A Billion-Dollar Fortune From Timber and Fire

Read the full article about Red Emerson – the billionaire owner of Sierra Pacific Industries – in Forbes. Here are some snips:

From humble beginnings traipsing through California’s vast forests with his dad to salvaging wood from forest fires, Red Emmerson has built a logging empire by being cheaper and more aggressive than his rivals….Nicknamed “Red” as a teen for his hair color, Emmerson is happy to reminisce about the many fires from which his Sierra Pacific Industries has profited….the feisty tycoon, who runs the business with his two sons, George, 61, and Mark, 58, makes more money from logging after forest fires than any person in America. When the government sells contracts to cut down trees after fires in national forests—a controversial practice known as post-fire salvage logging—Emmerson buys in at a steep discount, often paying one half to one fourth the price for traditional wood….Sierra Pacific has little competition, thanks to a 1990 law that prohibits bidding from any lumber companies that export logs. That eliminates rivals like publicly traded Weyerhaeuser and Rayonier as well as big Canadian firms.

While Emmerson’s resourcefulness has helped him climb into the top ranks of the world’s wealthiest, critics say these riches have come at the expense of the environment and taxpayers. More than 250 scientists signed a letter asking Congress to protect forests from post-fire logging, saying that it “can set back the forest renewal process for decades.” That’s because it strips the land of nutrients, preventing it from regenerating. Not only is the carbon stored in the charred tree trunks not reabsorbed by the soil—worse, it is released into the atmosphere as greenhouse gas.

“It’s a degraded landscape,” says Chad Hanson, a scientist who studies post-fire logging and whose nonprofit John Muir Project has won injunctions against four Sierra Pacific post-fire contracts. “Fire is not the thing that’s creating areas of devastation and wastelands. It’s logging, especially post-fire logging.”

Sierra Pacific rejects the scientists’ analysis, arguing that the process can speed up recovery. “It’s about extracting the value we can from a bad situation,” says a company spokesperson.

Regardless, logging in national forests is costly for taxpayers, says Hanson, who estimates they are on the hook for $1 billion a year, at least $500 million of which is directly related to post-fire salvage. That’s the amount the government pays to build roads to remote areas destroyed by fires and for herbicides the forest service sprays prior to logging to make clear-cutting easier, among other costs. Meanwhile, the federal government pulls in about $150 million annually from selling the timber in national forests, about one fourth of which comes from post-fire logging. “It’s a bad deal financially for taxpayers, but it’s a great deal for the mills,” says economist Ernie Niemi, who has studied the impact of forest management since the 1970s. “It’s very hard to justify any salvage logging. It’s like they’re bandits.”

P.S. Below are some images of what Sierra Pacific Industries’ own private lands look like in the area around Paradise, California.

This is land owned – and clearcut – by Sierra Pacific Industries. It is located approximately 15 miles north of the town of Paradise, California. The 2018 Camp Fire did not make it this far north.
These clearcuts on Sierra Pacific Industries’ lands sit about 25 miles north of Paradise, CA.

34 thoughts on “A Billion-Dollar Fortune From Timber and Fire”

  1. More than 250 scientists signed a letter asking Congress to protect forests from post-fire logging, saying that it “can set back the forest renewal process for decades.” That’s because it strips the land of nutrients, preventing it from regenerating. ”

    Having seen many salvage units, I don’t know exactly what they’re talking about. I guess everything depends on the exact conditions and the exact prescription. I have seen openings from removing trees that seem to have plenty of natural regeneration. But maybe they are talking something besides trees? It would be interesting to have a conversation with the scientists who signed off on this.

    Reply
    • Aerial images showing extensive clearcuts of Sierra Pacific Industries own private lands seems entirely relevant to a story written by Forbes, which Forbes itself says is about how “Red Emmerson [owner of Sierra Pacific Industries] has built a logging empire by being cheaper and more aggressive than his rivals.”

      If you disagree, that’s fine by me. Thanks.

      Reply
      • I suppose relevant if your real motivation is to try and impugn the central figure of the article in some superficial “clear cuts are bad, this industrialist does clearcuts, therefore, this industrialist is bad”. Otherwise, wouldn’t you introduce something actually related to the central premise of the article, such as a demonstration of how his company’s clearcutting practices are “cheaper” than the rest of the industry’s?

        Personally, I would have preferred an explanation of why the government continues to sell wood fiber from federal lands at “pennies on the dollar”.

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        • Howdy Shaun, Your personal preference for what you’d like me to write is noted. Feel free to write your own stuff too. Sharon or myself would be happy to feature a guest post from you.

          Re: “wouldn’t you introduce something actually related to the central premise of the article?”

          I did do that by introducing the letter from 250+ scientists asking Congress to protect forests from post-fire logging. https://forestlegacies.org/images/scientist-letters/scientist-letter-wildfire-signers-2018-08-27_1.pdf

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          • You make it sound like SPI is the one who drives salvage logging on public lands. Yes, SPI is a near-monopoly and they cut a lot of their own acres but, how are they responsible for “post-fire logging” on National Forest lands? From my point of view, SPI was not well liked by Forest Service timber folks.

            BTW, weren’t some ‘scientists’ who signed on to another letter listed as Veternarians? Often these letters are more like online petitions (a favorite data mining tool for the Sierra Club and others), which carry no weight or purpose.

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            • For whatever it’s worth Larry, I do not think – nor have I implied – that Sierra Pacific Industries “is the one who drives salvage logging on public lands.” Sure, I believe that the timber industry loves post-fire logging for a bunch of obvious reasons, but I also think that the current USFS budget structure (ie: KV Funds) drive much of the ‘salvage’ logging on public lands.

              BTW, none of the 250+ scientists who signed on to the letter against post-fire logging are veterinarians.

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              • One thing that SPI does, indeed, often do, is to reject (fail to bid upon) some of the original salvage contract packages. This ‘low-balling’ tactic gets them cheaper rates, and other concessions, at the expense of letting the smaller diameter material ‘go bad’. Hey, when time is limited by litigation, we need that time to get more trees on the ground, (making many issues ‘moot’).

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  2. More LIES about clearcuts on Forest Service salvage projects. Par for Hanson’s course. SHOW US a recent Forest Service clearcut in any Sierra Nevada National Forest. It should be easy to look in the records to find an actual clearcut unit in official project plans (if they do actually exist). Of course, places near roads, power lines and other human improvements do not count.

    Hey, Hanson has trouble locating himself on a map, so what else is he ‘mistaken’ about? Luckily, his recent lack of success is a bright spot for Forest Service folks.

    Reply
    • “More LIES about clearcuts on Forest Service salvage projects. Par for Hanson’s course.”

      For whatever it’s worth: Dr. Chad Hanson never said anything closely remote to what Larry is alleging in the article. The word “clear-cut” is mentioned once in the entire article and it was mentioned by the author, not quoted by any expert. The word “clear-cut” is clearly mentioned in reference the federal timber sale program in general. It’s a fact that clearcutting does still occur on many national forests through the U.S.

      Seems like it’s you, Larry, who is spreading “More LIES.”

      Also, I’ve hiked in the backcountry with Chad Hanson before, and I think it’s safe to say that he’s an accomplished hiker, backpacker and outdoors-person in general.

      Reply
      • “We will use these findings to counter ill-conceived post-fire logging projects on the Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada,” says Dr. Hanson. “The U.S. Forest Service, assisted by The Nature Conservancy and Sierra Nevada Conservancy, is proposing to clearcut several thousand acres of prime snag forest habitat based on their false assumption that the forest cannot rejuvenate on its own and is better off being converted to wood chips for biomass energy production, which worsens the climate crisis.”

        In an article published on 9-11-2019

        Every opportunity, Hanson mentions salvage clearcuts associated with the Forest Service in Region 5. Ironically, he has never brought those claims to court, where they would surely stop salvage projects in their tracks. Hanson continues to confuse private logging with Forest Service projects. He is now THE icon for Agenda-Driven ‘Science’. Other objective scientists keep their distances, not wanting to be tainted with Hanson’s legacy.

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  3. Matthew Koehler – “For whatever it’s worth: Dr. Chad Hanson never said anything closely remote to what Larry is alleging in the article. The word “clear-cut” is mentioned once in the entire article and it was mentioned by the author, not quoted by any expert.”
    ===

    Well, the article above here in this post was created back on May 2019, but the article Larry mentioned was just from six days ago (Phys.org) where Chad Hanson clearly references clearcuts by not only the U.S. Forest Service, but being assisted by The Nature Conservancy and Sierra Nevada Conservancy. And he has been referencing the US Forest Service in promoting clearcuts for many many years now. Take this article of his in 2014 in the Earth Island Journal, where clearcuts is actually made part of the title:

    “US Forest Service Moves to Start Clearcutting in Rim Fire Area”

    http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/us_forest_service_moves_to_start_clearcutting_in_rim_fire_area/

    Frankly, I have never understood why any of this is disputed or argued about on thiis blog when it comes to what he said, or what he never said. He’s always promoted clearcuts and US Forest Service in the same sentence.

    Larry Harrell – “Every opportunity, Hanson mentions salvage clearcuts associated with the Forest Service in Region 5. Ironically, he has never brought those claims to court, where they would surely stop salvage projects in their tracks. Hanson continues to confuse private logging with Forest Service projects.”
    ===

    One of the more disturbing things for me in that article six days ago in Phys.Org from September 11, 2019 which Larry referenced is not so much the bold reference to accusing the US Forest Service of clearcuts, but the disturbing title which does not deal with reality.

    “New research confirms ‘megafires’ not increasing: Large, high-severity fires are “NATURAL” in western U.S. forests”

    https://phys.org/news/2019-09-megafires-large-high-severity-natural-western.html

    So “high-severity fires (Megafires) are natural in western US forests” ??? We live in an era of 90% to 95% of wildfire is caused by human beings (arson, negligence, basic stupidity, powerline maintenance failures, fireworks, etc) and just over the past couple of decades most of those high-severity-wildfires were human caused. So human caused high-severity wildfires are now considered a part of nature ??? That’s thinking for me is more worrying than accusations of clearcutting by the US Forest Service.

    Pause for a moment. This would mean that Sergio Martinez, that first-time deer hunter from Los Angeles who got himself lost in San Diego County in 2003, who set two signal fires to alert his hunting buddy companion to his whereabouts. These signal fires were whipped out of control by hot dry Santa Ana winds, from which the small blazes became the Cedar fire, destroying 2,400 homes and killing 15 people. But now we know that is natural.

    I believe prior to that we had the 2007 Witch Creek Fire which burned 247,800 acres and started by high wonds downing an SDG&E powerline, the there was also the Zaca Fire (240,207 acres) was started as a result of sparks from a grinding machine on private property, which was being used to repair a water pipe. Then we have the Camp Fire Powerline down, The Mendocino Complex (Ranch Fire – started by a rancher who had inadvertently sparked dry grass while hammering a metal stake while trying to find a wasp nest). Then the Carr Fire which was believed to have been started accidentally by a vehicle towing a dual-axle travel trailer. One of the tires on the trailer blew out, causing the steel rim to scrape along the pavement, generating sparks that ignited dry vegetation along the edge of the highway. Then the Ferguson Fire, Investigators determined that the Ferguson Fire started when the superheated fragments of a vehicle’s catalytic converter lit vegetation on fire. Woolsey Fire, Southern California equipment problem, Thomas Fire (Southern california Edison), Holy Fire (Whack Job Arsonist), etc, list is endless.

    There there’s last year’s arsonist from Temecula, Brandon N. McGlover, who set off a wildfire which almost took the resort town of Idyllwild California in the San Jacinto Mountains above Palm Springs. Interestingly, this fire went further east beyond Idyllwild and reburned an already obliterated area which burned in 2015 and was called the “Mountain Fire.” That’s just 4 years back, but under the new definition by Hanson, this fire interval is now “NATURAL.” Interestingly, the US attorney’s office filed a civil lawsuit seeking nearly $25m in damages from a Saudi businessman and the caretakers of his Mountain Center property in the San Jacinto Mountains. According to those federal officials, there was an improperly maintained electrical junction box on Tarek M Al-Shawaf’s property which caused the 2015 Mountain fire, which torched more than 27,500 acres and forced 5,000 people to evacuate from the town of Idyllwild. But under the new redefinition understanding, these are all considered natural occurrences.

    None of these examples come close to the reality of the true definition of the word “natural.” This is actually about politics. But unfortunately, when Politics is your religion, viewing reality becomes a sin.

    Reply
    • Kevin, I don’t understand how folks can throw around the word “natural” in California. First there was Native American burning practices, then miners and mega logging for mines, rails, towns and so on (and heat), in the late 1800’s (see what Leiburg observed). The peculiar combination of those events set vegetation on its current trajectory. What should we do now? That’s for people to discuss and debate. It’s weird how some scientists leave past human activities out of the equation.

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      • I don’t even equate Native American burning with natural. I understand this popular romanticized worldview of the ecological Indian, but they were/are still human beings, not some sub-human animal as part of the ecosystem. They used fire much the way humans today use it, to exploit the land’s natural resources. They used fire for war against hated enemies, to clear regions of chaparral for easier travel, probably made mistakes like people today with not putting campfires out properly, starting fires on an inappropriate weather event day, etc.

        For me natural is Lightning fire, Volcanic events or maybe rockslide with the rare spark touching off dry grass. But that is it.

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  4. Who ever wrote this article doesn’t know what they are writing about. Roads and herbicides before salvage logging on our pubic lands? I don’t think so.
    If post fire salvage logging was such a great deal more people would be interested in it.

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    • Article quote – “Hanson, who estimates they are on the hook for $1 billion a year, at least $500 million of which is directly related to post-fire salvage. That’s the amount the government pays to build roads to remote areas destroyed by fires and for herbicides the forest service sprays prior to logging to make clear-cutting easier”

      Bob Sproul – “Who ever wrote this article doesn’t know what they are writing about. Roads and herbicides before salvage logging on our pubic lands? I don’t think so.”
      ===

      Yeah, I didn’t understand that either. After a fire there is nothing but matchsticks. Unless they wait a couple years and chaparral moves in, but by that time would not the timber have degraded a bit with beetles ? This salvaging after fire is something they would jump on as quickly as possible. One thing I know is that if they the goal is to replant, then butchering chaparral and herbicides are definitely used. That’s ashame because if planting had been done that following late winter, chaparral would have been a plus in nurse plant area and sapling support.

      Reply
      • I think they are talking about ‘future salvage clearcuts’, with no evidence offered. Suitable evidence should include actual government documents and maps showing mandated clearcut units. Otherwise, such accusations fall into the category of “conspiracy theories”. Have those theories also been ‘peer reviewed’?

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      • Once again, that’s not a direct quote from Dr. Hanson…at all. Anyone with eyeballs and basic reading comprehension skills can see the the journalist wrote:

        “Regardless, logging in national forests is costly for taxpayers, says Hanson, who estimates they are on the hook for $1 billion a year, at least $500 million of which is directly related to post-fire salvage. That’s the amount the government pays to build roads to remote areas destroyed by fires and for herbicides the forest service sprays prior to logging to make clear-cutting easier, among other costs.”

        And this part of the article is clearly about “logging in national forests” in general. And the U.S. Forest Service does in fact still clearcut National Forests. But whatever, really.

        Reply
        • NO ONE applies herbicides BEFORE clearcutting. That statement, alone, makes the article suspect. Additionally, the Roadless Rule has reduced the amount of new roads built. IMHO, we already have enough roads, already in place. The loopholes in his lawsuits have been closed and Hanson is ‘grasping at (plastic) straws’. Desperation has clearly taken hold on Hanson and his cohorts. I’m enjoying watching them fail on such a huge scale.

          Reply
          • Larry, It’s very common for articles about these issues to have errors contained within them and the errors are typically the result of a poor understanding of these complex issues on the part of the reporter(s), not a poor understanding of these issues on the part of the experts interviewed for an article.

            Anyone who has worked closely with reporters over the years can likely think of dozens of times in which this situation has occurred.

            Also, the U.S. Forest Service is certainly still building new roads. Yes, they are not building new roads in Roadless Areas, and yes, the USFS is not building the number of roads they did to get the USFS road system up around 370,000 miles; however, I can assure you 100% that new, system roads are still being built in the Northern Rockies…in addition to the building of all the “temporary” roads, which are even much more common.

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            • I agree that many fuel treatment projects or timber sales use temp roads. But generally the view is that to become a system road there needs to be an ongoing need. Can you give us a few examples so we could look at the their rationale for a new system road?

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              • Jeez, seems like every couple of months we go through the same thing on this blog. Some people seem to doubt that the USFS still buildings new, permanent roads. So, some of us provide evidence to support the fact that yes, the USFS is still building new permanent roads.

                Here’s just one example off the top of my head: From the Gold Butterfly Final EIS on the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana.

                2.2.4 Alternative 2 – The Proposed Action

                This section describes actions and design features that are only found in Alternative 2.

                2.2.4.1 Actions Specific to Alternative 2

                Road Construction
                New permanent and temporary roads are planned to provide access to stands identified for treatment and to facilitate timber harvest. 6.4 miles of permanent and 17.3 miles of temporary road are planned for Alternative 2. Temporary road spurs provide access to suitable landing locations and are typically limited to one-half mile or less in length.

                Several factors led to the proposal of new permanent road. Foremost is the need for long-term access to the managed timber base. Other factors come into play on an individual basis, such as longer distances, difficult construction, or resource concerns requiring a higher standard of construction (such as stream crossings or steeper side-slopes).

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                • According to the Record of Decision for the East Reservoir timber sale on the Kootenai National Forest in Montana, the project includes: “New road construction totaling approximately 9.25 miles of new permanent roads.

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              • Here’s another example, pulled directly from a blog post and comments here in February 2019. This is an example of how we often just go round-and-round on this blog.

                Sharon
                February 11, 2019 at 12:54 pm
                What project would build 60 miles of new roads and retain them on the road system indefinitely?

                Matthew Koehler
                February 11, 2019 at 1:14 pm | Edit | Reply
                Hi Sharon. The Mid-Swan Landscape Restoration and Wildland Urban Interface Project. Here’s the USFS link to the project.

                From the U.S. Forest Service: “Approximately 60 miles of roads would be constructed to implement proposed activities.”

                Also, on November 16, 2018 the Swan View Coalition issued the following Press Advisory, in which they claim that the Flathead National Forest wasn’t being honest in media stories about this project. See below for an example of where a member of the Southwest Crown of the Continent CFLPR collaborative group claims that “The topic of new, permanent roads was never discussed between the SWCC and the Mid-Swan team at any of our meetings. Unfortunately, [Flathead National Forest Supervisor] Chip Weber used some very poorly chosen words when he described the SWCC’s involvement as “crafting/developing” this proposal in recent print media. Many members of the collaborative were just as surprised as you about the new, permanent road additions in the proposal….”

                PRESS ADVISORY – Contact Keith Hammer at the above email address or at 406-253-6536.

                Yesterday, Tamara MacKenzie of the Forest Service’s Region One Landscape Restoration Team announced that the public comment period on the Mid-Swan Landscape Restoration Project “will be extended through December 24. I will be sending out emails and mailers tomorrow.” (tlmackenzie@fs.fed.us ; no official notice has been received by this hour and none has yet been posted on the Mid-Swan Project web page at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=54853)

                PLEASE BE ADVISED: at least one member of the Southwest Crown Collaborative, which is credited as having developed the Mid-Swan Proposal, is critical of how Flathead Forest Supervisor Chip Weber characterized the SWCC’s involvement. Luke Lamar of Swan Valley Connections put it this way in the email string below:

                Keith, thanks for sharing your thoughts with the group. As a point of clarification, the SWCC provided constructive criticism and feedback to the Mid-Swan team as they developed this proposal. The topic of new, permanent roads was never discussed between the SWCC and the Mid-Swan team at any of our meetings. Unfortunately, Chip Weber used some very poorly chosen words when he described the SWCC’s involvement as “crafting/developing” this proposal in recent print media. Many members of the collaborative were just as surprised as you about the new, permanent road additions in the proposal and is just one of many topics the SWCC will address in our comments.

                Mr. Lamar’s response was issued in response to Swan View Coalition’s criticism that the Mid-Swan project proposes to build another 60 miles of road in the already over-roaded Swan Valley where the Forest Service now manages former Plum Creek industrial forestry lands along with its long-standing public lands. (See email string below).

                WE ARE ISSUING THIS ADVISORY BECAUSE we are concerned that the public not be left thinking this massive project has already met with the approval of the SWCC, which it has not according to Mr. Lamar. As I wrote yesterday to Mr. Lamar in the email string below, “I hate to think how many people might write in in support of the Mid-Swan proposal because they believe in collaborative solutions and think that the proposal has already passed muster with the SWCC so it must be A-OK.”

                It is unfortunate the collaborative nature of this proposal was apparently mischaracterized at the outset and not corrected immediately. We fear at this juncture that the Forest Service may be using the SWCC as political cover for its road-building and logging program and that the collaborators may be hesitant to be publicly critical of the Forest Service.

                You may feel free to quote me from what I’ve written in this Advisory and in the email string below.

                We’ve attached the Forest Service’s 10/23/18 press release in this matter for your convenience.

                If you’d like to see Ms. MacKenzie’s announcement of yesterday, that the comment period would be extended via notice posted today, let me know and I’ll forward it to you.

                Thank you for your attention to this matter.

                More information about this proposed timber sale and roadbuilding project can be found at: http://prairiepopulist.org/mid-swan-project/

                Reply
                • UPDATE: Yesterday the USFS hosting a public tour of the proposed Mid Swan timber sale on the Flathead National Forest in Montana.

                  According to a fact sheet provided by the USFS, the Mid Swan timber sale now includes construction of 38.7 miles of new system roads and 10.6 miles of new temporary roads.

                  Of the 38.7 miles of new system roads, the USFS identifies 31.8 miles of “new road on previously undisturbed forest soil.”

                  Of the 10.6 miles of new temporary roads, the USFS identifies 7.8 miles of “new road on previously undisturbed forest soil.”

                  Of the 38.7 miles of new system roads, the USFS says 9 miles will be “closed yearlong with admi use only gate;” 12.7 miles will be “Stored, Closed Yearlong with Earthen Barrier;” and 17 miles will be “Stored and also made impassable.”

                  Reply
        • What salvage projects have built roads into “remote areas?” I’m with Larry on the idea that if an area didn’t have roads, it would have been incorporated into the Roadless inventory, so no new roads could be built there. Some examples that are designed with the practices that Hanson doesn’t like would be helpful.

          Reply
          • Once again Sharon, I repeat: It’s very common for articles about these issues to have errors contained within them and the errors are typically the result of a poor understanding of these complex issues on the part of the reporter(s), not a poor understanding of these issues on the part of the experts interviewed for an article.

            Reply
          • PLUS, local Timber Management Officers do recognize that new roads construction can be a ‘deal-breaker’, and try to keep them to a bare minimum, if at all. Temp roads usually access logical and appropriate landing locations.

            Once again, clearcuts have been voluntarily banned by the Forest Service in the Sierra Nevada, since 1993. Hanson is either lying about that, or ignorant. One of those two, since he cannot supply any evidence.

            Reply

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