National Forest Covid Timber Sale Extensions: A Few Views

Credit Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media
Sawmills are more high-tech than they used to be. At Montrose (Colorado), working as efficiently as possible helps the facility compete directly with Canada.
Let’s look at the idea of timber contract extensions due to Coronavirus. First, let’s look at the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition.
I first ran across these folks when Tyson Bertone-Riggs spoke on a WGA panel, and since then I’ve been impressed by their work. This is from their April Newsletter.

Timber Markets

Another emerging issue is the risk that the slowdown of the timber market poses to our industry partners. Although the Department of Homeland Security considers the wood products industry “critical infrastructure” and is still allowed to operate, the reduced market for wood products is a threat to the financial stability of many logging companies and mills. While the Department of Agriculture has issued a Finding of Significant Overriding Interest to grant extensions to timber sale contracts, the same grace has not yet been granted to purchasers who hold stewardship contracting “integrated resource stewardship contracts” (IRSC). In a normal year one of the benefits of an IRSC is that it requires implementation on a faster timeline than a traditional timber sale contract, but such a requirement is not feasible under the current circumstances. RVCC has urged Department and agency leadership to extend the same contracting extensions to industry partners involved in stewardship contracts.

The second is an article by Bobby Magill of Bloomberg Press titled “More Logging in National Forests on Trump Anti-Virus Agenda.” Despite the headline, which sounds like it’s not really about the extension, it’s worth reading. One of the tags is “Environmentalists see move as a back-door approach to prop up industry.” I don’t know how “back-door” it is… Anyway, I think it might be an interesting media analysis experiment. I’d be interested in cases where environmental groups are interviewed about other Covid efforts to support industries. I haven’t seen it for the marijuana industry nor the recreation industry, and we don’t usually talk about “propping up” industries who are suffering right now. I thought we’d left the Darwinian capitalism model in the Covid dust.

Jim Furnish is quoted:

The contract extensions are “very unusual” but “innocuous,” said Jim Furnish, who served as Forest Service deputy chief in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

Timber contracts have time limits when timber must be removed from national forests, or the contractor loses the right to cut trees, Furnish said. When circumstances occur beyond a timber company’s control, it’s the Forest Service’s responsibility to provide relief, he said.

“This is a concession to industry so as not to do further harm as related to their contractual obligations,” Furnish said.

But the administration is playing favorites, being generous to the timber industry while doing nothing yet to support other industries that rely on national forests, including recreation, said Josh Hicks, assistant director for policy and planning for the Wilderness Society.

“I would like to think that the administration would be trying to find ways to be supportive of all the different stakeholders and members of the public during the pandemic, not making sure that a single industry is being taken care of,” Hicks said.

I’m having trouble thinking what that would look like (the equivalent of timber sale extensions), since I don’t know the ins and outs of recreation permitting. Allowing more people per permit when outfitter-guiding opens back up? Concessionaires extending their permits or raising prices?

8 thoughts on “National Forest Covid Timber Sale Extensions: A Few Views”

  1. I share your love for RVCC, Sharon!

    Two kinds of contracts are not included in this SOPI: stewardship contracts and service contracts. Those contracts also sometimes involve the removal of commercial timber, and yet they are not being extended with the SOPI. For those of us who work with those contracts and contractors, this move is clearly an effort to assist the traditional timber industry without the same care and attention shown to restoration contractors and others similarly situated.

    • I’m hoping groups such as RVCC will be able to get the FS to extend stewardship contracts.

      As to service contracts, I wonder whether one reason they may be harder to change or extend is due to the fact that those are run by general government purchasing regulations (the Federal Acquisition Regulations) and I wonder whether an individual agency can change those for specific reasons, or it has to be decided by some other folks in the federal bureaucracy, so it would be “fair” across all kinds of purchasing (from FEMA to Fair Housing Administration.) I don’t know. I think this disconnect (FS Timber folks deciding vs. Federal AQM) often leads to a lack of flexibility on the FS’s part and potential bad feelings with partners.

      • We are working on extending the extension to stewardship contracts now. But you’re right: this issue stems from the disconnect between the timber shop and AQM. I’m very disappointed that as part of the Forest Service’s Environmental Analysis and Decision-Making (EADM) initiative, and the Forest Products Modernization piece of that, that the agency didn’t take on addressing this kind of problem: instead, the FPM process was only limited to exploring efficiencies with respect to timber sale contracts. While that lays bare this Admin’s priorities for land management, you’re right that it leaves partners feeling burned.

        • This would be a great topic for a guest post by a retiree with experience in both timber sales and AQM. Volunteers? If not I’ll reach out to some folks I know.

  2. “…while doing nothing yet to support other industries that rely on national forests, including recreation, said Josh Hicks, assistant director for policy and planning for the Wilderness Society”

    So the Wilderness Society can sue the USDA Forest Service whenever they don’t like something recreation related that does not fit in their narrow scope as “acceptable”, but now we need to all support the same recreational groups that may be sued?

  3. In the Pacific NW the public is essentially locked out of its national forests at the moment, so it would be incredibly easy to provide some immediate recreation relief. Reopen trails, allow campgrounds and other concessions to open provided they have proper social distancing measures in place. Certain price increases might make sense if tied to added expenses, but will also raise issues of equal access and environmental justice.

    I think allowing more people per permit is a non-starter, because anything that would increase recreation density is unwise in the midst of this pandemic.

    • Kevin, here in Colorado trails are open in national forests as per this statement by the RF.
      “Developed recreation sites are temporarily closed while dispersed camping, hiking and river uses are allowed, although discouraged. Closed developed recreation sites include campgrounds, day-use areas, picnic areas, and any other constructed facility amenities – such as potable water stations, fire rings/grills, picnic tables, restroom facilities with flush or vaulted toilets, and trashcans and trash collection services. Parking facilities, trails and trailheads remain open. Dispersed camping includes camping on a national forest or grassland where recreation facilities or services are not provided.”

      But this also raises the question “is what’s good for recreationists, good for the “recreation industry”?, I guess that would mean ski areas, concessionaires, outfitter-guides and so on.

      I was thinking possibly allowing more people per permit when the pandemic is “over” . I was having trouble thinking about how the FS could help the “industry” at this point. Perhaps extensions for recreation permits would be the same idea as extensions for timber contracts.


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