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January 10, 2019

Why are we still logging forests?

Opinion

January 10, 2019

Anyone who accepts true science realizes that today’s big forest fires are driven far more by climate warming than by a lack of “active forest management”.

Active forest management, more honestly called “logging,” has always been the timber industry’s cure-all for every perceived problem in our forests. Until science confirmed the amazing diversity and value of our old forests, they were deemed to be “decadent,” badly in need of logging and replacement with more efficient tree farms.

When there were budworm or bark beetle breakouts, industry said our forests were being decimated and needed logging to “restore” them. Science disagreed, noting that insects and disease were important components of healthy forest ecosystems. When our forests burn, industry claims quick logging and replanting is necessary to salvage their value. Science again exposed their myths, showing the value of leaving burned forests as critical habitat and how forests reseed and recover naturally from fires like the Biscuit.

I kept a cabin within the huge weather-caused and weather-extinguished Biscuit Fire in Oregon. It was years of cutting and burning non-merchantable understories that saved my cabin, not logging. In the aftermath, I witnessed how little difference commercially thinned stands made to fire spread or intensity. I photographed sites where flames consumed thinned stands only to lie down when they hit the cooler, moister, unthinned forest.

To me, as a timber cruiser and broker who’s tracked timber data and sale prices for decades, it’s obvious why industry preaches logging for all that ails our forests. They make grossly unfair profits from logging public timber sales – far more than the environmental attorneys who litigate them. Scorched old sugar pines and Douglas firs from Biscuit salvage sales sold at literally a dime to the dollar of real value. These sales were sold at a net loss to us as the forest owners, as are many federal timber sales.

Why should we sell our timber at a loss? Would private forest owners sell their timber at a net loss? Of course not! They aren’t politically forced to sell mature timber at far below market value just to subsidize a few mills. If private forests are managed sustainably as often claimed, why can’t what few mills remain feed off them? Partly because there’s little mature timber left in private forests, but mostly because regional private timber supplies are siphoned off by log exports.

Private log exports from Oregon, though down from recent peaks, still exceed current federal timber harvests. In 2013, log exports were nearly triple Oregon’s federal harvest levels! Domestic mills could successfully compete with log premiums paid by Asian mills if export logs were taxed with a tariff.

Speaking of taxes, suppose we taxed federal forestlands instead of logging them to help fund counties? Unfortunately, however, if federal forests were taxed as little as private forests, the returns would be dismal. Private forest owners pay no tax on the value of their standing timber, even though it’s real property. They pay taxes on a pittance of the real market value of their land.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Why are We Still Logging Our Forests?’.

Courtesy: Counterpunch.org

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