Mt Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods
Mt Pisgah Hemlock Hardwoods
One is the best of timber sales, the other the worse.
The best is a State of Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) timber sale, and the worse is a Forest Service (FS) timber sale. The two are separated by less than three miles but are worlds apart in efficiency, profit, and fulfilling the will of the public.
The Forest Service timber sale is the Bozeman, Montana Municipal Watershed project (BMW) which proposes to thin a few thousand acres to reduce forest fire severity in the watershed that provides 80 percent of Bozeman's drinking water. TheFS began their Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process with a "public scoping" on the project in 2006, and seven years later it is still tied up in environmentalist-led litigation.
Meanwhile, the state's Bear Canyon Timber Sale began "public scoping" in 2010 and by the end of 2012 logging was almost finished! Radical environmentalists claim the BMW is just another "below cost timber sale" subsidizing the timber industry while the state will make a tidy profit from the $900 per acre the loggers will pay them.
The two timber sales are a microcosm of not only what's wrong with the Forest Service in Montana, but what's right with every state timber sale program in the West. One can destroy the below cost timber sale argument by simply asking why it is that every state timber sale program in the West makes money while the Forest Service loses money. If the states can do it, why can't the feds?
Over the last 10 years, Montana DNRC timber sales have averaged $2.00 in revenue for every $1.00 in cost. The State of Oregon, which owns a mere 3 percent of the state's forested acreage, harvests more timber than the Forest Service which owns 60 percent. In FY2011, Washington State made $98 million in revenue while spending $30 million to do it.
The province of British Columbia owns 98 percent of the forests within its borders. The Canadian federal government owns two percent. That's akin to the State of Montana owning what the U.S. Forest Service owns in Montana. For the last ten years, excluding the economic downturn, the B.C. Ministry of Forests has routinely deposited around $1.2 billion dollars into the treasury every year for a cost of $600 million. By contrast, the Forest Service had around 30,000 employees in 1990 when it last harvested 10 billion board feet (BBF) of timber, and today it still has 30,000 employees and harvests 2.5 BBF. What's the difference? You can't sue to stop a timber sale in British Columbia.
Radical environmentalists have a lot of nerve crying about "below cost timber sales" when it is their litigation that is the cause of runaway costs. Their litigation is also the reason the Forest Service harvests a ridiculously low amount of timber in Montana. A 2010 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that Montana had more environmentalist lawsuits filed than any other state and was home to the most litigious environmental groups.
Currently there are 11 lawsuits pending in Montana. The obvious goal of litigation is to delay timber sales until what is left of the timber industry strangles, but the tactic is also forcing the Forest Service to spend more of its budget "lawsuit proofing" Environmental Impact Statements, which generally means that fewer dead or dying trees are harvested.
On forests that aren't litigated, the EIS documents get pretty small. I did an "apples to apples" comparison of a Forest Service EIS done in Montana to one done in Colorado where all litigation has stopped due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic and widespread public fear of wildfires that come with beetles. Both documents proposed salvaging beetle killed lodgepole pine. The Fleecer Mountains Project in Montana proposed logging 1,700 acres and the EIS ran 228 pages while the Lower Blue Salvage Project in Colorado proposed logging on 6,000 acres and EIS was only 57 pages long. The additional 171 pages in the Montana EIS is basically boilerplate designed to reduce the chances for litigation. Good luck with that!
Inexplicably, the Forest Service does not keep track of how much it costs to prepare an EIS. On my time card, the firm I work for keeps track of our client's money with job numbers, tasks, sub tasks and job codes. I guess that's what happens when you spend other people's money. But the Forest Service is spending other people's money - ours!
Rather than track so-called "below cost timber sales," perhaps the GAO should require the Forest Service to keep track of its EIS costs. Then the public will know how much money timber companies are receiving in the form of federally subsidized timber [zero is the answer] and how many millions of taxpayer dollars are wasted on unnecessary analysis of projects that offer environmental benefits that far outweigh their risks - and how much additional money flows into the pockets of lawyers who sue on alleged violations of murky regulations that have nothing to do with environmental impacts and everything to do with layer after layer of administrative procedure that make it virtually impossible to produce a litigation-proof timber sale plan. And who pays these lawyers? You do. They collect their court fees from the government under the Equal Access to Justice Act.
On national forests where litigation rarely occurs, the Forest Service is still cutting timber. Just one national forest in Arkansas - the Ouachita - sold 65 million board feet of sawtimber in Fiscal Year 2012, more than all nine national forests in Montana! Likewise, Michigan national forests that span just three million acres sold 25 percent more timber than was sold on Montana's 17 million acres national forest system.
And how much was sold in Montana in FY 2012? About 122 million board feet, less than 25 percent of what was routinely sold in the 1980s. Of the 122 million feet sold, only 47 percent was sawtimber, 27 percent was firewood and the rest - 43 million feet - was "non-sawtimber," meaning trees less than nine inches in diameter that are of such poor quality they can't be sawn into lumber.
Smirfit Stone's paper mill at Missoula bought Forest Service pulpwood for years, but they're gone now to [same story as Stimson]. so there is little or no market for pulpwood in the state. In Arizona and New Mexico, where there is also no pulpwood market, the Forest Service came up with a novel solution. It hired a contractor to grind up the trees and burn them - at taxpayer expense.
Lest you think the dramatic downturn in harvesting in Montana's national forests was made necessary by earlier over-cutting, consider these government statistics: The Forest Service is currently harvesting less than one percent of its forested acreage in Montana per decade.
On the perpetually-litigated Kootenai National Forest more usable timber dies and falls to the ground annually than is needed to meet the combined annual log needs for all seven of Montana's remaining family-owned sawmills. And the lawsuits keep coming. Increasingly, your national forests are being managed like national parks - areas in which, lest you have forgotten, no harvesting is permitted.
Before Stimson Lumber Company pulled out of Libby, Montana, Lincoln County enjoyed the highest per capita income in Montana. Today, the county sports one of the state's highest poverty rates. Stimson did not want to shut down its mill, but the Forest Service could not figure out how to sell the company even a small fraction of annual growth. This on a forest where annual mortality exceeds annual growth. Meanwhile, half of the Kootenai - more than 1,600 square miles - has been set aside in a no-harvest reserve for 45 grizzly bears. Every Montana newspaper should be telling this story, but none do.
A century of fire suppression in Montana has produced a remarkable result. The state has more sawtimber sized trees than at any time since Montana became a state. Using maps drawn by early foresters, Forest Service researcher John Losensky has given Montanans a bird's eye view of what their national forests looked like before logging began. In 1900, only 16 percent of the Bozeman project area held what is today classified as mature timber. Today, thanks to the absence of wildfire, 44 percent is mature. Only 13 percent was old growth; today 33 percent is so classified. Today, the biggest missing component in the BMW ecosystem isn't old growth; it's the grass and forbs that come with wildfire or the natural disturbance that logging brings.
In 1900, 35 percent of the project area was in the seedling/sapling stage while today only 14 percent is so classified. I don't dispute the fact that there is less old growth ponderosa pine in western Montana, Itwas liquidated more than a century ago by the now long gone Anaconda Copper Company. That timber helped build Montana's economy. In a less litigious world, the small trees that Anaconda did not buy and harvest would be seen as an opportunity - a vast stand of second growth timber that has grown to sawtimber size and is ready to be thinned. Managed properly, we have national forests that can produce timber, habitat and high quality recreation in perpetuity. Not managed at all, we have an insect-infested mess that won't produce anything, except litigation.
Now it's time to round up the usual suspects and take a look at the environmentalist egos taxpayers are subsidizing - and the activist judge who has aided and abetted them. According to the GAO report the most "litigious" environmental group in the country is the Helena Montana based Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR) . AWR's 2011 IRS Form 990 lists $109,000 in revenue, including $85,000 in Equal Access to Justice money that it collected from taxpayers. In 2011, the Wildwest Institute raised $35,000 which covered little more than its executive director's $24,000 salary. Similarly, Friends of the Wild Swan generated a little more than its one employee's $21.000 annual salary.
But wait, there is an inverse curve between timber sold in Montana and money raised by environmental groups. In 2007, when only 109 million board feet of timber was sold and 350 million feet were tied up in litigation, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies raised $255,000.
In 2009 the AWR revenue fell to $83,000, which barely covered the salary of its one employee, executive director Michael Garrity, and the FS harvest jumped to 200 MMBF. In 2010, because of a gift from aging folk singer Carole King their budget jumped to $380,000 and harvest declined by 40 percent.
Of course, the radicals wouldn't be so effective without their great enabler and force multiplier, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. This is the guy who overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's delisting of the wolf because he thought they hadn't "proved genetic exchange" between the 2000 wolves running amok in three states. Montana's U.S. Senator, Jon Tester, had to attach a "Wolf Rider" to a budget bill to overturn Judge Molloy and again delist the wolf.
Judge Malloy is the guy who said, "Any more than seven days of Heli-logging on 99 acres could adversely impact the grizzly." I knew the Endangered Species Act forbid killing the bear, I didn't know it forbid annoying the bear. Molloy is so focused on the micro that he has lost sight of the macro. It's not a democracy when all this litigation concentrates power into a handful of egos that use it to shove their ideology down the throats of the majority.
There is widespread support for more logging in Montana coming from both conservatives and liberals. The 2012 Montana Chamber of Commerce's "P-base" opinion poll found that 83 percent of Montanans wanted more timber harvest while only 10 percent wanted to restrict it for environmental reasons.
Similarly, the Bozeman watershed project has not been opposed by any of the 24 moderate environmental groups that call Bozeman home. The more moderate Montana Wilderness Association [2011 revenues of $1,200,000] has collaborated with the timber industry in crafting the Beaverhead Partnership which would increase logging on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge NF from 800 acres per year to 5,000 acres per year: that would be 1.8% percent logged per decade. Now, who could think that logging 9 percent in the next 50 years could harm the environment? Even the liberal editors at the Missoulian newspaper - hardly a bunch of right wing tea baggers - have endorsed the plan.
How can the majority wrest control of their forests from the radical fringe? As shown herein, the Forest Service could double the timber harvest without increasing their budget if the level of environmental analysis was that of non-litigated forests. This won't happen by itself.
One solution to reducing litigation that has been proposed is requiring environmental groups to post a bond on timber sales they litigate, just as timber purchasers post a bond on sales they buy. If litigators lost their case, the government can collect its costs from the bond. A couple adverse judgments per year could wipe out the shoestring budget AWR operates on. There's a movement brewing in the West that calls for returning national forests to the states. When he was Montana Governor, Brian Schweitzer proposed taking over 10 percent of Forest Service administered lands. Those opposing it claim the forests can't be managed without a benevolent federal government. But British Columbia's very profitable provincial timber sale program makes this claim look ridiculous.
Another solution would be for the Forest Service to expand the use of so-called "Mega EIS documents." In Arizona, the agency has prepared a 10-year Environmental Impact Statement that covers 500,000 acres spanning several national forests. As they are routinely done, the average EIS covers around 5,000 acres. Scribing a much larger area means that radical environmentalists and their lawyers get one chance to litigate instead of one hundred chances. If the Mega EIS is upheld in court, then logging is guaranteed for the next ten years.
If Judge Molloy ruled against a Mega EIS, it would still serve as a useful vehicle for the final solution: The "Wolf Rider." Of Judge Molloy's many decisions, one ruling stands out for its very unambiguous clarity, and that's his decision upholding Tester's "Wolf Rider" which delisted the wolf for good with one simple sentence that read, "not subject to judicial review." One simple sentence can restore the will of the majority.
The wildfire hazard grows worse in Montana with each passing year. It's only a matter of time before moderate environmentalists, who AWR's Michael Garrity has labeled "Nazi collaborators," get fed up with the radicals and endorse the Wolf Rider solution. They themselves set an important precedent, in that none of the moderates condemned using the rider to delist the wolf.
One thing is for sure. The vast stands of dead timber that are so visible in western Montana today are moving the state closer and closer to the precipice of a murderous forest fire. Millions of acres will be lost for hundreds of years: watersheds, fish and wildlife habitat, wilderness areas and working forests capable of providing the state's rural communities with thousands of good-paying jobs. It could be all prevented by a little common sense forestry, but that won't happen until U.S. Senator Jon Tester's "wolf rider" becomes the law of the land.
Editor's Note: This article was published with permission from Evergreen Magazine. See the original text here. Derek Weidensee has been a licensed land surveyor in Rapid City, South Dakota for the last 20 years. Before that he spent 10 years as a logger. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.