Commentary - September 16th, 2013
10:27 am
Mon September 16, 2013

Two tales of one industry

Two recent opinion articles in a local newspaper highlighted the fact that Montana’s forest products industry continues to suffer from two tales of one industry. 

The first article opined that throwing billions more at logging was wrong and went on to suggest that “parroting of Bush-era ‘Healthy Forests Initiative’ propaganda, is nothing but a smokescreen for more corporate logging.”  I guess this sound bite plays well, as it is a label the author uses quite frequently and loosely.  I don’t even know what “corporate logging” means.  The author is equally guilty of stooping to use propaganda to misconstrue and paint a picture in the mind of the reader. 

A couple days later, another opinion piece appeared in the local paper from a certified forester.  He and his wife were visiting our beautiful state from the east coast.  He commented on the magnificence of our landscapes and how lucky we are to live here.  “It is an outdoor paradise.” He went on to say, “In our travels, we saw several large sawmill operations and these mills were located in the midst of high-traffic, outdoor and recreational economies.  It appears timber harvesting can, and is, compatible with that paradise and helps keep it alive and economically sound.”

French philosopher and writer, Voltaire once wrote that when “men argue; nature acts.”  That was as true four hundred years ago as it is today. As we continue to argue about active or passive or no management at all of our public lands, argue about the affects of climate change on the environment, argue whether America’s wood products should come from public forest management or loggers should be employed to harvest trees, nature is acting; and acting with a vengeance. 

It is true, for centuries, nature kept North American forests in balance prior to European settlement.  However, this balance was upset when people and cities started inhabiting the landscape.  Centuries later, it would be ludicrous to ask everyone to leave.  So our job, as good stewards, is to mimic the role of nature as best we can. 

Until the last few decades, our national forests did not grow overly dense because the natural role of fire was replaced with a program of forest thinning.  Forests were logged to provide wood products, and recreational opportunities, resilient ecosystems, and to prevent wildfires.

Even though forests offer many important intrinsic values and experiences; managing the growing stock (by harvesting trees) congress treats wood fiber as a commodity, just like grain, cattle, and so on.  This is why the U. S. Forest Service, as an agency, is under the U. S. Department of Agriculture, not the U. S Department of Interior, like the National Park Service. 

When environmental groups started organizing in the 1970’s, logging became unpopular.  During this timeframe, harvest on national forests plummeted 84 percent, from 12 billion board feet per year in the 1980’s to half the amount in the 1990’s, and has sunk to an all time low of about 2 billion board feet annually in recent years.  “As men argue, nature acts.”

Our national forests produce eight times more new growth each year than is harvested.  The result of decades of arguing is a massive overgrowth, and with warmer climates, a timber box, when ignited, leaves a moonscape where there was once “a paradise.”  

The two tales of one industry is that logging leads to “more deforestation of our dwindling old growth forests,” and that “logging as the solution to wildfire is, at best, a myth.”  That is one tale.  The other tale is forests are not static environments.  Trees keep growing and must be thinned in order to promote and protect healthy forests.  This process provides jobs and economic stability to local communities.  

The people that comprise Montana’s forest products industry believe they are not only compatible with outdoor and recreational economies; these economies are dependent upon healthy forests and interdependent upon the work this industry provides.  On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.

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