Letters From the West

Beetle timber salvage sales could pay in Idaho, study says

A logging truck carries logs to the TriPro sawmill in Orofino. Reduced timber sales from federal lands along with automation and world markets dramatically reduced employment in the timber industry in the 1980s but timber harvests are rising on the Clearwater-Nez Perce National Forests in part because of the collaboration between the timber industry and environmental groups. (Rocky Barker/rbarker@idahostatesman.com)

A logging truck carries logs to the TriPro sawmill in Orofino.(Rocky Barker/rbarker@idahostatesman.com)

A new study suggests that programs to encourage the sale of timber killed by the mountain pine beetle would be profitable in Idaho and Montana.

The economic assessment by Jeffrey P. Prestemon, Karen L. Abt, Kevin M. Potter, and Frank H. Koch at the Forest Service’s Southern Research Station estimate there is 20 billion cubic feet of standing dead timber potentially available for salvage, distributed across 20 million acres in 12 western states. But in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, where the highest percentage of beetle-killed timber lies, sales would not be profitable mostly because there are too few mills.

The study estimates that in Idaho the average salvage sale costs per acre would be $803 per acre for the Forest Service and $656 per acre for other landowners. It estimates revenues at $2,727 per acre for the Forest Service and $1,935 per acre for other landowners based on several different investment models ranging from $10 million a year to $100 million.

Idaho fares better than many other western states because it still has very active timber markets with mill capacity to process the timber.

“The number of mills and the total lumber output across the West have declined broadly constraining the potential financial benefits of salvage,” authors write. “Nevertheless, it is plausible that opportunities for positive net revenue or break-even salvage revenue operations exist in certain locations and among particular owner groups in mountain pine beetle-affected areas of the West.”

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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