Northwest reps in Congress call for investigation into timber "slush fund"

Suppose an industry could profit by filing a lawsuit judged to be thoroughly without merit. That’s pretty much what critics say the Bush administration let the U.S. timber industry get away with. Now eight members of Congress from the Pacific Northwest are asking Congress's investigative arm,  the Government Accountability Office, to look into the deal.

It’s an enormously complicated story that I detailed for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. But essentially it comes down to this:

The U.S. timber industry filed charges against the Canadian timber industry in international trade courts. The Americans alleged the Canadians were getting unfair government subsidies.  The Americans lost at nearly every turn. But the U.S. timber industry – as it increased costs to American consumers – was bleeding the Canadian timber-cutters dry. How? With tariffs that boosted the price of Canadian timber on this side of the border.

Then, facing the prospect of endless appeals by the Americans, the desperate Canadians -- who had seen mills go dark and were starved for cash -- agreed to a really unusual deal, as international trade pact settlements go: The Bush administration offered to send back to Canada the $5 billion in tariffs collected -- so long as the Canadians agreed to then send $1 billion back across the border, with most of it going to the U.S. timber industry or to non-profit groups with ties to the U.S. industry.

Logging forests after they're chewed up by bark beetles won't cut fire risks, new report says

An interesting study out today (PDF) concludes that logging in Western forests ravaged by pine beetles not only doesn’t do much to prevent wildfires – it also wastes precious government dough that could be used instead to actually protect the homes of those folks foolish enough to build in fire-prone forests.

This particular study comes out of Colorado, which is described as the “epicenter” of the pine-beetle outbreak, although I think I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding folks in British Columbia who would dispute that characterization.

 And it’s reminiscent of the findings in Oregon following massive fires there a few years ago: That coming in and “salvaging timber” actually disrupts the natural processes that govern forests the way God made them.

This newest report, spearheaded by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, points out that insect outbreaks have been a part of forest ecology in the West for millennia. It also details how it’s climate, high temperatures and the sparse amount of water in our changing Western climate that are primarily responsible for the beetle outbreaks. Harvesting beetle-mauled trees does not head off climate change. Perhaps even the opposite is true? 

It's particularly damaging to do this kind of post-beetle tree-cutting in roadless areas, sacrificing longterm ecological integrity for short-term profits and roads that pierce into formerly intact wilderness areas, the report argues.

They call it Fubar, and it shows how restoring forests creates jobs

Fubar is the name of a stream on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island, and apparently it's appropriately named. FUBAR, of course, is an acronym meaning "Fouled up beyond all recognition," or something pretty close to that, anyway.

It's the central scene in a news story by Mary Pemberton of the Associated Press outlining how restoration efforts in the national forests are helping restore jobs in places let down by the timber industry across the West:

Forest restoration is occurring all over the West, said Mary Mitsos with the National Forest Foundation, a Montana-based group. Efforts in Montana, Alaska, Washington and Oregon involve repairing watersheds to encourage healthier fish runs. In Arizona and New Mexico, restoration is more about forest thinning to lessen the danger of wildfires.

At Fubar Creek, soil washed into the waterway from clearcuts upslope, filling it in and causing the water to go all over the place, including a nearby road.  The restoration there in the Tongass National Forest and elsewhere in southeastern Alaska added $8.4 million and 150 jobs to the economy in 2007, according to a study by The Nature Conservancy.

Pemberton quotes Marnie Criley, coordinator of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee:

People are getting to know each other and not automatically hating each other because this person is a timber person and this person is a conservationist. A lot of trust-building has been going on.

We should point out that this is not a new trend. In fact, we wrote about enviros making peace with loggers and agreeing to some logging in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest back in 2004.

Nor does this mean peace is breaking out in the War In the Woods.

How Canada vastly underestimates its carbon footprint... it has to do with the pine beetle

Thank goodness for non-profit journalism again. On the web page of The Tyee is an opinion piece by a Canadian environmentalist with some astounding news about how Canada severely undercounts its contribution to global warming.

The column by Sierra Club campaigner Jens Wieting finds that a huge chunk of the Great White North's greenhouse gas production is not counted and is acknowledged in what amounts to a footnote: the carbon dioxide coming out of Canadian forests because of logging and slash burning.

Wieting closely examines a report catalouging British Columbia's greenhouse gas emissions, although he says the same approach is used at the national level:

According to the report, total greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia in 2007 were 67 megatonnes. These mainly originate from the use of fossil fuels (80 per cent) as well as waste (six per cent), agriculture (four per cent) and deforestation (five per cent). So far, all correct. But it's the innocuous-sounding item "emissions from forest land remaining forest land" that hides the real bomb: a whopping 51 megatonnes of CO2. This figure appears only as a "memo item" in the report and is not counted as part of B.C.'s total emissions. B.C.'s carbon emissions would be 77 per cent higher if emissions from forests were included.

Normally forests are carbon sinks, places that suck up carbon dioxide. It turns out that emissions from forests are outpacing the uptake because the pine beetle infestation left the forests in such tatters.

Tyee, btw, is a localism for the king salmon.

Loggers & treehuggers: Old enemies make new friends

In a surprising twist, Lynda V. Mapes of the Seattle Times writes that timber companies and environmentalists are now working together to save Western Washington’s forests. As urban sprawl threatens to swallow the Puget Sound region, logging has been hailed as a sustainable alternative to rising development. Once profitable timberlands are quickly depreciating in value, as developable lands draw more dollars per acre. Legislation filed in Congress last week is designed to help stem the development tide by purchasing rights to build on forested lands. Timber companies could continue to log the land for income.

"We need to hug loggers the way we do farmers,” said Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, who took part in tree-sitting protests in past decades. “Given the choice between a logger and a developer, I'm going to take the logger, even if that challenges some of the notions of my old friends.”