Talking Sustainable Forestry at the Mill
Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 12, 2009
Last night I went over to Mark’s mill below the Scott St. Bridge in Missoula to drink some beers and talk sustainable forestry with Mark and another forester named Greg. No, not the type of “sustainable forestry” you hear our favorite logging lobbyist waxing not-so-poetically about during her monthly commentaries; but true, honest to God, ecologically-based, small-scale, locally-produced, locally-consumed Sustainable Forestry.
I’ve known Mark for years and consider him to easily be one of the best woods-workers I’ve ever met. We’ve worked together to successfully improve the Forest Service’s management of our public lands. We’ve worked together to reduce fuels around the homes of elderly and disadvantaged members of the DeBoriga community. And a few years prior to that Mark and I joined forces for an ecologically-based fuel reduction pilot project on the Lolo National Forest near Ovando (which, ironically, a few months later the Forest Service allowed Plum Creek to log right over!).
And when it was time for the wife and I to turn our small attic into a useable space, we turned to Mark for some beautiful blue-stained pine that was logged and milled a few miles from our house. Suffice to say, if every forester in Montana did things Mark’s way (and had his background as a soils scientist) our forests, wildlife and watersheds would be in much better shape.
The other forester, Greg, I’ve just recently met. A few weeks ago, Greg wrote a letter to the editor in the Missoula Indy. It was in response to a column I wrote about wildfires, elk and our successful efforts to save an old-growth forest from misguided “healthy forest” logging.
So, like I normally do, I called Greg up and we got together for some coffee. We’ve been exchanging ideas and info ever since. Greg’s current passion seems to be small-wood utilization and he’s got his eyes on a nifty portable sawmill with a laser guided jig that could turn very small trees (the type removed from legitimate fuel reduction work around homes) into impressive, strong and locally-produced truss logs. What Greg lacks is the $21,000 to purchase the portable sawmill. A modest amount to be certain, but currently out of his reach nonetheless.
Which brings us to another topic we discussed at the mill last night. Looks like the politically-connected big boys in the Montana timber industry will be getting a $10 million loan courtesy of US taxpayers via the stimulus bill. Apparently the loan will be for the big timber mills in the state to cover payroll and buy more logs. Buy more logs? Fact is, lumber demand is at an all time low and the number of US housing starts will fall dramatically again this year and any honest projections for 2010 and 2011 don’t look much better. At what point do we start to look at these facts squarely and make informed public policy?
Truth be told, the Montana timber industry actually requested a minimum taxpayer financed loan of $65 million. Think about it folks, if the Montana timber industry needs, at a minimum, a $65 million loan from taxpayers maybe the industry wasn’t very sustainable to begin with. Or maybe their business plans were flawed. And keep in mind that the Montana timber industry only produces 3% of the softwood lumber produced in the US. Therefore, how many billions of taxpayer dollars would be needed to bail out the entire US timber industry?
As I’ve been saying for quite some time now (cue the broken record) this economic crisis is rooted in over-consumption and over-development. Therefore, more of the same is not an option. We cannot, and should not, return to a situation where all the big timber mills are running full bore producing lumber and paper products that have no demand or, just as bad, go to building more 5000 square foot homes sprawled across the landscape or more throw-away products.
The economic crisis has proven that such a situation was woefully unsustainable. So much so that our entire economy is on the brink of collapse! Haven’t we all heard that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
I predict this $10 million Revolving Loan Fund so the timber mills can cover payroll for a few months and buy more logs (even though there’s no demand for lumber) will have very little impact on anything, other than to just unwisely spend more taxpayer dollars. Too bad we couldn’t use the money to truly develop a more sustainable timber industry. Too bad a guy like Greg with a good idea and a passion for bona-fide Sustainable Forestry couldn’t get $21,000 for his portable sawmill and get a small crew together. I’d rather see 475 outfits like Greg out there than see $10 million dumped into a black hole.
The future must be clean, green and sustainable. There is no other option. The sooner the public and elected officials come to terms with this fact the better off we will all be in the future.