Julia Altemus Commentary: “Those Relying on Timberlands Must Educate the Public”

A recent newspaper article stated that nearly three-fourths of Montana’s 100-member House of Representatives have less than two years experience. Thirty-nine members are freshman, and 32 are entering their second term. On the Senate side, 29 of the 50 state Senators are in their first or second term.

In addition to freshman legislators having to learn the layout of the Capitol, and rules of the House and Senate, they also have to have a wide body of knowledge regarding many issues at their disposal. With only 90 days to pass legislation addressing the concerns of their constituencies, the learning curve seems a mile wide and at times, an inch deep. Those that rely on timberlands for jobs and tax revenue must do a more effective job of educating a larger public and in turn our elected officials.

Our forests provide jobs, wood fiber for products, and fuel for heat and power, as well as clean water, air and habitat for terrestrial, aquatic and avian populations. Communities in and near forests depend upon them for economic and ecological sustainability. Yet, unless one is desperate for a breath of smoke-free air in the summer between Eureka and Ekalaka, forestry and forest management is not usually the topic of conversation around the dinner table.

Thirty-nine counties out of Montana’s 56 are forested. State forestland is managed for the school trust, federal forestlands are managed for multiple uses and private timberlands are managed for landowner objectives. Proper management of any forest requires cutting timber and thinning annual growth and mortality. On the surface these principles seem simple and straight forward, yet when a myriad of environmental laws, court decisions, public opinion and management plans are overlaid on current and desired future conditions, forest management becomes very complex.

Gratefully, I have observed a real eagerness to absorb as much information as possible from as many sources as possible, to ask questions, and to seek answers. Though the knowledge base (in some cases) may be reflective of newly elected representation, there is nearly universal comfort in the management of state and private timberlands.

This level of comfort does not transcend to federal forest management however. More and more, our state elected officials are seeking ways to affect management on National Forest System lands within our borders. Of Montana’s 93 million acres, twenty-two percent is forested. Sixty-six percent is under federal management and a mere 4 percent is state trust lands.

It’s this sixty-six percent that is not being effectively managed that causes concern. Presently, we are harvesting less than 10 percent of the annual growth on National Forest Service lands, and even less harvest occur in forests that are dead and dying. This decline in harvest and active management is one reason for the increase in the number and severity of forest fires. There is just too much wood fiber both vertically and horizontally.
Nationally, existing forest plans allow the harvest of 6.1 billion board feet. Yet in 2012 only 2.6 billion board feet were harvested or 42 percent of the allowable sale quantity. No wonder our elected officials, in both the state capitol and the county courthouse, are frustrated.

Restoring health to our forests is not only critical for long-term ecological sustainability, it is the single most efficient state and federal program for generating jobs in high unemployment, rural counties. According to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, every one million dollars invested in forest restoration creates 40 jobs, compared to 14 jobs in solar or 13 jobs in wind industries.

In Montana, roughly 7,000 people are employed in the forest products industry, generating $256 million in labor income and $314 million in direct sales. In addition, lumber production is the largest piece of Montana’s wood products manufacturing sector – in terms of number of employees, timber-processing, capacity, volume of timber used, volume of mill residue generated, and sales value of products. Montana sawmills produce roughly 3 percent of the softwood lumber production in the United States annually, which equates to 1.5 percent of the softwood lumber consumed in the U.S. every year.

Unfortunately, getting from forest to mill is a complex path. Our elected officials need to be familiar with state and federal laws, forest ecology, silvicultural practices, harvest methods, markets, well the list goes on. We sincerely appreciate the interest, questions and solutions to complex problems and vow to continue to seek ways to effectively make the case for forestry and forest management.

Julia Altemus writes on behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association.

Julia Altemus Commentary: “Federal Timber Management vs. Recreation”

As far back as 1996, former U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture, Jim Lyons, testified before congress that because of the decrease in harvest on federal timberlands, recreation would supplant timber and other resource uses. Begging the question, is timber management and recreation on federal lands compatible or competing uses?

To further this recreation economy notion advanced under the Clinton administration, President Obama launched the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) Initiative on April 16 of 2010, charging the Departments of Interior and Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (EQC) to develop a 21st-century recreation agenda.

The goals of the Initiative promote community-based recreation and conservation, advance job and volunteer opportunities, build upon State, local, private and tribal priorities to conserve land, water, wildlife habitat and cultural resources by creating corridors and connectivity across outdoor spaces using science-based management practices that restore and protect landscapes.

The Initiative requires the Departments of Defense, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation, Education and the Office of Management and Budget to align policies and programs to achieve its goals.

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) response to the Initiative was to draft a “Treasured Landscapes” vision paper. Of the 264 million acres managed by the BLM, 140 million acres was identified as worthy of consideration as “treasured lands”. These areas, roughly the size of Colorado and Wyoming combined, will cost the taxpayer $1.8 billion over the next five years. In order to facilitate the transition from the current management system, the BLM proposed to “designate, rationalize, and manage-at-scale” its holdings through its land use planning processes, critical habitat designations and Wild Horse Preserves. The BLM further requested the Administration support the expansion of their land holdings by legislatively designating an additional 30 areas across the country (including two in Montana), or over 1.6 million new federal acres and 397,000 acres on state and private lands. To achieve their objectives, the BLM would rely on its land-exchange and land-acquisition programs, funded primarily by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The 2011 America’s Great Outdoor report to congress suggested that meeting the 21st-century conservation and recreation needs of our nation require full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund or, $900 million annually. Congress has only appropriated full funding twice in the past 45 years.

Even more recently, a report published by the Center for American Progress and the Headwaters Institute suggested that recreation and restoration activities are far better for the economy than other more traditional uses. Therefore, I think it is important to put recreation in context. The Outdoor Industry Association reported that recreation and tourism on National Forest lands provides roughly 224,000 jobs with visitors spending just under $13 billion in 2010. One would not argue recreational activities ranging from skiing to backcountry hiking and riding, and camping have a significant impact on “gateway” communities. However, just over 2 percent of the total outdoor recreation economy is a result of visitors to National Forest lands. The forest products industry, on the other hand, provides 1 million direct jobs, which contribute over $100 billion in labor income and sales each year.

Even though the federal timber program has declined since Undersecretary Lyon’s 1996 testimony before congress, the recreation economy has not supplanted timber and other uses, as he predicted. Nor is it likely to in the future. Of the top 25 producing Forests, 22 are above average for both visitor and timber sales. Proving that, not only are timber management and recreation compatible, but utilizing timber harvest to improve forest heath are vital to providing a robust recreation economy.

Instead of spending millions of dollars to acquire more federal land holdings or restricting current management in hopes of luring more people to America’s great outdoors, recreational opportunities can be achieved through better management of our existing federal resources.

Julia Altemus writes on behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association.

Julia Altemus Commentary: “Why Forests in the Farm Bill?”

Forestry programs have long been addressed in agriculture legislation and in US Farm Bills. So, why forests in the Farm Bill? The 1877 Agriculture Appropriations Act designated initial federal forestry funds for a study of western forests leading to the US Department of Agriculture establishing the Division of Forestry in 1881. In 1905, the forest reserves (under the Department of Interior) transferred to the Department of Agriculture, creating a new agency – the Forest Service. Even though the Forest Service has been funded through the annual Interior Appropriations Act since 1955, federal forestry has
historically been associated with agriculture and with agriculture legislation.
Congress has passed ten Farm Bills since 1965. In the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress recognized and affirmed the importance of our nation’s forests to our economic vitality and quality of life, by placing forest conservation on par with agriculture land conservation, and added new opportunities to improve management of private forestlands.

Some important programs included the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which increased funding for forests by nearly 134 percent from 2007 to 2009, and the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program quadrupled funding for forests to almost $8 million during the same period. In 2009, the Forest Stewardship Program helped nearly 16,000 forest owners develop management plans covering over 2 million acres, bringing the total acreage covered by stewardship plans to 34 million.

While the amount of forestland and agriculture land is similar, there are 11 million private forest owners in America, compared with two million farmers. Forestry and related industries directly and indirectly
support more than 2.8 million family-wage jobs. Ninety-two percent of trees harvested for wood products come from private forests, yet investment in forests in farm bills lags significantly behind funding percentages for farmers. Since passage of the 2008 Farm Bill, forests are under even greater pressure from societal, economic and environmental threats. In June of 2010, state forestry agencies completed Statewide Forest Resource
Assessments and Strategies, which was an important outcome of the 2008 Farm Bill. A number of threats were indentified including: loss of forestland to commercial and residential development, impaired forested watersheds, infestations of invasive species and other insects and diseases, increasing impacts of climate change, and increasing wildfires in the urban interface.

This year, Congress has an opportunity to expand on the 2008 Farm Bill and address these escalating threats. As members head into the August recess, what was accomplished? On June 21, the Senate passed its version of the 2012 Farm Bill by repealing several very important forestry assistance programs effective October 1, 2012.
The Senate also eliminated the permanent authority and annual appropriations for the Forest Stewardship Program, the Forest Legacy Program, and the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation programs and substituted capped funding through September 2017, depending upon availability of funds. Considering the escalating threats to forests and communities, repealing permanent authority for several essential forestry programs and forest management tools and capping others over a span of time, is short sighted.
The Senate did manage to include the mountain pine beetle on the list of insect infestations identified by Congress and authorized an increase in funding from $100 million to $200 million annually through fiscal year 2017, to address the mountain pine beetle outbreak. The Senate also gave permanent authority to 5 to 10-year stewardship contracts to achieve land management goals on National Forest System and Bureau of Land Management lands. On July 11 however, the House acted more responsibly by adding new programs to the Farm Bill that will serve to address forest health conditions. Programs that expand the Good Neighbor Authority to all National Forest System lands, allowing the Forest Service to contract with states to do hazardous fuels reduction and other projects, and authorized expedited treatments for “critical areas” designated as
suffering from “insect infestation, drought, disease, or storm damage”, or at “future risk of insect infestations or disease outbreaks.”

The health of America’s forests is critical to the future of our economy and quality of life. Forests provide clean drinking water, critical aquatic, avian and terrestrial habitats, recreational opportunities, renewable energy and products. While the conservation title in the Farm Bill once provided many tools for foresters to manage timberlands, these and additional efforts to preserve and improve our nation’s forests are important and certainly worthy of congressional support. It is now up to the House and Senate to reconcile differences in the two bills and to make sure programs in-deed address current and future
forest conditions.

Julia Altemus writes on behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association.

Julia Altemus Commentary: “Death by a Thousand Cuts”

The environmental litigants on the Colt Summit project recently stated “You can’t continue to cut more and more of the valley without jeopardizing other values. There is such a thing as cumulative impacts and death by a thousand cuts” thus claiming victory when the judge determined the Forest Service inadequately analyzed the project’s cumulative effects on lynx habitat and sent that portion of the proposal back for further consideration.

But did they have a right to claim victory? Since when is getting a score of 8 percent on a test, an “A”? Prevailing on one out of the 12 complaints is not an “A”, it is an “F”. For the four environmental groups that sued in federal court to claim victory or to state that “shared visions and communications stumbled” – alluding that the collaborative process failed – is hollow and certainly not very honest.

Bottom line, the Forest Service prevailed on 11 of the 12 complaints. It is important to understand that the court threw out the claims of inadequate environmental analysis, or claimed violations of Forest Plan standards for lynx and lynx critical habitat, of INFISH standards for bull trout, of Region One’s soil standards and violations of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for grizzly bear, lynx and lynx critical habitat. The Forest Service prevailed on all these very important environmental laws.

Yes, the timber harvest on the Colt Summit project is temporally halted while the Forest Service reviews – yet again – 10 years of recorded research data on lynx. The fact is, lynx currently occupy 53% of the Lolo National Forest or 1.1 million acres. The Forest Service knows exactly where lynx are and have been between the Bob Marshall and the Missions. The area is not over harvested, and definitely in need of active management.

Depending upon what the judge says was deficient with the cumulative effects analysis, the response to the court could be as simple as a better display of existing information, or the court may establish an expectation for lynx cumulative effects analysis that is difficult to meet.

In the meantime, road and culvert restoration work will continue on the 2,000-acre project. However, the claim from the four environmental litigants that the project was approved by the Forest Service after the fact, is troubling. That somehow, collaboration among diverse interests, “…wasn’t a meaningful collaborative process.” The claim goes on to say, “It’s so important to have a diverse group of interests at the table and to have it be balanced.” And, “maybe the table just wasn’t big enough.”

The fact is, those that choose to collaborate are extremely aware of the importance of having diverse interests represented at the table to achieve balance, thus making room for all that choose to participate in the collaborative process. The plaintiffs in the Colt Summit case simply chose not to collaborate. They were asked several times and declined. Instead of choosing to be part of the solution, they opted to be part of the problem. One could ask why? One answer is, finding solutions to complex environmental issues, including the economics of timber harvest and the social values associated with forest management, is work. Successful collaborators have the ability to stretch beyond their comfort zone, and focus on achieving interest-based consensus and not get hung-up on long-held positions.
The environmental groups worry about the cumulative effects the project would have on lynx. What about the cumulative effects, of shutting down the project, to those that work in the forest products industry and the small businesses and local communities that rely on that industry? Since 1990, litigation in Region One has directly lead to the closure of 28 sawmills in Montana and the loss of roughly 3,300 direct jobs and 6,900 indirect jobs. Now that, is death by a thousand cuts.

Julia Altemus writes on behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association.

Julia Altemus Commentary: “Hug a little less, help a little more”

“Stop Hugging and Start Helping” was the topic of a recent presentation by a self-proclaimed, former or should I say reformed, environmental activist. While his world had focused on that of the outdoor recreation enthusiast, being outside and being active in the “natural world” eventually gave him an appreciation for the world we live in, and for the business of managing forests.
Like Greenpeace founder, Patrick Moore, Bruce Ward also once agreed, “The forest industry stands accused of some very serious crimes against the environment. It is charged with the extinction of tens of thousands of species, the deforestation of vast areas of the Earth, and the total and irreversible destruction of the ecosystem.”

Even though Mr. Moore and Mr. Ward no longer hold this view, sadly some still believe that cutting trees is a bad thing. Thankfully, many renowned and now reformed environmental activists are awakening to the realization that we should be planting more trees, replacing old trees with new ones and using renewable wood sustainably harvested, as the way to a greener future. Mr. Moore and Mr. Ward are good examples of how careful study of the science, of biology and forestry – separating the emotions – however well intentioned – but often wrong – realized that careful husbandry of the forest is the answer to sustaining
the ecosystem, not destroying it – as once thought. What we now have in common is the understanding that managing our forests increases diversity and health of animals and plants, protects and filters our air and water, increases soil productivity and produces renewable biofuels, which may be used to heat and cool not just our homes, but our cities as well.
Everyone uses wood. More than ever before there is an increasing role for a well-managed forest, and the wood it produces. To get there however, the old thinking that cutting a tree is bad and is in opposition to environmental ethics must change. Even Chuck Leavell of the Rolling Stones – now a Tree Farmer – speaks out in support of a sustainably managed forest and of the timber and wood products industry.
The old anti-logging, anti-forest management beliefs did not serve the forest. This new environmental ethic appreciates logging and the manufacturing of wood products rather than shunning these practices as destructive. The time has come to dispel the old environmental ethic that harvesting trees is wrong, and realize that interfering with nature is what created the problem.
As a gardener or farmer would not leave their crop to the whims of nature and allow weeds, insects, disease and drought to take over, neither can we leave our forests to passive management, expecting a natural outcome to reap benefits for our local communities. Millions of acres of public lands are at risk. It is time to increase the public awareness within the private and public sector and engage in efforts to restore health to our forests.

In the words of Bruce Ward, we must hug a little less and help a little more.

Julia Altemus writes on behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association