Diesel up 38%, Forest Chief takes heat, more

by Rex Storm, Forest Policy Manager
Associated Oregon Loggers

Diesel Rates Quickly Climb: The average price of Oregon diesel fuel jumped 54 cents per gallon in the last month to $4.10 per gallon, according to AAA’s Fuel Gauge Report (3/18/11). This rate is 38% above diesel prices at this time last year. Oregon’s diesel fuel price at the pump ranks the 9th highest in the US, compared to the nationwide average of $3.93/gal. Oregon truckers and forest contractors are certainly re-calculating their operating rates, as fuel prices span every aspect of their business. Daily fuel & gas prices are reported online at: www.fuelgaugereport.com

Chief Takes Heat: US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell received a verbal lashing at a US Senate Energy Committee hearing in March. Chief Tidwell was severely criticized by Senator Lisa Murkowski (I-AK) for delivering less than half of the FS 2008 promise to offer four decade-long timber sales, totaling 800 million bdft from Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Tidwell claimed the smaller Tongass program would “create credibility with Southeast towns and villages.” Another sawmill in the state just shutdown, and the only large mill left is short on timber supply.

Board Urged to Act on Forest Problems: AOL’s Jim Geisinger, and Tom Partin, of American Forest Resources Council, spoke at the Oregon Board of Forestry’s March meeting, imploring the Board to push for improved management of federal forests in Oregon, as well as funding for state Dept. of Forestry programs. The Board received a paper previously submitted to an Oregon forest sector economic development work group—this paper addressed needed urgency in policy changes to increase federal forestry and to fund ODF fire and forest practices programs. The paper and its supporting organizations encouraged the Board to engage in policies—either state or input to federal decisions—that would foster improved forestry on federal lands. The paper was endorsed by five of Oregon’s major forestry associations (AOL, AFRC, OFIC, DTO, OSWA).

President Targets Independent Contractors: Although the current Congress is more business-friendly, the Obama Administration continues attacking independent contractor interests. The President’s 2012 federal budget proposal calls for repealing the “Section 530” safe harbor for independent contractor determination, under the IRS federal taxation. Additionally, his budget proposal would require federal income tax withholding from any purchaser’s payments made to an independent contractor. Small business coalitions nationwide intend to again derail this attack.

OR Prosperity Project: The 2011 Oregon Legislature is now in full swing making laws that affect Oregon business and jobs. Before the session ends in late-June, the Legislature will have considered over 3,000 individual bills. The Oregon Prosperity Project (OPP) is an online service that identifies legislative proposals that have profound impact on Oregon job creation. OPP monitors these bills as they move through the legislative process, posts information on its website, and issues action alerts asking for action. Oregon Prosperity Project online: www.oregonprosperity.org

Industry Tells Congress Impact of Regulations: In March, the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO) told the House Committee on Oversight & Regulation Subcommittee that proposed changes in several EPA air and water regulations could shift the economics of private forestry in the US, pushing more forests into non-forest land uses and costing US jobs. NAFO informed the subcommittee that ill-advised federal regulation threatens the economic viability of private forest ownership across the US, placing at risk rural jobs, and public benefits from private forests.

New Forest Supervisors: The US Forest Service appointed three new forest supervisors for Oregon national forests: Teresa Raaf on the Malheur NF in John Day; Monica Schwalback on the Wallowa-Whitman NF, based in Baker City; and Chris Worth on the Mt. Hood NF in Sandy. Raaf was formerly the Malheur deputy supervisor, and an engineering manager on other forests. Schwalback was deputy supervisor for NC forests, and was a wildlife biologist. Worth was deputy supervisor for the Custer & Gallatin forests in MT.

Connaughton New Regional Forester: US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell selected forester & economist Kent Connaughton as the new Northwest Regional Forester, based in Portland. Kent now directs management of 19 national forests and 24.8 million acres in OR & WA. He previously held management positions in Washington, DC; CA, WI, and the NW Research Station in Portland. Kent holds a doctorate from the Univ. of CA, and degrees from Stanford and OSU. Coincidently, Kent’s father was the NW Regional Forester until 1971.

Whitman Advises Governor: Governor Kitzhaber appointed Richard Whitman as his interim Natural Resource Advisor. Prior to the appointment, Whitman was Director of Oregon’s land use agency—the Dept. of Land Conservation & Development (DLCD). Previously, he directed the natural resources section of Oregon’s Dept. of Justice, including a stint as the attorney assigned to the OR Dept. of Forestry. Whitman’s appointment is an “interim” assignment to last just the six-month duration of the 2011 Oregon legislative session—with another person to fill the job after that.

Small-Woodland Owners Advise Board: For over a decade, Oregon’s Board of Forestry and State Forester have been advised about small-forest owner issues by a 12-person committee. The Committee for Family Forestlands provides input about forest policies that can improve the vitality of Oregon’s family forestlands. AOL staff, Rex Storm has been a committee member for several years, and recently, Jim James, executive director for Oregon Small Woodlands Assoc. was appointed. Additional information is available online: www.oregon.gov/ODF/BOARD/CFF/cff.shtml

State Forest Agency 100 Years Old: Oregon’s Board and Department of Forestry celebrated their centennial February 22, at the State Capitol. Displays featuring Oregonians’ close ties to the state’s 30 million acres of forestland from pre-settlement times to present were visible in the Capitol Galleria throughout the event. Oregon Dept. of Forestry retirees were on hand to answer questions and share anecdotes about forest management over the years.

Weyerhaeuser Fortune’s Top Forest Company: Weyerhaeuser Co. was named the world’s most admired forest and paper products company, according to a study published in the March edition of Fortune magazine. Weyco was recognized for its innovation, use of corporate assets, social responsibility, long-term investment, and quality of products/services. Fortune’s “Most Admired Companies” list is considered a measure of corporate reputation. In Oregon, Weyco manages 964,000 acres of forestland, runs 4 sawmills plus other facilities, and employs 1,300.

WA Biomass Plant Tabled: In March, officials announced that Adage Inc had cancelled its plan to build a 55 megawatt biomass-fueled power plant, located in Shelton, WA. The company abandoned the $250 million project because of increased economic uncertainties, including weakening markets for renewable energy, and escalating emissions and other regulations. Adage, a joint venture between Areva and Duke Energy, was formed to convert woody biomass into electricity. The cancellation casts an ominous cloud over economic viability of NW biomass expansion.

Europe Biomass Expands: The world’s largest biomass power plant opens by late-2011 in Tilbury, England. The RWE-N station is currently coal-fired, but is converting to a 750 megawatt wood pellet fuel plant. The next largest biomass plant is Finland’s 265mw Alholmens station. In Europe, biomass is considered a cleaner-greener fuel than coal, and regulations are forcing coal-fired plants to close. Meanwhile, Oregon’s only coal-fired power plant, PGE-Boardman, is evaluating whether biomass fuel partial conversion might be an option to its proposed EPA-forced closure by 2020.

Forest Service Management Challenged: Reports by the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified “persistent management challenges” facing the US Forest Service. Two years after a congressional subcommittee identified several major management problems, Congress found most problems still persist, including: weak program oversight; workforce misaligned with weak strategies; ineffective wildland fire management; poor accountability; lacking land
consolidation; and disorganized law-enforcement. The FS manages 14.2 million acres in Oregon.

MT State Legislature Just Says “No” to ESA: The Montana House of Representatives used their Republican majority in February to pass a bill that would nullify the federal Endangered Species Act in Montana—by a vote of 61-39. Although dispatching with the ESA would cost Montana roughly $1 billion in lost federal funds, the MT House members defiantly said the federal ESA has caused far more harm to the state’s rural resource economy. MT Governor Schweitzer (D) quickly warned the lawmakers he would veto the bill, leaving little hope that the measure would become law.

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