Clean | Green | Sustainable

Montana Governor Gets Stoned in Closed Door Meeting

Posted by Matthew Koehler on April 8, 2009

On Monday, Governor Brian Schweitzer emerged from a closed-door meeting at Smurfit-Stone’s Frenchtown mill, looked right into a video camera and declared, “If we can harvest 15,000 acres of the 2 million acres of dead and dying [trees] that we’ve got on federal land in Montana we can keep this mill open.”

This is just the latest in a long-line of claims from the timber industry and some politicians that more public lands logging is the solution to the industry’s woes, despite the fact that demand for lumber, paper and packaging products is at historic lows and many mills simply cannot even sell the products they currently have on hand. (For more info see Lumber demand to reach historic lows before starting slow recovery.)

A careful video viewer will also notice that the governor didn’t really seem comfortable making such a profound statement. I wonder why?  Could it be because Schweitzer knows that right now on just the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests there are 15,000 acres worth of timber sales that are already through the environmental review process, with no appeals and litigation slowing them down, that could be logged anytime this summer?

Could it be that the governor remembered mid-interview that the Forest Service recently identified $126 million worth of “shovel ready” fuel reduction work on National Forests in Montana and Idaho as part of the stimulus bill?  Time will tell if the timber industry will even bid on any of these projects, or if taxpayers will be forced to give away public timber for next to nothing.

Truth be known, Governor Schweitzer is doing more than simply asking for more national forest logging. Apparently he’s written a letter (I’ve asked the governor’s chief of staff for a copy, but haven’t received anything yet)  to the US Department of Agriculture requesting that the state of Montana take over management of some national forest land in an effort to do more logging and “save the timber industry.”

What’s even more bizarre about Schweitzer’s claim is that Smurfit filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in January, not because the company couldn’t log an additional 15,000 acres of national forests in Montana, but because the economic downturn has greatly reduced demand for Smurfit’s products.

To put Smurfit’s current financial situation in perspective, in 1998 a single share of Smurfit stock sold for $25.00 a share, today a share is worth three cents, a whopping 99.9% reduction in value.  And let’s not forget that Smurfit is a large, multi-national corporation with 150 facilities in the US, Canada, Mexico and Asia. If you look at map of their facilities, it’s clear that only a small fraction are anywhere near national forests.

To assume that Smurfit’s future success depends upon more logging from national forests is as much wishful thinking as it is irresponsible, especially in light of this tremendous economic crisis, which is so clearly rooted in over-consumption and over-development.

Fact is, Smurfit is a large multi-national corporation that has expanded too much.  They need a new business model truly based on sustainability, not more public lands logging to do more of the same.

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One Response to “Montana Governor Gets Stoned in Closed Door Meeting”

  1. Matthew Koehler said

    Follow-up:

    The Associated Press is reporting this morning that the Smurfit-Stone mill in Frenchtown, MT will shut down equipment for 10 days, temporarily laying off 200 workers. According to a company spokesman, the layoffs are due to market conditions, not due to a lack of national forest logging, as Montana’s Governor would have us believe. Apparently the world needs less cardboard boxes. Go figure.

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