Letters From the West

Federal lands will never be managed like state, private

The mixed ownership of state, private and national forest lands adjacent to Dworshak Reservoir on the North Fork of the Clearwater River in North Idaho.(Rocky Barker/rbarker@idahostatesman.com

The mixed ownership of state, private and national forest lands adjacent to Dworshak Reservoir on the North Fork of the Clearwater River in North Idaho.(Rocky Barker/rbarker@idahostatesman.com

Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop presented numbers that appeared to be astounding as he made the case that state forestry is better than federal.

Bishop, speaking at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, said that Idaho Department of Lands has 52 times more the volume of timber harvested per acre on its 971, 678 acre of forests than the Forest Service has on 20 million acres of national forest. That’s 239.4 million board feet per acre to 4.6.

Chairman Bishop said the annual revenues per acre are even more astounding, at 917 times more revenue for the state over the federal government. That’s $55 per acre for the state to 6 cents for the national forest.

What Bishop doesn’t say is that there is only 17.2 million acres of federal forests in Idaho and a small part of that is BLM. Of that 9 million acres is roadless and another 3.8 million is wilderness.

Much of the roadless forest is still open to logging. But in reality much of it is either too prone to erosion, too steep, or covered in trees that are so low value they would not support road-building or the kind of active management practiced on state lands.

That’s why in 100 years of management, the Forest Service never built roads to harvest the trees in most of the areas. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management say the total volume of saw timber on federal forests in Idaho is 167.6 billion board-feet of timber Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said in his testimony before the committee. But some of it isn’t worth the cost of gasoline for the chainsaws

Since the Forest Service is the largest forest land manager in Idaho you can understand, why, as Otter said, “it appears to folks in Idaho the federal government would rather see a valuable resource go up in smoke than be harvested.” But there are reasons state and private forests provide over 90 percent of the wood milled in our state.

Even in the 1980s, the production was higher from private and state lands because they are managed for maximum revenue. The Forest Service, all across the Northwest and the Intermountain West was losing public support then because it was clear-cutting many of its forests.

No matter how many times the timber industry tried to put a good face on the accepted forest practice, the public just didn’t like looking at a clearcut. Along with water quality problems and endangered species issues, much of the federal forest timber forest was shut down.

Otter said timber harvests on federal lands in Idaho are the lowest they have been since 1952, but they are actually beginning to rise in part due to the collaborative efforts of timber executives, environmentalists and others.

Private forests and state forests also are by definition high value forests. If they weren’t the owners would have disposed of them years ago.

The Forest Service doesn’t manage for a profit. You don’t hear the conservation groups who supported new mills and increased timber harvests and job complaining about deficit timber sales these days.

That’s because the restoration values, the wildlife and fish habitat improvements that go along with the sales are a part of the cost of managing forests for multiple uses. Private and state forests are managed for maximum timber harvest.

The recreation, habitat and other values that come from those lands are secondary and treated that way. That’s why you can go to some state forests in Idaho and clearly see the difference between them and the federal forests next door.

It’s because they are clear cut.

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.

Posted in Letters from the West