History of logging in Montana

The Missoulian is running a series of articles on this subject.  The one in Sunday’s paper asks these questions about the future:

“Banishment from the national forests would doom many Montana timber towns to welfare status, according to advocates in the wood-products industry. But if they’re dependent on access to public timber, isn’t that another form of welfare? Does my family’s tradition of working in the woods entitle it to public subsidy, especially if the commercial market finds Montana’s wood products uncompetitive? Does rescuing Montana’s timber industry justify rewriting some of the nation’s bedrock environmental protections, changing access to its court system, and spending millions of its tax dollars?”

13 thoughts on “History of logging in Montana”

  1. Before I can respond, I have to ask: by what measure has the author determined that the commercial market finds Montana’s wood products “uncompetitive”? Much of the argument in this statement hinges on this assumption and yet I’m not convinced it’s true. And why does the discussion seem to often start with the “propping up” or “subsidizing” of the industry when it is merely providing a viable business solution to a public demand: the wood products we use in our everyday lives while helping to mitigate the fact that forests can no longer manage themselves via natural processes such as fire and therefore must be assisted by people.

    We are all dependent upon access to public goods and services. I’m not convinced it’s wrong or that certain goods and services should be demonized and not others.

    The analogy I come back to are sanitation workers. You could ask why we are employing people and supporting an entire industry to deal with our trash. But we live in a society where much of our trash is inorganic and cannot just be dumped and forgotten or buried to be turned back into soil. We must reckon with this and pay people to start and run businesses to manage our waste.

    • Chelsea, I agree with you. Some of my economist friends (and probably yours) have been employed for years discussing what is, and what might be, in the eyes of whom, a Canadian lumber “subsidy.” Many industries are seemingly “propped up” by the government, banks when they screw up, for example, car manufacturers, wind and solar manufactures (and those are only a brief sample). Not to speak of agricultural subsidies,.. crop insurance and so on. Subsidies may well be the rule rather than the exception.

      Of course, like you say, some businesses are seen to be by some more legitimate than others, then a person could describe her or his criteria for legitimacy and we could see if different people agree on our criteria and weights for those criteria.

      For me, sawmills provide a useful service producing wood for people to use, create blue collar and other jobs in rural communities (some of whom are not doing well economically), and help people (including the USG) spend less to thin their forests for fire management. What’s not to like?

        • Yes, it most certainly does. And it’s not exactly a fair playing field. Hence the implementation of the Softwood Lumber Agreement.

          • Well, as we all know, the U.S.-Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement expired in October 2015. And as a result Canada has captured 34% of the U.S. lumber market this year. As the Missoulian recently reported, “The Canadians send roughly 70 percent of their lumber to the United States, worth about $4.5 billion.”

            Maybe instead of trying their hardest to mandate huge increases in National Forest logging in Montana and limit meaningful public participation and environmental and wildlife analysis (often times by trying to attach riders to must-pass spending bills) Senator Jon Tester, Senator Steve Daines and Rep Ryan Zinke should’ve put in a little more effort the past few years into making sure that the U.S.-Canada Softwood Lumber Agreement didn’t expire.

            • Valid point, Matthew. And I’m not sure that it’s too late. We should all be putting pressure our our elected officials to support renegotiation of a new SLA and maybe it would reduce the intensity of conversations around management of national forests.

              To be clear, a new SLA will not fix all the problems, especially not the effects of fire exclusion on the landscape and risk to communities in the WUI. These will still need to be dealt with regardless.

              • Well, the U.S. Forest Service’s own experts know how best to protect homes from wildlife, and it has little to do with logging National Forests miles from communities, or even really doing much logging in the WUI. We’ve posted Jack Cohen’s research on this blog a bunch over the years.

                Also, the effects of ‘fire exclusion on the landscape” are not really felt across the landscape, as ‘fire exclusion’ has been limited to certain forest types in certain areas. Certainly, lower elevation forests near the valley floor have experienced some level of fire exclusion over the past 100 years, but lower elevation forests near the valley floor have also been heavily logged, roaded and had soils compacted by the timber industry.

              • The Forest Service proposed a timber sale near my place a few years back and the agency set up a field trip with Jack Cohen. He told us all point blank that the project wouldn’t protect the homes. The Forest Service dropped the project.

                I get the sense that Montana’s Congressional delegation is using the fear of fire to try and log when the science says it is not necessary.

                I’d like to know how many folks in Montana that used to work in the timber industry are now unemployed? I have a good friend that was a sawyer in Montana, saw the writing on the wall and went back to school. Now he is a registered nurse that gets paid more than me (I’m an enviro attorney).

                Even if it isn’t the environmentalists fault that timber isn’t being cut, maybe Montana’s Congressional delegation should work on securing funds to retrain people. Daines is on the Appropriations committee…

                Or get vets into the woods. Ten or fifteen years ago the feds did a comprehensive grizzly study. Why can’t we do that again for wolverine, lynx, fisher and marten?

            • As I recall, as much as 40% of the softwood lumber consumed in the US has come from Canada in recent years, even under the softwood lumber agreement.

  2. Thanks for posting this Jon. I had been meaning to post some of the other Missoulian articles in the series.

    Overall, I think the Missoulian series on the timber industry and public lands has been excellent, including some much needed ‘truth telling’ that provides some important substance and context.

    Of course, I need to mention that while there have been no conservation or environmental voices featured in any of the articles to date, much of the information, context and substance in the Missoulian’s articles have been shared by the conservation community for the past few decades.

  3. All in all, the article wasn’t bad but the focus on the quote that opens this discussion thread shows a lack of balance. I worked for Champion in the south in the mid ’70s and can say that it was rotten at the top so I am not surprised by the cut out and get out claims made against them in the article. In fact, I’d bet that one of the top honchos who was let go about this time probably tried to stop such an atrocity. As I’ve said before the fundamental principles of sound sustainable forestry aren’t the problem. The problem is human greed or desire for power which happens in all organizations including so called environmental organizations.

    Regarding the lack of balance in the quote used to open this thread:

    1) “Banishment from the national forests would doom many Montana timber towns to welfare status, according to advocates in the wood-products industry. But if they’re dependent on access to public timber, isn’t that another form of welfare? Does my family’s tradition of working in the woods entitle it to public subsidy”
    –> No, it is not another form of welfare/subsidy. The wood products industry serves symbiotically within the forest. Under modern day environmental requirements, best management practices and 3rd party certification audits, sustainable harvest levels provide for healthier forests less prone to fire, insects and disease. Those benefits can not be ignored which is what you have to do if you say that open market bidding for access to public timber is “welfare”.

    2) “if the commercial market finds Montana’s wood products uncompetitive?”
    –> How can Montana’s wood products be uncompetitive if the mills are running out of wood and timber sales are bid for on the open market?

    3) “Does rescuing Montana’s timber industry justify”:
    a) “rewriting some of the nation’s bedrock environmental protections,”
    –> The only rewrites required are:
    – i) that the environmental protections need to “sustainably” protect the forests that create the ecosystems required by endangered species.
    – ii) Environmental protections need to insure healthy forests in order to reduce the loss to fire, insects and disease thereby protecting the species dependent on the forest rather than increasing the odds that the protected species won’t be protected as is the prevailing unsustainable current practice in our national forests.
    b) “changing access to its court system,”
    –> The only change required is that frivolous lawsuits need to be reduced by having the looser pay the legal fees of both parties. This will insure that the USFS works hard to do things according to the law in the first place. In addition, it will force the plaintiffs to do more homework in order to be certain that their claims are substantiated by on the ground facts rather than on suppositions as revealed by words like “might” and “could”.
    c) “and spending millions of its tax dollars?”
    –> Again, this is a one sided point of view that ignores the lives lost and the billions of tax dollars spent fighting wildfire and coping with the aftereffects of erosion and flood on homes, drinking water systems, stream sediment, public roads and other infrastructure.

    So, the only thing being subsidized is failure on a disastrous scale.


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