The Next Big Grift?: Doomberg on NACs

I asked the folks on Doomberg to take a look at NACs from a financial perspective. As a non-financial person, I’ve written about them here, here, and here.

Doomberg’s piece on Substack is called “Measurement Army: Natural Asset Companies (NACs): the next big grift?

We begin with some important definitions culled from a 56-page exhibit filed with the SEC as part of the petitioning process, and from the United Nations System of Environmental Accounting (SEEA):

A “Natural Asset” is “[a] statistical representation of ecosystems for accounting purposes that defines them as productive units of ecosystem services” that can be “monetized directly or indirectly.”

“Ecosystem Services” refer to the benefits that people obtain from ecosystems and are categorized broadly into provisioning, regulating, cultural, and supporting services.

“Ecological Performance Rights” are “[t]he rights to the value of natural assets and the production of ecosystem services in a designated area, including the authority to manage the area. These rights are granted to a NAC, from a natural asset owner, as provided through a license or other legal instrument.

Finally, an “Ecological Performance Report” is “[a] report with statistical information on the ecological performance of a NAC, including sections with data on (i) Natural Production, (ii) Natural Assets, and (iii) Underlying Asset Condition. This Report is unique to NACs and will be provided in addition to traditional financial statements.

Let’s see if we get this right: NACs hold claim to the Ecological Performance Rights over the Ecosystem Services delivered by the NAC’s licensed Natural Assets. Think of all the measuring needed to make that construct work.


I guess this could be more abstract, but it’s already beyond my imagination.   A thing is not a thing, but a “statistical representation” of a thing.  I didn’t even know that there was a United Nations System of Environmental Accounting.

The authors of the SEC filing go on to claim an astonishing measurement of their own: natural assets are valued at approximately $5 quadrillion. Listing NACs on public stock exchanges “can convert the long-understood – but to-date unpriced – value of nature into equity capital which can generate the financial capital needed to manage, protect, and restore healthy ecosystems over the long term.”

Doomberg, like me, takes a dim view of the many potential transactional hogs at the trough..

Imagine the wealth creation opportunities for the cadre of sponsors, advisors, brokers, and attorneys when passive fund managers are mandated to allocate to NACs, options markets are developed for them, and retail traders give them the Nvidia treatment.

I don’t know what the Nvidia treatment is..

And then there are the measurers! All players involved in the new world of NACs – including governments, banks, law firms, and the NACs themselves – will need an army of them. Given the bulging numbers of the administrative class, this is one modern army sure to exceed its recruitment needs.

If you’re not familiar with ideas about the administrative class, you might take a look at this piece by N.S. Lyons, in which he describes what N.S. describes as the “managerial ideology.”

7. Abstraction and Dematerialization: The belief, or more often the instinct, that abstract and virtual things are better than physical things, because the less tied to the messy physical world humans and their activities are, the more liberated and capable of pure intellectual rationality and uninhibited morality they will become. Practically, dematerialization, such as through digitalization or financialization, is a potent solvent that can help burn away the repressive barriers created by attachments to the particularities of place and people, replacing them with the fluidity and universality of the cosmopolitan. Dematerialization makes property more easily tradable, and can more effectively produce homogenization and fulfill desires at scale. Indeed in theory dematerialization could allow almost everything to take on and be managed at vastly greater, even infinite, mass and scale, holding out the hope of total efficiency: a state of pure frictionlessness, in which change (progress) will be effortless and limitless. Finally, dematerialization also most broadly represents an ideological belief that it is the world that should conform to abstract theory, not theory that must conform to the world.

Logs on Trains from Oregon to Wyoming: The E&E News Story , Subsidies and Bugs

I couldn’t find a photo of today’s version, at least Bend is near Gilchrist.


This E&E News story is good, but sadly it’s behind a paywall. I’m going to excerpt a few paragraphs.

Moore told E&E News last week he’s not sure how long the timber transport pilot project will last but that his main goal is to keep mills open in places like the Black Hills, where his agency’s own policies to limit timber harvests on the 1.2-million-acre Black Hills National Forest have been blamed for squeezing local mills. The local timber industry and lawmakers who represent the region are watching every move. The Biden administration is funding the program through the 2021 infrastructure law, with an initial goal of moving around 3 million board feet by March. The arrangement is connected to a $50 million forest stewardship partnership with the National Wild Turkey Federation.

If the pilot project succeeds, it might show one way the Forest Service can step up forest thinning in places like California and Oregon. In those states, milling capacity has shrunk but forest managers say thick vegetation and dead trees will invite more and bigger wildfires as climate change worsens.

If the experiment stumbles, Moore may hand the same troubles to his successors without a clear solution, and communities reliant on forest products will continue to face the threat of mill closures as they have in the Black Hills, where Neiman Enterprises — a partner in the project — has said it can’t sustain its mills without a more dependable supply of wood.


“We’re not saying this is the best solution, but it’s the one we’ve come up with for right now,” Moore said in a brief interview at the National Association of Counties’ winter legislative conference.
“We have to start somewhere,” Moore added. “What’s critical to us is that these mills stay in business, and if we can work collectively across many different landscapes to do that, we should do that.”

Wood products companies and forest policy consultants said the experiment’s success hinges on finding uses for the wood that help make up for the cost of transportation — and on the federal government’s continued willingness to subsidize the effort if it doesn’t pencil out. “I don’t know how the numbers work out unless the feds pay from start to finish,” said Catherine Mater, a wood products engineer in Oregon who frequently works with the  Forest Service.
That’s because many of the trees that would be thinned from ailing Western forests would have diameters of less than 10 inches, Mater said, and many mills aren’t equipped for such small material.


The wood products company most involved in the timber project, Neiman Enterprises, sees opportunity in medium-sized logs it can secure from markets that are already saturated, said Marcus Neiman, a vice president at the family-owned business. The company makes heating pellets at its mill in Spearfish, S.D., near the Black Hills National Forest, using sawdust and wood shavings from ponderosa pine, which grows in the region. Neiman said the pellet business is challenging but that he sees “plenty of opportunity to broaden the reach of biomass markets in the U.S.” as part of a comprehensive approach to forest management.

In an initial “proof of concept” experiment, the company paid to ship logs from Oregon to its mill in Hulett, Wyo., Neiman said. Negotiations on the first timber sale through the program are nearing completion, he said. The company can turn medium-sized logs into boards, as well as exploring other products, he said.


The National Wild Turkey Federation, a hunting group that seeks to protect wildlife habitat, is supporting the transport pilot through a 20-year stewardship agreement with the Forest Service. The agreement includes a directive from USDA to help move timber from areas that are short on milling capacity — but need forest work — to areas that have a shortage of timber to supply local mills.
The arrangement, with the Burlington Northern railroad as another partner, isn’t necessarily cost effective but addresses the needs to keep mills running and reduce potential wildfire fuel in forests, the NWTF has said (Greenwire, Jan. 6).


When I finally ran down an economist, he told me that transportation subsidies, for a variety of reasons, are indeed a thing. If you look under USDA transportation subsidies, you will find transit subsidies for workers to get to work, subsidies to offset logistics cost of getting containers to a container yard and the USDA BCAP program(I’m not sure it’s currently funded, but here’s a link to a CRS report on the program..)

Matching payments are intended to provide incentives for collecting underutilized biomass for bioenergy production. This would remove existing biomass where it might not currently be profitable to do so (e.g., crop residue or forest undergrowth)

Bottom line.. USDA and other government agencies subsidize many things for many reasons. We can disagree about whether they “should”, but it’s not unusual.

We’re not economists, but having observed them ..

If we assume that these logs would otherwise be burned in piles, then there’s the social cost of carbon (which I think is a bogus number but many people use) plus smoke effects.

So to figure out what is the best use, we’d have to look at other possible uses and non-uses.

Then we’d have to make assumptions about “what if the same lumber were produced somewhere else? where would that be? what would be the impacts to the tax base, etc.?”

Then there’s non-market values of all shapes, sizes and descriptions, and timelines.

I think that’s what NWTF (NWTF received 50 mill for a master stewardship agreement, this is just a piece) as trying to get at here..

The process of moving timber by railcar in previous years was viewed as an outdated method, as it was considered unprofitable for companies seeking to create forest products. However, considering the immense ecological value (i.e., wildfire risk reduction, carbon optimization, watershed health, wildlife habitat, etc.), the process has the potential to set the precedent for getting fuels out of the forest and transformed into carbon-storing forest products. [NWTF, USDA Begin Restoration, Timber Transit as part of Master Stewardship Agreement]

There’s also concern for disadvantaged communities.  Hulett isn’t in one, according to EPA’s map  but there are sections of South Dakota that are. it looks like an hour or so away.


Here’s an answer to a popular question, thanks to Larry’s Kurtz’s blog. 

“what about the bugs?

In 2020 Neiman bought Interfor Corporation’s specialty sawmill in the Klamath County town of Gilchrist, Oregon near where the logs will be loaded. Neiman owns the Klamath Northern Railway which connects to the Union Pacific. The UP intersects with Burlington Northern Santa Fe at Crawford, Nebraska and the BNSF has sidings in Upton, Wyoming. To minimize the movement of insects and diseases the 33 and 16.5 foot fire salvage ponderosa pine logs will be peeled and shipped to Upton then trucked to Neiman’s mill.


It appears to me that Neiman is successfully running the Montrose and Gilchrist mills,  so the he and the folks he works with know a lot about this and have been successful.  Maybe once they figures this out, someone will entrepreneur a sawmill in California. Who knows? I’m with the Chief on this one, let’s give it a try.  There’s the old story of a CEO who said “we have enough people warning about a flood, bring me someone who can build an ark.”


What Our World Needs Now- More Forest Economists?

I’m interested in the workings of the journalism-academia-agency-practitioner ecosystem and how these interact to shape how many of us see the world. When I first read this E&E News story on the (thanks to a TSW reader) “logs on trains” issue- the idea of sending logs from California to Wyoming. The next post will be on that topic. This post is a reflection on how hard it was to get input from knowledgeable economists on this issue.

Aside.. culturally, I was trained that “appearance of conflict of interest is to be avoided”. Fortunately for us, we can see the work of the reporter over time has not changed, but for Politico I don’t think it’s a good look.

As you may recall, a few years ago I became curious about “why the economics are such that British Columbia can export chips to Asia, but the US cannot?”. As I wandered through various faculties at universities, it appears that “economists who know about forest products” were either vanishing, or difficult to locate. The only people I had any success with were emeriti (plural of emeritus?) professors.

***Note: I am not being criticizing universities here. Institutions of higher education need to follow the scientific trends and money to stay in business. At the land-grants, this has always been a tension, as attracting federal research grants and serving the research needs of the citizens of the state can be in tension. In some cases, this tension is resolved by hiring the people solving more practical problems in extension appointments, which in some cases makes these folks more difficult to locate.

For example, but the holder of the SJ Hall Chair in Forest Economics at one of my alma maters, UC Berkeley, studies a variety of things not in the same bailiwick. Here’s a link to his lab’s website.

And yet there are practical economists helping people solve problems in the Forest Service and Cooperative Extension. So for a reporter (or me) it can be hard to find the experts. There are some in the Forest Service I know, but for them to speak to reporters requires approval of the public affairs shop. This can be simple sometimes and difficult other times, at least that’s been my experience. And unlike The Smokey Wire, reporters usually have some kind of timeline. Plus one might imagine a Forest Service economist would be quite careful talking about something with policy implications- the things we are most curious about. So at the worst, this is some form of “those who talk don’t know and those who know don’t talk.” Then there’s also a generation gap where many of the old stalwarts of the field recently retired, new people have been hired, but they’re not yet at the same level of knowledge and experience as those they’ve replaced. That’s even if their supervisors want them to study the same things. So it’s all very complex.

Consequently, as a result of university hiring and government grants, we might be missing an entire story when it comes to “getting rid of wood waste” or “getting the highest value from wood waste.” And we might even wonder whether the efforts of the last thirty years or so of trying to develop markets for small-diameter material might have been assisted by the presence of more academics studying the problems and working toward solutions. Isn’t that the point of having experts? To help find solutions and be knowledgeable of what is working and what isn’t?

Maybe it’s just me hankering for a simpler world where there were identifiable experts in useful subjects at our (land grant) schools. I’m not really expecting this from other schools, as it isn’t part of their mission. When I look at what the current faculty is studying, with notable exceptions, it seems more abstract with quite a bit of international work, and it seems that there are actually fewer social scientists (including economists) percentage-wise than in the past. Of course, the departments were different then, and I’m comparing the old forestry to the current department of environmental science, policy and management. Is it still possible to identify the State’s problems (like small-diameter material products and markets) and hire scientists to work collaboratively and help solve them?

Is this happening instead at another campus? How would we find out?

It seems that all this makes reporting, at least in our forest space, much more difficult than it needs to be. So please share the names of any experts you have found out there..

Science is clear: Catastrophic wildfire requires forest management

Science is clear: Catastrophic wildfire requires forest management” was written by Steve Ellis, Chair of the National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR), who is a former U.S. Forest Service Forest Supervisor and retired Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director for Operations—the senior career position in that agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

I have extracted a few snippets (Emphasis added) from the above article published by the NAFSR:

1) Last year was a historically destructive wildfire season. While we haven’t yet seen the end of 2021, nationally 64 large fires have burned over 3 million acres. The economic damage caused by wildfire in 2020 is estimated at $150 billion. The loss of communities, loss of life, impacts on health, and untold environmental damage to our watersheds—not to mention the pumping of climate-changing carbon into the atmosphere—are devastating. This continuing disaster needs to be addressed like the catastrophe it is.

2) We are the National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR), an organization of dedicated natural resource professionals—field practitioners, firefighters, and scientists—with thousands of years of on the ground experience. Our membership lives in every state of the nation. We are dedicated to sustaining healthy National Forests and National Grasslands, the lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service, to provide clean water, quality outdoor recreation, wildlife and fish habitat, and carbon sequestration, and to be more resilient to catastrophic wildfire as our climate changes.

3) As some of us here on the Smokey Wire have been explaining for years, the NAFSR very clearly and succinctly states:
Small treatment areas, scattered “random acts of restoration” across the landscape, are not large enough to make a meaningful difference. Decades of field observations and peer reviewed research both document the effectiveness of strategic landscape fuel treatments and support the pressing need to do more. The cost of necessary treatments is a fraction of the wildfire damage such treatments can prevent. Today’s wildfires in overstocked forests burn so hot and on such vast acreages that reforestation becomes difficult or next to impossible in some areas. Soil damage and erosion become extreme. Watersheds which supply vital domestic, industrial, and agricultural water are damaged or destroyed.

4) This summer, America watched with great apprehension as the Caldor Fire approached South Lake Tahoe. In a community briefing, wildfire incident commander Rocky Oplinger described how active management of forestlands assisted firefighters. “When the fire spotted above Meyers, it reached a fuels treatment that helped reduce flame lengths from 150 feet to 15 feet, enabling firefighters to mount a direct attack and protect homes,” The Los Angeles Times quoted him.

5) And in a Sacramento Bee interview in which fire researcher Scott Stephens was asked how much consensus there is among fire scientists that fuels treatments do help, he answered “I’d say at least 99%. I’ll be honest with you, it’s that strong; it’s that strong. There’s at least 99% certainty that treated areas do moderate fire behavior. You will always have the ignition potential, but the fires will be much easier to manage.” I (Steve Ellis) don’t know if it’s 99% or not, but a wildfire commander with decades of experience recently told me this figure would be at least 90%. What is important here is that there is broad agreement among professionals that properly treated landscapes do moderate fire behavior.

6) During my career (Steve Ellis), I have personally witnessed fire dropping from tree crowns to the ground when it hit a thinned forest. So have many NAFSR members. This is an issue where scientist and practitioners agree. More strategic landscape treatments are necessary to help avoid increasingly disastrous wildfires. So, the next time you read or hear someone say that thinning and prescribed fire in the forest does not work, remember that nothing can be further from the truth.

Investigating the Investigations II. A Deep Dive into the Numbers, Courtesy of Headwaters Economics

From page 121 in Haggerty’s “Rethinking” paper, link below.

This post relates to an earlier post with regard to this news story from OPB/Oregonian/Propublica and follows up on 2ndlaw’s question about how the federal payment decrease should be calculated here, I contacted Mark Haggerty from Headwaters Economics. Many thanks to Mark for his help and patience in explaining this complex and arcane world.  At the end of this post is a link to a paper that describes the history and also proposes a solution, so if this post is too much in the economic weeds for you, skip to #4.

Framing the Issue of Comparing Losses:

I don’t really know why the reporters decided to compare losses to counties from Severance+ to those from decreases in federal payments.  If the point was to say “Oregon doesn’t tax timber enough compared to other states,” you don’t really need those specific figures, you would just compare the overall tax structures.

Perhaps the point of comparing them was probably to say “people talked a lot about losing income from the spotted owl changes, but hey look, communities are also suffering from having too much private forestland and the current tax structure for forest products companies.”

So maybe the details of “relative badness” don’t matter.


Nevertheless, rooting around in the weeds with Mark Haggerty of Headwaters Economics produced the information below.  The bottom line from Mark is:

So the “loss” on the federal side is overestimated in my opinion. That said, there is no question that the loss is significant under any scenario.

2nd Law asked: “How did you (they) calculate revenue loss from federal lands? Did you include all the safety net and SRS payments that are not directly coupled to timber sales? These payments to local govt tend to vastly exceed the flow of economic benefits from private forest land. And they have lasted quite a while.”

1. Mark Haggerty’s response to 2nd’s question:

“The data I shared with Tony* do include appropriated Forest Service and BLM O&C payments including transition payments beginning as early as 1991 for the BLM counties, NW Forest Plan “owl” payments after 1993, and SRS after 2001.

They also include PILT, an acreage-based formula payment adopted in 1976. Counties must subtract prior-year payments from their entitlement amount, so in theory PILT compensates for declining Forest Service payments. But BLM O&C payments are exempt from the PILT formula and many small population counties are limited by the ceiling in the PILT formula so they are largely uncompensated for declining Forest Service payments. Payments for education are not compensated by PILT, which only goes to county governments.

The problem now, of course, is that SRS still must be authorized and appropriated on a recurring basis and does not appear to be a permanent solution for counties. I have worked with NACO for years on a permanent SRS fix that would increase payments over time by establishing an endowment financed with commercial receipts. It is introduced as the Forest Management for Rural Stability Act (S. 1643) by Senators Wyden and Crapo. “

  • (From Mark) Note that I didn’t do the calculations, the authors did. The data come from the Economic Profile System which is free to the public. You can find it here: Run the “Federal Land Payments” report for any county in the U.S. EPS includes all the payments listed.

2. And here is one problem with my  (Sharon’s) simplistic “the more federal west side timberland a county has, the more likely they were to be more impacted by federal decreases than by severance+”.

“To answer your question, the data do include the BLM O&C payments. Note that the O&C payments are not distributed to counties based on where trees are cut. The total value of harvests across all O&C lands are allocated to counties based on the relative taxable value of the O&C lands as of 1916. Multnomah county receives by far the largest share of payments on a per-acres basis, but not total because it has fewer O&C acres overall. Forest Service payments are allocated to counties based on their proportional acreage of each PNF. “

  • (From Mark) The O&C formula described is in use when counties do not receive SRS. SRS has a more complex formula (yes, it’s true) that includes historic payments and adds factors for the number of acres of O&C lands in each county, and an economic adjustment based on relative per-capital personal income in each county. Relatively “poor” counties receive higher SRS payments, and vice-versa. The Forest Service SRS formula is the same, except that it uses historic FS payments and FS acres per county.

3. Reasonable people could disagree on ways of calculating “what might have been” given that no one knows.

“Tony estimated “lost” federal payments by comparing the median payment since the NW Forest Plan to the historic median payment in the three decades prior to the NW Forest Plan, a period that included historically high payments in the 70s and 80s. I would not have done it that way. It assumes that without the NW Forest Plan, harvest levels and timber prices would have remained at historically high levels right up to the current year. I don’t know what the actual harvest value would have been, but I don’t think it would have remained the same given structural changes in the economy and specifically in the timber industry. So the “loss” on the federal side is overestimated in my opinion. That said, there is no question that the loss is significant under any scenario.”

4.  Why other economic activities don’t pay the bills. 

I don’t think that this aspect was touched on in the OPB/Oregonian/Propublica article.  “The other thing that plays importantly here is Oregon’s tax revolt in the 90s. Counties remain dependent on timber (severance, property and federal payments) because other economic activities essentially don’t pay the bills. So economic diversification isn’t a real option from a fiscal perspective. Here’s an article I wrote that dives into that issue in some detail:

Collaborating on national forest exploitation – an oxymoron?

“Attendees engaged in fruitful conversations during the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests hosted Environmental Analysis and Decision Making collaboration summit. USDA Forest Service photo.”

“Before retiring, James Burchfield worked as a field forester for the Forest Service and served as dean of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana.”  Where our careers overlapped, he was known for his support of and expertise in collaboration in national forest management.  We have argued on this blog about the proper role of collaboration (it flared up again in the Rim Fire recent example), but in this Missoulian column he points out what I think most would agree is an improper role (on his way to making another point about adequately funding the Forest Service).

In 2002, former Chief Dale Bosworth, who now resides in Missoula, reminded the agency of the concept of stewardship, where the focus is not what we take from the land but what we leave on the land. I fear we may be forgetting these vital lessons.

The June 12 visit to Missoula by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to announce his Secretarial Memorandum on new agency priorities reminds us how easily we may be lured in the wrong direction. His mandate to “increase America’s energy dominance” and “reduce regulatory burdens” comes on the heels of a June 4 Presidential Executive Order that orders federal agencies to set aside environmental impact requirements because of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Certainly, the nation must take assertive measures to restore the economy, but a command to exploit complex ecological systems without appropriate environmental reviews, guaranteed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), abandons the sound principle of “look before you leap.” Further, forcing the Forest Service to meet production targets on a narrow range of resource benefits — those that can be commodified in the marketplace — discounts other critical resource values such as clean water, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities that are well-recognized as central to Montana’s economic vitality.

Moreover, the Forest Service has learned its best outcomes emerge only after ongoing deliberations among partners and local residents to apply their nuanced knowledge and experience. This process actually happens in Montana via the decades of efforts by the 20-plus voluntary groups known as forest collaboratives that regularly engage with agency staff to improve project design, build understanding, and help get work done. These collaborative groups do not enter their deliberations with presupposed notions of resource exploitation. They want the best for the land.  

(My emphasis.)  I was always skeptical that including those with strictly monetary interests in collaborative efforts comported with this principle.  I assumed that there would have to be collaborative agreement with the desired outcome as step 1.  (This is also where forest plans should make an important contribution by defining the desired condition of the land.)  After Perdue’s announcement, it’s hard to see how any truly collaborative effort today could get past that step.



Has the Helena-Lewis and Clark got jobs for you

source: gustavofrazao / Getty

The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest revised forest plan was released recently and is now in the objection period.  A local newspaper decided to profile the benefits of the revised forest plan to “jobs” – 400 new ones are projected as a result of the revised plan.  As a former forest economist, I know how meaningless the economic analysis of forest plans can be, and this seemed a little far-fetched, so I thought I would take a look at it.

The EIS discloses the number of jobs resulting from recreation, grazing, timber, minerals, transfer payments and Forest Service expenditures.  That last item (which I think is mostly federal employees) makes up about half of the total employment benefit depending on alternative.  Actually, the number of jobs is the same for all of these categories in all alternatives, except for jobs related to timber harvest.  There, the preferred alternative (F) increases the timber jobs by five times over current levels (EIS Table 243, I get an increase of 497 from current levels), while roughly doubling the projected timber harvest volume over that resulting since 1980.  Elsewhere the EIS says, “An estimated 804 private industry timber jobs exist in this multi-county area.”  That doesn’t match the 119 shown in this table, but would mean the Forest would only increase industry employment by 50% or so, but still …  My point is just that this is suspicious and confusing.

The reality is that jobs created by Forest Service outputs are usually a very small part of a regional economy (the total number of jobs in this region is over 100,000, so that the total timber-related jobs is less than 1%) and the actual number of jobs will usually vary because of many factors that that Forest Service has no control over.  This is a good example of stuffing an EIS with information that does not help with the decision, and in fact may confuse it.

Then there is the question of why should we care.  The “regulatory framework” for social and economic benefits (p. 189 of the EIS) provides no authority for “creating jobs.”  (I doubt if there is one for doing something about “poverty levels” either, as Mac McConnell intimated here.)   The “findings required by other laws” included in the draft ROD do not include any related to social or economic growth.   And under NEPA, creating jobs would be a bad thing, since indirect adverse effects “may include growth inducing effects and other effects related to induced changes in the pattern of land use, population density or growth rate, and related effects on air and water and other natural systems, including ecosystems” (40 CFR §1508.8).

Of course, considering a specific effect on a specific industry or employer, might be a reasonable and relevant factor to consider for a long-term planning decision, if it were related to meaningful criteria about the “right” number of jobs and why, and properly disclosed in a record of decision.  I’m just not seeing that here, in this draft ROD:

The Plan also contributes to social and economic sustainability by providing plan components that collectively support an array of public benefits including jobs and income, … (p. 20)

This statement would have been true for any alternative, so the economic analysis contributed nothing.  It’s unfortunate that this was picked out as “news,” giving the wrong message about what our national forests are for, as well as raising questions about what is really going to happen.

Sierra Nevada Logging Examples

Back in 2012, I worked my last season with the Forest Service, on the Amador Ranger District of the Eldorado National Forest. In particular, I led the crew in marking the cut trees in this overcrowded unit.

The above picture shows the partially logged unit, as well as the sizes of logs thinned.

This part of the same unit shows a finished portion, and two other log landings.

Here is a link to the larger view.,-120.3284245,1019a,35y,90h/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

There are also other completed cutting units in the area, which I worked in. Most of those were also cut in 2018, six years after they were marked. The existing plantations were cut back in the 80’s. At least one new goshawk nest was found, and the cutting unit was dropped.

Public radio asks,”How Much Of The Chetco Bar Burn Should Be Salvage Logged?”

The Forest Service says it will salvage log 4,000 out of the 170,000 acres burned.

Smith heads Health Forests Healthy Communities, a timber industry-affiliated non-profit that advocates for active forest management. He says the relatively small post-fire logging project the Forest Service is planning is not only economically inadequate …

“ … but also a missed opportunity to reforest more of the landscape for the future.”

Smith says that salvage logging — followed by replanting — helps restore forest health. He says it’s important for fire safety, too.

Less salvage means more dead and dying trees and snags that not only fuel the next big fire but also put firefighters in danger the next time they need to go in there and put out a fire,” he says.

The Oregon Society of American Foresters says post-fire logging can foster “timely development of desirable forest conditions.”

Still, in the Environmental Assessment for the Chetco Bar salvage project, Forest Service officials don’t claim any forest health or fire safety benefits. According to project coordinator Jessie Berner

“… We are trying to capture the value of those trees to try to recoup some of the economic value of that timber in support of our local communities.”

Salvage logging can definitely have economic benefit. But the scientific evidence that it leads to healthier forests is thin … Jerry Franklin is professor emeritus of ecosystem analysis at the University of Washington.

“I’m not aware of any science that supports the notion that salvage logging contributes significantly to ecological values, ecological recovery,” he says

“The best thing to do generally is to allow it to develop following the kind of natural processes that have been going on for thousands of years,” he says.

One point of disagreement might be whether that desired “landscape of the future” or “desirable forest conditions” constitutes “ecological recovery.”  Ecological sustainability and integrity are required for national forest lands.

Small Steps Toward Building a Brighter Future

[U]nceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. — Phillip K Dick

On Earth Day Sharon tried to spread a message of optimism in a feed from PERC’s Executive Director Brian Yablonski. A couple of us failed to find any optimism there. Here is why: Yablonski and others who call themselves “Free Market Environmentalists” adhere to what many economists view as a particularly narrow field of economic thought labeled the Austrian School.
(See also My Wars Against Economic Fundamentalism (Iverson, 2011)) (See also: neoliberalism: Wikipedia, Guardian)

Main tenets of the Austrian School are: free markets, individualism, and “curbing the size of the state”.

Economists who frame the subject more broadly—as political economy—don’t view markets as necessarily “free,” neither government as necessarily “bad.” Most economists allow for government action as a legitimate part of broader workings of democratic politics (including wealth redistribution). Austrian School economists do allow for altruistic behaviors on the part of individuals, e.g. community or sectarian service and contributions, but believe government to be an ineffective or perverse tool for such. Austrians usually allow for government provision of national defense, but not much more from government. It is the disallowance of space for broader democratic governance I find most off-putting in the practice and politics of the Austrian School. For more on that, see Democracy in Chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America, by Nancy MacLean, 2017. (reviewed here (The Atlantic, 2017), reviled here (Critical Inquiry, 2017).

A World of Three Zeros

Recently I stumbled onto an interesting, uplifting book titled A World of Three Zeros: The new economics of zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero net carbon emissions, 2017 by Muhammad Yunus. (reviewed here (New York Times, 2017).

I haven’t read the book yet so I don’t know how the author attempts to solve the “zero net carbon emissions” problem, but the other two resolutions come about largely by people rethinking both the nature of business and human nature.

Business is recast in part as “social business” where the goal is to solve problems not just to make money. Yunus allows for conventional businesses, but suggests the need for many more “social business” enterprises that focus more broadly than simple profit—to solve social problems.

“Human nature,” says Yunus in the New York Times book review (2017), has been misinterpreted by the Capitalist System. Yunus argues, “In capitalist theory, it is assumed that man is entirely driven by self-interest. That’s definitely not the description of a real human being. Human beings are selfish, and at the same time they are equally selfless, if not more.” Hence his focus on “social business.” My guess is that Yunus also believes in democratic governance to help in this effort as well. But that can not happen until and unless we rid our culture of the serious misinterpretation of human nature he notes.

For the Common Good

Yunus is not the first to point out these problems. Almost 30 years ago, I used to champion Herman Daly and John Cobb’s book For the Common Good: Redirecting the economy toward community, the environment, and a sustainable future, 1989. (reviewed here (Scott London, 1995)).

Daly and Cobb’s message was similar to that of Yunus, but just gave general recommendations without many of the specifics Yunus now adds after successfully testing them in real-world settings.

Daly and Cobb were largely ignored, and shunned and derided by many in the economics profession. But that was way before pretty much all the wealth began to increasingly find its way into fewer and fewer hands (New York Times, 2017). Let’s hope Yunus’ message is afforded a more cordial hearing.

Here is how Yunus sums up our current plight (from NY Times article, but likely from his book):

“We need to abandon our unquestioning faith in the power of personal-profit-centered markets to solve all problems and confess that the problems of inequality are not going to be solved by the natural working of the economy as it is currently structured,” Yunus writes.

“This is not a comfortable situation for anyone, including those who are on top of the social heap at any given time. Do the wealthy and powerful … like having to avert their eyes from the homeless and hungry people they pass on the street? Do they enjoy using the tools of the state — including its police powers and other forms of coercion — to suppress the inevitable protests mounted by those on the bottom? Do they really want their own children and grandchildren to inherit this kind of world?”