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.

Public lands swapped for private profit

KUOW 94.9 FM recently aired a story -- reported by yours truly -- about a controversial land exchange in Port Ludlow on the Olympic Peninsula. 

The Washington state Department of Natural Resources wants to trade thick forests  around Port Ludlow for Pope Resources clearcuts in the Olympic foothills. 

The story spotlights the Port Ludlow exchange, which is one small part of a larger DNR strategy under fire from conservationists and citizens, as detailed by a longer Web version of the KUOW story.

The Washington state DNR manages 5.6 million acres of public property, including forests, grasslands, croplands, aquatic and commercial land.   But the agency also gets rid of public forests via land exchanges with private companies. 

The DNR's state-wide strategy pulls public ownership -- and protection --from scattered lowland forests at risk of redevelopment due to nearby urban or highway sprawl.  In return, the DNR accepts swathes of timberland higher up in the mountains;  the buffers between the land and development pressures make it easy for the DNR to create big parcels of land for future timber harvests.

While the trades reduce the DNR's management costs, they also allow older growth public forests to be rezoned and redeveloped for private profit -- at a time when school, state and county budgets are hurting.  The state's Constitution mandates that the DNR revenues produced by selling the public's natural resources -- such as timber or shellfish -- support public schools, state institutions, and county services. 

Though the DNR's land has belonged to the public since sta

Vancouver timber company feels squeeze, sells trees

Vancouver Island's largest private landowner is set to sell four timber properties on the island totaling almost 47,000 acres, reportsAndrew A. Duffy of the Times Colonist. The properties are separate from TimberWest's other timberlands and contain approximately 5.2 million cubic yards of wood altogether. TimberWest plans on selling the land to other timber companies instead of real estate developers.

– Emily Linroth

Tribe's lumber business thrives amid downturn

With the timber industry in a severe downturn, one Indian tribe has found a thriving market for its wood -- Japanese homebuilders. The trick for the mill on the Warm Springs Reservation in north central Oregon was to re-tool the mill to cut in metric lengths and widths, Anna King reports for Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Old-growth forests rarely logged now

Quietly, the logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest has all but ground to a halt, Matthew Preuschwrites for The Oregonian. Only about two-tenths of 1 percent of the old-growth at the heart of the spotted owl battles of the 1990s was actually cut between 1994 and 2003, Preusch reports. The Obama administration seems poised to, if anything, restrict such logging further. So maybe the tree-sitters actually won?

Perhaps. One unanswered question: What happened during the final years of the Bush administration, from 2003 to 2008? The most recent figures aren't in yet. During that time the Bush administration made a number of concessions to the timber industry,  which took legal action to boost harvest rates.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Federal money for forests lacking, state leaders say

What does President Obama's stimulus package mean for people in Idaho and Wyoming's economically distressed timber counties? Not much, some have concluded. In Idaho, the deal was supposed to have provided jobs for 1,200 people in the state's timber counties, but most of those workers will have to wait until next year for their share of the $28 billion in federal stimulus money for forests from the USDA, writes Rocky Barker in the Idaho Statesman. While national forests in Wyoming will soon receive $6.5 million from the stimulus program, Gov. Dave Freudenthal and the state's congressional delegation have complained that the state has received relatively little compared to surrounding states, the Associated Press reports in the Casper Star-Tribune.

WOPR of a loss for timber industry

The Obama administration is tossing out a Bush administration plan governing logging across 2.6 million acres in Oregon, saying it was not legally sustainable or supported by science. The Western Oregon Plan Revision was adopted in the waning days of the Bush administration, and stemmed from lawsuits filed by the timber industry. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar repeatedly cited influence on the plan by Bush's now-disgraced deputy Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald, according to the AP story by Jeff Barnard.  Did this story break late? Neither the AP version nor the Oregonian's story has comment from the timber industry, which was a big supporter of the plan.

Update 10:53 a.m.: Kim Murphy of the LA Times has timber comment.

Update 11:57 a.m.: Whoops. Mattew Preusch, author of the Oregonian piece, points out that that story we picked up from the Oregonian's home page earlier today was an early version. The more-complete story is here.