Timber Update: Biomass, old growth ban, spotted owl

Items reviewed: Unemployment, biomass, old-growth ban, stimulus wood, spotted owl, Federal GVW Reform and more
by Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manger
Associated Oregon Loggers,

New Economy=Record Unemployment: There’s been a total failure of liberal claims about Oregon’s so-called, diversified “New Economy”—characterized by high tech, services and tourism.  In March, Oregon’s New Economy was shamed with the nation’s worst unemployment rate—12.1%. Oregon’s unemployment is its worst since OR records began in 1947, and matched the early-1980s recession.  State economists say the meteoric rise (5-months of a point-per-month climb) is unusual and unexpected.  After the 1980 recession walloped Oregon, progressives promoted their New Economy, and said manufacturing, agriculture and forest products were less important economic drivers.  As it turns out, the politically-correct high tech, services and tourism failed to save Oregon.

Congress to Define “Renewable Biomass”: US Senators Thune (R-SD), Tester (D-MT), and Chambliss (R-GA), introduced a bill to revise the restrictive “renewable biomass” definition in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), passed in the 2007 Energy Bill.   Unlike the current definition that excludes most forest biomass, the revision would qualify all woody biomass from all private & public forests.  In March, AOL’s Jim Geisinger and several AOL members joined the American Loggers Council in Washington, DC to lobby to support this needed revision—for favorable future tax credit and renewable energy classification.

Dems Say Biomass Not Renewable: Many Democrats in the US Congress are trying to ram through a heinous bill that would prevent forest woody biomass from being “renewable energy.  The House Energy Committee introduced a renewable energy cap & trade bill”, which would strip future economic value from biomass.  Led by environmentalists, the Democrat-sponsored bill could ban most federal & private tree biomass from the national Renewable Energy Standard.  AOL and forest industry are lobbying to assure all forest biomass rightfully qualifies as a truly renewable resource.

Wyden Seeks “Old Growth” Prohibition: In April, US Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced he would soon introduce a bill in Congress to ban the harvest of old growth trees in Oregon federal forests—a virtual prohibition on logging any native federal forest.  The bill would ban cutting any tree over 120 years old (westside), 150 years (eastside), and 160 years (BLM).  The Senator claims the bill gives agencies incentive to focus on thinning instead of “traditional timber production.”  The Senator’s spokesman wrongly suggested that if $50 million be spent for forest thinning, the bill would “more than double harvest from Oregon forests for decades.”  AOL and other industry representatives have spent months explaining to the Senator how this proposal is unworkable.

Federal Stimulus Spending Begins: In March, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced federal forest projects will begin immediately in four states, funded by American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  In Oregon, the first round of USDA project funding entails $16.5 million for Youth Employment Initiative and fuel reduction service contracts.  Additional Forest Service projects funded by ARRA will happen over the next two years, purported to “create 25,000 jobs” nationwide.

Stimulus Wood has No Home: Deschutes County projects funded by the federal stimulus bill (ARRA) have resulted in contracts awarded by the Forest Service (fuel reduction) and ODOT (Highway 97 widening north of Sunriver).  Expected to provide 140 jobs, the projects are up against a forest products market that fails to want the logs and wood fiber generated by the thinning and right-of-way clearing.  The Gilchrist sawmill is indefinitely closed and the demand for chip fiber is poor, yet the contract purchaser has few options if no buyer is found…deck the logs or burn piles.

Big National Debt Ahead: President Obama’s proposed FY 2010 budget, supported by many congressional Democrats, promises to break the bank… and the backs of Americans in coming years.  The Congressional Budget Office reports this budget would spend $3.6 trillion next year, which costs every person in the country $11,935 ($34,129/household).  Add to that, the interest to service the debt would cost federal taxpayers another $4,550/household/year over 10 years.  Not including $3 trillion of unfunded stimulus spending already passed, that quadruples the federal deficit.

Spotted Owl Plan Withdrawn: In March, the US Interior Dept. announced its intention to re-write its federal N. Spotted Owl Recovery Plan.  The USDI asked the District Court to halt proceedings, while the government “negotiates a settlement” surrounding lawsuits over the plan.  The Obama administration appears to be backing away from the improved Bush-era recovery plan, by rewriting its own draconian plan.  The current plan has been litigated by both environmentalists and the industry (American Forest Resource Council: AOL is a member), for the opposite reasons.

Diesel Prices Soft: In early March, the national average price of diesel fuel had fallen for 33 weeks to $2.09/gallon, a four-year low, according to the US Dept. of Energy.  Now, national diesel prices are in their normal spring-seasonal climb, rising to an average $2.27/gal.  Record-high OR diesel was $4.99/gal, set July 21, 2008 (Medford).  Oregon’s average diesel price has risen to $2.37/gal (4/14/09).  Diesel prices are still above gasoline, but energy analysts say that could change.  For daily reports in four Oregon markets, online at: www.fuelgaugereport.com/ORmetro.asp

Federal GVW Reform Bill: In March, Rep. Michaud (D-ME) introduced HR. 1799, ‘Safe & Efficient Transportation Act’, which would give states the option to increase their allowable GVW weight on a single-trailer truck up to 97,000 pounds—applicable on Interstate highways for six-axle trucks.  The bill would increase the federal Heavy Vehicle Use Tax on such vehicles, by $100/year plus $22 for each thousand over 55,000#, not to exceed $800/year.  The tax revenue would help fund bridge improvement/replacement.  Three coalitions are lobbying to support this bill in Congress

RFP Union Rejects Concessions: In April, about 2,000 Roseburg Forest Products union members at Douglas County mills rejected a RFP request for contract concessions, as company losses rise in the recession.  Carpenters Industrial Council union (CIC) workers were asked to give-up a vacation week, cut 2 of 11 paid holidays, and defer a June 1st wage increase.  Boise Cascade also asked its CIC union to vote in April on similar concessions for its NE Oregon mills.  When unions approve concessions, the firms say lay-offs are minimized and a mill’s recession survival is enhanced.

Forest Service Timber Shortfall Impairs Mills: Tom Insko, Boise Cascade’s Inland Region manager in LaGrande, announced that in addition to poor lumber markets, the company is hurt by insufficient US Forest Service timber sale volumes in recent years.  Insko said that broken Forest Service policies force B-C mills to source logs from hundreds of miles away. “The long haul adds significantly to our cost structure, and we have had very little success in convincing the Forest Service of the importance of managing local national forests near our mills,” he said.

Elkton Tree Nursery Leased to IFA: The 52-year old former state-run D.L. Phipps Forest Nursery near Elkton is now being leased by IFA Nurseries, Inc., a private tree-seedling grower based in Canby.  Oregon Dept. of Forestry in April discontinued Phipps operations, which at one time grew 16 million seedlings/year; but, since 1990 production fell due to reduced federal harvest and more private nurseries.  IFA is currently contract growing about 2 million seedlings per year.  ODF now has the property and buildings listed for sale at $2 million.
Wilderness Expansion Clears Congress:  The US Congress in March passed the ‘Omnibus Lands Bill’, to set-aside 2.1 million acres of federal land in nine states as Wilderness, including 204,000 acres in Oregon.  Pres. Obama quickly enacted this huge federal land lock-up.  More Oregon land is off-limits: 128,000 acres in Mt. Hood Nat. Forest; 13,700-acre Copper Salmon Wilderness in Rogue-Siskiyou NF; 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness in Cascade-Siskiyou Nat. Monument; 31,000 acres BLM desert badlands east of Bend; and 8,600 acres of BLM juniper hills in John Day Basin.

Walden Asks FS for Emergency Forest Management: In March, US Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) hand-delivered a letter to President Obama at the signing ceremony for the ‘Omnibus Lands Bill’. Walden’s letter detailed economic hardships facing rural Oregon and asked the administration for emergency steps to both reduce wildfires and put Oregonians back to work.  Days later, Walden followed up with a hand-delivered letter to Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell asking that she develop a set of emergency measures to speed forest management action.
Walden Leads Effort to Fund Firefighting:  Sponsored by US Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), HR. 1404, ‘Federal Land Assist, Manage & Enhance Act’, or “FLAME” (S.561), passed the House.  This bipartisan act would create a separate firefighting account dedicated for Forest Service and Interior emergency firefighting.  FLAME aims to improve wildland fire management, while preventing the Forest Service and BLM from annually robbing millions of dollars from forest management accounts to pay for run-away firefighting costs.

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