strawman arguments from time-to-time, gotta say.

    Either way, seems like some from the “environmental perspective” are active today on the GE Tree issue:

  3. Plum Creek, at least in Montana, owns no logging equipment. Not one piece. So, how could they be considered a part of the “logging industry”? It seems the wood products industry would be a better group to put them in. I think you need to be a logger to be in the “logging industry”. Semantics really…but words are important.

  4. On the USDA fan page, every mention of agriculture is met by a hail of anti-GMO kneejerk responses, regardless of whether they are on-topic, or not. Since many preservationists have now been “converted” into conservationists, I have to think that these foodies are now more “radical” than “environmentalists”, today. Of course, “cutting industry” could be easily replaced by “food industry”.

    I wonder if George Washington Carver ran into criticism with his own forms of “genetic manipulation”.

  5. I’m in semi-agreement with Matt here. In Oregon I’ve been a member of Associated Oregon Loggers (30 years ago, as an affiliate), and a lot of loggers claimed to be members of the logging industry. One of the main points of discussion was whether log truckers were also members of their industry, or should be separate. Oregon Log Truck Association became the official organization of the Oregon log trucking industry, and is still in existence.

    Smokey makes the point that Plum Creek does not have logging equipment. Probably don’t have log trucks, either. That’s because they are industrial forest industry members — Industrial Forest Association. The big difference between industrial timberland owners and other forestland owners is that they also own the means of manufacturing the logs that grow on their own lands. These are the people who have been trying to stop logging on government lands (“competition”) for nearly a century — and have benefited most by ESA “critical habitat” zoning and legal disputes. Like Liberace, they cry all the way to the bank when the environmental industry calls them names and accuses them of degrading the environment. They love the spotted owl.

    The logging and trucking industries are almost entirely dominated by family owned businesses and contract on private, government, and industrial lands — wherever work can be found. They have been among those most damaged by reductions in federal timber sales. The industrial forests are owned by people who invest in stocks and are typically managed by lawyers and accountants these days. When I was younger they had a lot of foresters in management positions and had developed wonderful relations in most of the communities they were based because of their investments in local schools, parks, campgrounds, and charities. Then the bean counters and spotted owls took over.


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