New Policy News Affecting Forest Business & Timber Supply

By Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manger,
Associated Oregon Loggers, Inc.

Obama and Public Forests? How will President Barack Obama govern federal forest policy in the West?  An optimistic Idaho Statesman newspaper suggests that Obama’s administration would focus on neutral “post-partisan” policymaking, collaborative initiatives, and even some economic focus—due to his political debt to Western Democrat governors (who helped elect him).  However, his short political history and campaign platforms, indicate that Pres. Obama is aligned with liberal Democratic congressional leadership, who will seek a revival of the Clinton-era forestry prohibitions, “roadless” lock-ups, more Wilderness; and a “hands-off” orthodoxy concerning federal lands.  We’ll watch the new administration closely, and as always, AOL will work together with the national timber lobby too seek improved federal resource and tax policies for rural Oregon business.

Environmentalists Map Obama Agenda: A coalition of 29 environmental groups sent President-elect Barack Obama their roadmap for green federal policy and spending priorities— and it represents a U-turn from the policies of the Bush administration.  Their 391-page report, titled ‘Transition to Green,’ suggests what the Obama administration should do in its first 100-days & beyond, to “clean up the environment and revitalize the economy.”  Uh oh.

Montana’s Industry Plight: Oregonians should heed Director of Montana Dept. of Natural Resources, Mary Sexton, because her message applies to Eastern Oregon.  Sexton made a public statement that the state’s citizens should be alarmed about imminent loss of Montana’s 200 forest sector businesses—which are necessary to keep forests usable, beautiful and safe.  Failing national forest timber programs have decimated the timber industry in many intermountain states.  As a scramble is under way to save Montana’s timber industry, Sexton announced, “Our fear is we could lose our base of knowledge/experience of working in the forest…Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Heavy Rainfall Hits NW Oregon: After record snowfall blanketed NW Oregon in late December—dumping as much as 4’ in the foothills—a warm-rain-on-snow event produced flooding and landslides on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1st.  Rainfall was locally heavy, totaling 8 inches over portions of NW Oregon’s coast range and north Cascades.  For three years running, forest landowners and contractors have been tasked after huge storms—with extensive road repairs, drainage cleanout and slide removal.  Contractors are urged to use caution where saturated road fills create unstable conditions.

Log Truck Study Confirms Shrinkage:
A recent study of log trucker safety issues in Washington State found that log trucker accident rates declined 11%, while all commercial truck accidents increased 15% (2004-‘05).  Drivers reported that the worst part of the job was worsening traffic and deteriorating highway conditions.  The study also revealed several alarming trends—known to challenge the industry in the coming years.  The average driver is age 55, with over 25 years of experience.  A large percentage of truckers, like all baby boomers, are approaching retirement; and, skilled drivers are not attracted to trucking careers today.  The number of registered log trucks declined by 36% from 1998-2006.  Driver compensation and owner-operator rates have not kept pace with either competing job markets or escalating costs.  Log trucking business is more costly, risky and less profitable than in the past.

Forest Inventory Report: The US Forest Service released its periodic inventory report, ‘Oregon’s Forest Resources, 2001-05: Five-Year Forest Inventory & Analysis Report (FIA).  The FIA lumps-together federal, public and private forest data, which grossly masks the poor condition of federal forestlands.  Although report summary focuses on a few mundane findings—less conversion to non-forest land use, federal old growth, and less catastrophic wildfire— a closer read shows that the majority of Oregon’s big wildfires and forest health problems reside on national forests, in Wilderness and roadless areas.

National Forest Recreation Promise Broken: During the Clinton-era 1990’s the US Forest Service boasted how future recreation increases would replace lost timber income.  New federal figures show that the “recreation promise” was also a sham—just as the 1 billion bdft/year timber sale promise was a lie.  The FS just released a report finding far fewer people visiting national forests since 2004.  The decline is troubling for rural economies that looked to tourism/recreation to replace revenue lost when logging dried up.  Why fewer rec. users?  The FS blames high gas prices, rising visitor fees, youths glued to electronics, and a predominantly urban society.  The rest of the story: federal forest roads and recreation sites once subsidized by timber dollars have been closed or untended.

OR Senator Attacks Utilities: US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to Forest Service Chief Kimbell objecting to a proposed natural gas pipeline through the Mt. Hood Nat. Forest.  Even though the Mt. Hood forest plan allows utility corridors, Sen. Wyden said the proposed utility corridor would be a “freeway-wide clearcut”—apparantly to denigrate the project.  Environmentalists cheered Wyden, who regretably sees natural gas heat and power as unimportant to the Northwest region.

Being Green Hits Skids: Once thought to be the first green industry, recycling is the first environmental business to suffer the US economic recession.  US manufacturers that use recycled materials don’t need much because US consumers are buying less.  China & India have nearly stopped buying scrap paper and metals.  The result is huge surpluses and low prices for recycled materials nationally.  Wastepaper selling for $110/ton in Oct. has dropped below $20, metals have dropped by 80%, and plastics down by 90%.  And because some states (incl. OR) prohibit landfilling recycled material, stockpiles are growing, collectors are losing money, and future markets are in trouble.  So-called “forest protection” will likely suffer the same affordability problems as recycling.  Because such a severe economic slide has not occurred since envoronmentalism rose in the 1970s, Americans will be tested to see at what cost “being green” will be sustained.

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