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Environmentalists and Wilderness are Not the Timber Industry’s Big Problem

Gallatin Range. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

For decades the timber industry and its political allies have claimed that efforts to maintain Montana’s functioning forest ecosystems and native wildlife have “shut down” logging.  But two recent articles reveal that the basic economic principles of over-supply and over-production in the timber industry are the real problems, not environmentalists, the Endangered Species Act, or being “locked out” of national forests by wilderness designations.   But don’t take my word on it, read on to see what the industry itself has to say.

As Julia Altemus, logging lobbyist and director of the Montana Wood Products Association, told the Missoulian’s Rob Chaney:

“There’s been a lot of over-production across the board.  We have too much wood in the system and people weren’t building. That will make it tougher for us. What would help is if we could find new markets.”

When asked why Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. cut back its mill production cycle from 80 to 50 hours weekly, manager Paul McKenzie told the Hungry Horse News: “It’s purely market driven…demand for lumber across the country is down.”  As reported: “He also said supply has actually been good.”

In fact the “supply” of national forest trees is more than just good.  Last year the Forest Service received no bids on 15.6% of the timber it offered.  That’s 559.5 million board feet of timber that wasn’t cut because the timber industry did not bid on it.  It would take 112,000 log trucks lined up from Missoula to Fargo, North Dakota, to haul that many logs.  That means more than twice as much timber cut on all the national forests in Montana last year didn’t even draw a bid.

For some reason, these timber industry realities don’t seem to matter to Montana’s congressional delegation.  Rep. Gianforte wrote: “Unfortunately, fringe environmental groups…have nearly succeeded in closing our forests to timber management.”  Senator Daines regularly blames “radical environmentalists who are locking us out of our forests.”  And Senator Tester was given Four Pinocchios by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker for his false claim that environmentalists shut down logging in Montana.

Last year the Region One Forest Service, which includes Montana, met 90.9% of their timber sale target, which has risen a stunning 141% in the last ten years.  Due to the over-cutting and over-supply the price offered for standing timber has now fallen.  But the cost to taxpayers continues to climb to staggering heights.

new report by the Center for a Sustainable Economy found “taxpayer losses of nearly $2 billion a year associated with the federal logging program carried out on national forest and Bureau of Land Management lands. Despite these losses, the Trump Administration plans to significantly increase logging on these lands in the years ahead, a move that would plunge taxpayers into even greater debt.”

There’s also a significant cost to our public lands when more logging roads get bulldozed into unroaded areas as streams are filled with sediment and logging pushes big game onto private lands as forest hiding cover is clearcut.

In conclusion, the baseless demand for more logging by Montana’s congressional delegation, the timber industry, and collaborator groups is actually having the opposite effect: it’s reducing production, increasing job losses, and lowering standing timber value — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Contrast this with Montana’s booming tourism economy and it’s clear our forested roadless areas are worth more designated as wilderness, as the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act would do, or simply left standing instead of being clearcut for an industry that, by its own admission, is wallowing in oversupply.

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Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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