Update on Current Policy News Affecting Forest Business & Timber Supply
by Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manger
Associated Oregon Loggers,
Forest Stimulus Spending $1 Billion: Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell announced that the agency would spend $1.15 billion in 2009 on its Economic Recovery Program. The USFS claims its programs will target hiring contractors, and not increase the federal workforce, by creating 30,000 new private sector jobs over the next two years. At the end of two years, the program is presumed to go away. Kimbell reminded us that during the 1930s Great Depression, the Forest Service hired millions of unemployed citizens, under the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which put people to work on fire control, reforestation, and construction of roads, trails, facilities and buildings. What Kimbell fails to mention is that although people had government CCC jobs in the Depression, for more than a decade that make-work endeavour squandered scarce dollars and prevented private business from rebounding by doing more productive & profitable private work.
Oregon USFS Stimulus: In early March, the Forest Service announced Oregon forest workers in six rural counties will get a quick hit of federal stimulus money—$10 million for now—with more to follow as the FS prepares contracts for pre-commercial thinning and wildfire hazard reduction. Beginning in April, the agency will contract with private companies, “creating” an estimated 100 jobs in six priority counties: Crook, Curry, Deschutes, Douglas, Josephine and Jefferson. More information on the USFS role in American Recovery Act is available at: fs.usda.gov/recov
Forest Service Contracting Workshops: The Forest Service held an informational workshop March 12th in Medford for those interested in contracting work on national forests to do federal stimulus projects. Contracts will involve clearing trails, removing debris and brush for wildfire prevention, and capitol improvement projects. The Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest expects to find out in the next few weeks exactly how much money it will receive from the federal stimulus law. AOL suggests that interested contractors should contact their local national forest for contracting opportunities. AOL sent to its members, on March 6th, an 8-page packet of “Stimulus” information.
First Oregon Forest Stimulus Hires Teenagers: The Forest Service announced its first stimulus spending would be contracting with the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps for $3.25 million. The money will employ 1,500 Job Corps teens this summer, employed in “natural resource conservation and restoration work throughout the state.”
Oregon Unemployment Tops Nation: In February, Oregon posted one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates in the country, 10.8%, its highest level since 1983. US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that national unemployment rose from 7.2% in December to 7.6% in January, 2.7% above a year earlier. In January, the West posted the highest regional jobless rate, at 8.7%. Business-friendly states posted the lowest rates, with Wyoming at 3.7%. In Feb., 236,000 Oregonians were unemployed—the largest number in the post-WWII period.
Wilderness Bill Stalls in Congress: After years of attempts, in March the Democrat-majority US House failed by two votes to pass a bill to designate 2.1 million acres of federal Wilderness in nine states. The ‘Omnibus Lands Bill’ (S.22) would add 202,300 national forest acres in Oregon, including Wilderness and 90 miles of new Wild & Scenic River: Mt. Hood; Grassy Knob(Copper-Salmon-Elk); Soda Mtn (Cascade Siskiyou Nat. Monument); and BLM’s Spring Basin near John Day and Badlands east of Bend. Most Republicans and resource users oppose further Wilderness.
Environmental Group Lacks Standing: The US Supreme Court in March decided a case that damages the frivolous litigation strategy of environmental groups wanting to stop federal forestry. The Court ruling on the ‘Summers v. Earth Island Institute’ case overturned a challenge by the Sierra Club and five other groups, which sought to block a US Forest Service salvage sale in California’s Sequoia NF. The nation’s highest court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing in the case.
Obama Hinders Federal Timber: In his first act to obstruct federal forest timber sales, President Obama in March overturned a new Dec. ’08 regulation issued by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). The now-defunct regulation had streamlined so-called “consultation” under the federal Endangered Species Act, by allowing the Forest Service and BLM to conduct their own biological decisions. The FS & BLM are now hobbled by lengthy reviews and prohibitions required by anti-forestry biologists at the FWS and NOAA Fisheries.
Regulations & Sawmill Closures: Sierra Pacific Ind. will permanently close its Quincy, CA modern small-log sawmill in May. The mill was built for promised federal thinning timber that never arrived. SP said that the recession wasn’t the shutdown cause, but merely the catalyst. The real cause is sky-high regulatory costs and litigation has eliminated future hope for the mill to profit. Two thirds of the mill’s future timber supply is hopelessly tied-up in federal forests, due to environmental lawsuits and obstructive laws. Sadly, the Obama administration’s misguided policies promise to worsen the gridlock.
2009 Forest Budget Passes House: In February, the US House passed a $410 billion omnibus appropriations measure, which includes Forest Service and BLM budgets for FY2009 (ends Sept. 30). National Forests would receive $1.51 billion, a $40 million increase over FY08, while the BLM would receive $890 million, a $36 million increase. The FS would get $322 million for timber, plus $328 million for hazardous fuel reduction. BLM O&C Lands would get $110 million. Senate Republicans criticized the increased funding, and have vowed to cut $32 billion from the bill.
Amendment Seeks Renewable Status for All Biomass: A bipartisan group of House congressmen, including Reps. Walden (R-OR) and Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD), introduced a bill that would define “renewable biomass” to include woody biomass gathered from all land ownerships. The 2007 Energy Law had narrowly-defined renewable biomass as only from non-federal sources that were not industrial plantations. The proposed bill would rightfully-expand the opportunity for federal energy incentives for all waste wood from any timber harvest source.
Four Biomass Plants Planned: A utility consortium, Richland, WA-based Energy Northwest and energy company Adage, agreed in February to develop a biomass power plant in each of four states: OR, WA, ID and MT. The four plants would be operating by 2012, each generating 50 megawatts of electricity—enough to power 40,000 homes. Adage is a joint venture between Duke Energy and France’s Areva Inc. The plants would be sited near sawmills, where wood waste can be readily gathered.
Wood Pellet Facility Planned: Increased demand for stove wood pellets in recent years has prompted Dailey Wood Products in February to propose building a new $7.5 million wood pellet manufacturing facility near Reedsport. The planned 10-acre site along the idled rail line would employ about 25, and utilize waste wood from Daily’s mill and other nearby mills.
Packaging Giant in Bankruptcy: As the latest recession victim, Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. in January filed to reorganize under Chapter 11 in US and Canadian bankruptcy courts. The courts approved Smurfit’s reorganization plan to continue business operations. Eastern-based Smurfit is one of N. America’s leading containerboard & packaging producers, which generated $7.4 billion in ‘07 revenue. Smurfit has a box plant in Portland, and its only western paper mill is in Missoula, MT.
OSU Forestry Receives Weyco Gift: Weyerhaeuser Co. Foundation made a $500,000 gift to the Oregon St. University College of Forestry, to create an endowed scholarship fund that attracts top students. The College graduates professionals in forest engineering, forest management, forest operations management, and wood science and technology. Weyerhaeuser has given nearly $4 million to OSU in recent years, as an investment in Oregon’s future forest products sector.
Publisher Reprints School Book: Book publisher, Pearson-Scott Foresman, admitted its first edition of a first-grade textbook was “an egregious error”—that included anti-logging text and slanderous pictures of loggers killing forests. The book’s entire first edition, which went to several Oregon schools this year, was replaced by Foresman with a revised second edition that favorably portrays loggers and harvesting, as people who take care of forests and animals by cutting sick trees, planting new ones, and creating habitat. Response by angry parents prompted the reprinting.
Community Colleges Getting Retraining Dollars: The US Dept. of Labor announced a $299,000 federal grant to assist 52 workers laid offs from Roseburg’s Bayliner Marine in Dec. It’s likely that more of these federal grants will be awarded to the Oregon Dept. of Community Colleges and Workforce Development, for the purpose of providing career counseling, job training, individual employment plans, job search assistance, case work, and Trade Adjustment Assistance. Oregon’s extensive network of community college campuses offers job and career training services.
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