Monthly Archives: January 2016

Public Lands – a local perspective

Warning:  The following is not written with political correctness in mind.  Foul use of the English language may occur.

Overgrazed

A recent post on a popular social media site caught my eye the other day.  It was re-posted by a local resident and written by a VP from a local timber company regarding the use of Public Lands.  First off, I would like to commend the author for his effort.  The article was very well written and provided scientific and economic back up to support his position.  I felt he did an awesome job of getting his view across in manner which was in sharp contrast to another public lands debate happening across our state in another county.

The first point addressed by the author was the potential for tax revenues to county and local governments that could be gained if the Timber Industry was allowed to harvest on USFS lands.  A valid point.  Our local communities could use  a bump in tax revenue!  It would likely produce a few new jobs which would be helpful as well.

The other main point of the article provided some scientific data that showed that a portion of the timber on USFS managed land died and had therefore had lost it’s potential financial value to them. From that narrow perspective, that is a true statement. The timber industry cannot profit from dead/rotting trees.

Here is a link to the article I’m referring to.  Read and draw your own conclusions.

My only real issue with the article itself was that the science used to backup the authors statement also raised concerns regarding what might happen if the industry were allowed more access to Federal Lands for harvest purposes.

The main point of the chart and written summation was to highlight the number of board feet that were harvest/extracted vs. the number of board feet that died as compared to the growth of the forested land as a whole. It shows that for the time period of 2007-2010, .23 billion board feet of timber died on private land, .10 billion board feet died on State lands and 2.11 billion board feet died on federal land.  So from their perspective, the timber industry does a great job of extracting the resource before it dies on land they are in control of, whereas, because they can’t extract more from federal lands, a higher percentage of the available timber goes to “waste”.

I want to pause for a moment here and make sure there is some clarity with regards to land ownership:

Private land is property owned by the Timber Industry and/or private citizens that sell the their timber rights to the Timber Industry.

State land is owned by all citizens / taxpayers in Oregon and is managed by the State of Oregon Department of Forestry. It’s as much my land as it is your’s and the Timber Industry’s.

Federal land is owned by all citizens / taxpayers in the United States of American and is managed by the US Department of Forestry and/or the US Bureau of Land Management. It to is as much my land as it is your’s and the Timber Industry’s.

The scientific data provided shows the percentage of timber harvested over that time period compared to the growth of the timber.  On private land, they extracted 2.6 billion board feet annually or nearly 100% of the growth.  As the Oregon Forest Research Institute likes to tell us – timber is a renewable resource. That’s cutting it pretty close- they harvest 100% of what grows each year according to the data.  On our State land that they are allowed access to, they harvest .30 billion board feet per year or around 60% or the growth. On our Federal land, they only get to extract .23 billion board feet per year or around 10% of the growth.

Feeling sorry for the poor timber industry yet? Get the feeling that the percentage of federal timber land harvested might increase? They harvest all of what they grow on their land. They harvest a huge percentage of what grows on our state land.  I’m guessing their going to harvest a whole bunch of what grows on our federal land if they have their way.

They claim that if they were allowed back into Federal Lands to extract the timber resources that you and I own, they’d give a tiny percentage of their profits (via taxes) to the local counties and hire some new employees.  What they don’t tell us is that the vast majority of their profits would go to the corporate owners and shareholders.  I don’t really see the benefit here.  Why would I want the Koch Brothers, and other like them, to have the ability to add billions to their personal net worth by extracting my resources?

I’m of the opinion that my resources ( jointly owned with other taxpayers) are providing a benefit left as they are without being extracted.  Those dead and rotting trees serve a purpose too. Sure, the timber industry doesn’t get to exploit the resource and profit from it, but in trade we get things like less contaminated drinking water, places to hike and hunt and fish.  The counties and state get a huge economic boost from tourism related activity because not all of the State and Federal land is clear cut.  People from outside Oregon come here to hike and hunt and fish.  They leave a lot of dollars here in the local economy when they buy gas and groceries and rent cars and rooms and in my case, purchase a guided fishing trip.  If the Timber Industry had it’s way, I doubt as many folks would want to visit our state.  Where is the peace and beauty in hiking through clear cuts?

Clearcutting

 

Did you catch that?  I exploit the resource too.  Just like the timber industry does.  I pay for that opportunity though.  I buy a license to fish, I buy a license to guide and I pay a fee for the right to use government managed facilities (boat ramps).  I also support the local schools, sponsor little league teams, donate at scholarship banquets, get my guide truck and boat washed by the cheerleaders, math club, robotics team and other fundraising events.  I save up bottles and cans for the Outdoor School Program fundraisers.  The local folks that earn a living from the timber related industries do the same things.  They are the baseball coaches, school board members and the people that donate time and money for the benefit of the local community, just like me. I would even go so far as to guess that some shareholders of timber companies kick in some as well.  However, if you compared the amount of support us locals provide relative to our income, I would bet that we give up a hell of a lot more of our personal income than the timber execs give of theirs.

What irks me more than the article itself, are some of the comments on social media and a general lashing out by some local hard working folks.  There are some who blame the condition of the local economy on the “government” and environmentalists.  In their opinion, that’s the root of all evil.  They believe that the sole reason our local communities are depressed is because “tree huggers”  got all worked up over owls, salamanders and chubs and the government did nothing but help them.

This is where I have to stop again and point something out.  The “big bad government” is made up of a bunch of people hired by us taxpayers to manage our lands.  The local officials and employees of that management group we “hire” are our friends and neighbors.  They too send their kids to school, participate in fundraisers, pay taxes, etc.  They go to work everyday and do their best to manage our resources (air, water, trees, fish, wildlife, etc) for the public good.  The public means you and me, our children and future generations.  Not an easy task by any means.

I think we need to take a historical look at what ELSE was going on in the 1970’s and 1980’s when those damned hippie tree huggers moved in and screwed everything up, (with the backing of the government).  Do you recall what interest rates were back then?  It was known as a time period that is called the “Great Inflation”.  Interest rates were in the double digits, meaning mortgages rates were topping out at as high as 20%.  Think about that for a second. How in the world could you borrow money to buy a car or a home with rates like that.  Think maybe that had and impact on the housing market much?  Would that impact the timber industry and the communities that depended on it?  I draw a conclusion that if very few people in the US could afford to buy or build a home, that would have a significant impact on the timber industry.

I read somewhere recently that showed that the 1970’s and 1980’s were also a time when the timber industry made a major shift from manual labor production to automation.  In fact, the article stated that more jobs were lost from that shift than from environmental  movement and the housing slump combined. (I read it on the Internet, so it must be true.)  So what does that mean in layman’s terms?  It means that timber executives took the opportunity to invest in the latest technology (and probably received tax breaks for it), increased production (and profits) and eliminate jobs (meaning more profits).  Those smaller mills that could not make the investment in automation technology lost the ability to compete with the big boys and went out of business.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re way past due for the conclusion of this rant, and that is this:

The next time you start feeling that you’re about to be bent over and buggered, you might want to look back and take a peek.  I bet you’ll be surprised to see that it’s not the government or a tree hugger with his hand on your shoulder whispering sweet nothings in your ear.  It may very well be a timber executive – a corporate cattle conglomerate exec – a foreign mining company – or one of their bought and paid for politicians that’s about to ream you good.

I’m not trying to paint every timber company with the same brush.  We’ve got some smaller operations here locally that are hard working folks that support the community – like the guy that wrote the article that caught my attention.  I don’t doubt his sincerity with regards to the local community at all.  And as I said in the beginning, he made some very valid points to support his views and I applaud that.  However, there are other views and there should be balance with regards to the use of our public lands.

Don’t be so quick to buy into the propaganda spewed forth from the OFRI, the Bundy’s, the Koch Brothers and others.  It’s as much our land as it is theirs.  We the people have a say in how it is managed – for us and future generations.  Allowing it to be sold off to billionaires who simply want it to make more billions would be a crime against our children and grandchildren. Don’t buy into my opinion either. I have a pretty narrow view as well. I like my trees standing up, cleaning the water I drink and cooling the water where I like to angle for fish. It’s all perspective.

Tight Lines and Keep ’em Wet.

Dave