We've long known that lawsuits from environmental groups challenging timber projects can be damaging to rural communities and forest health, but now there is more evidence to quantify it.
The University of Montana this month released a study showing that lawsuits in Montana have cost local communities and the U.S. Forest Service tens of millions of dollars. And this week experts testified at a U.S. House hearing about the damage from lawsuits challenging timber projects.
The Montana study showed the Forest Service region including Montana, North Dakota and parts of South Dakota and Idaho had the most timber projects in the country challenged from 2008 through 2013, with 73 projects and 40-50 percent of the planned timber harvest litigated.
The researchers also used as a case study the Spotted Bear River project, which was designed to "cut trees on 1,193 acres, perform prescribed burns on 1,346 acres and thin 660 acres of saplings, producing 7.3 million board feet of timber with an estimated market value of $729,000."
That timber project, however, was delayed for years by a lawsuit and the Forest Service didn't win its legal fight until earlier this year.
(The University of Montana study) states there were more than $95,000 in costs to the federal agency from the estimated 1,883 hours of work that Flathead National Forest personnel spent defending against the (Spotted Bear River) litigation. It states that dealing with the suit consumed more than 25 percent of the forest’s 2013 timber program budget. Region-wide, litigation cost the agency’s timber budget $9.8 million in 2013 and $6.8 million in 2014.
Had the project been canceled altogether, the authors estimated the loss of 136 jobs and more than $10 million, based on the direct and indirect impacts from labor income, resultant spending, tax revenue and other ripple effects.
The U.S. Forest Service is planning to essentially throw out the Northwest Forest Plan after 21 years. As we noted earlier this year, the tide seems to be turning (ever so slowly) among even some Democrats that the federal timber harvest is woefully inadequate to support rural communities. Once the changes are complete, the Northwest Forest Plan, the source of so much misery in timber towns, will cease to exist, at least in its current form.
In November 2014, the Forest Service briefed representatives of industry, local government and conservation on its intent to revise the (Northwest Forest Plan), as required by the National Forest Management Act. Jim Peña, the Northwest regional forest supervisor, said the Northwest Forest Plan will no longer exist as an umbrella document that applies to all forests equally. Instead, its principles -- but not necessarily its specific strategies -- will be embedded into the planning documents of each of the 19 forest units.
...Under the new plans, the timber industry expects to gain access to more timber than it has since the Northwest Forest Plan first took effect, said Ann Forest Burns, a vice-president of the Portland-based industry group, the American Forest Resource Council. She added that the industry's allocation has been half or less of the 1.1 billion annual board feet promised in the original plan. If the new forest plans fails to provide enough timber, she said, "we will ask Congress to change the law." That could include two 1970s-era mandates, the National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Of course, there are still many unanswered questions about how the new forest plans will emerge. And environmental groups no doubt will also be lobbying to limit timber harvests even more than they are now. Already the timber industry and rural communities had to speak up in order to get the Forest Service to hold local meetings about the proposed plan revisions.
The Forest Service last month held three "listening sessions," in Portland, Seattle and Redding, Calif. Rural leaders in Oregon and Washington complained that they could not make the sessions because they were in large cities far from loggers and rural towns. Not surprisingly, the listening session in Portland was filled with environmentalists, with few timber voices able to attend.
This week, the Forest Service took note and announced that it would hold listening sessions in all 19 national forests and seven Bureau of Land Management units affected by the Northwest Forest Plan. The first of those sessions was scheduled for April 27 in Corvallis, Ore.
Forests and Fish collaborators support DNR and the Governor's funding request for Adaptive Management
The Adaptive Management Program supports the science and accountability foundation of the Forests & Fish Law.
WFPA supports extension of tax credit for biomass to produce renewable energy
Use of forest-derived biomass produces energy, and can help reduce the threat of wildfires by paying for the cost of thinning to improve forest health.
Counties and schools receive the Forest Harvest Excise Tax (FET) and property tax
Public and private timber harvesters pay the FET in addition to the property tax on timberland.
Private landowners help fund wildfire costs
Private landowners share the burden of preparing for and fighting wildfire.
Wood is our Most Natural Resource
Wood from sustainably managed forests provides the best low-energy building material.
Forest Products Industry Jobs Impact
Nearly 40,000 direct jobs are provided by the forest products industry.
Forest Products Industry Economic Impact
Washington is the 2nd largest lumber producer in the nation, paying wages, taxes and providing environmental benefits for Washington State.
Forest Landowner RMAP Accomplishments
From 2001 through June 2013, landowners have removed an impressive 5,587 barriers to fish passage, restoring 3,811 miles of historic fish habitat.