Jewish World Review August 30, 2002 / 22 Elul, 5762
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- There is little more revelatory to us Washington, arm-chair, journo politico, all purpose, TV/newspaper, expert, pundit/columnists than actually to talk with a fellow out west who works in an industry the rest of us just write about. I recently had correspondence with a man who, right up front, called himself "just a fat, old logger now working on a farm." Well, as just a fat, old lawyer now working on TV and a newspaper, I liked this fellow right off. I feel more comfortable around people who use ab crunchers to keep the refrigerator door open and who get a six-pack at the liquor store, not a gym.
His point to me was that the arguments by the enviros against logging old growth public lands trees is completely phony, because there is no significant market for old growth logs anymore. As a practical matter, all the noise the enviros make about old growth logging is done to raise money, because the battle is already over -- and they won years ago.
The big timber companies, in decades past, realized that one way or the other they would someday run out of old growth lumber. So they advised their customers (home designers, construction companies, architects, building boards, etc.) to start designing around what could be manufactured out of small diameter, short rotation cycle timber. Those small diameter logs are typically less than 20 inches in the butt end. The old growth logs could be as large as 50 inches.
The building trades started substituting laminated veneer lumber, chipboard, waferwood, engineered floor joists, plastic and cement. So the demand for the old growth log products shrank. Between the pressure of the enviros and their allies in the federal government, and the shrinking market for old growth logs, the infra-structure of that industry began to break down. Log loaders, yarding towers and engines suitable for large old growth log processing have not been manufactured for decades. In the last 15 years, most of such used equipment was auctioned off and shipped to the tropics, where clear wood is logged and shipped back to America.
Selling of public lands timber became the vocation of only small, often sweat equity, businesses. Between big timber's lack of interest in public land timber (they own their own forests) and the enviros' passionate interest in blocking all commerce, the whole public lands logging process has decayed. The road system is in ruin and can no longer support logging traffic without expensive reconstruction.
The banks will no longer finance public lands logging ventures because of the uncertainty of the business. Most of the public land timber logged after years of legal delays in the 1990s, were actually sold in the 1980s. That is a long time for a bank to wait for re-payment. Understandably the banks prefer to finance business activities that will not be blocked by lawsuits and enviro political action.
There are very few mills still capable of milling longer cycle or old growth lumber. Also, the public land timber agencies no longer have the expertise to accurately appraise the lumber. They over-appraise the value, resulting in unsellable wood. With little capacity to finance, log, transport, process or sell larger public lands lumber it is no surprise that only 200 million board feet is currently coming to market. This is only 20 percent of what even the Clinton Administration was willing to permit, and only 4 percent of the five billion board feet that was routinely sold in the 1980s.
But when President Bush went to Oregon to talk about proper public forest management in order to avoid killer fires, the enviros nonetheless accused the president of endorsing fire protection as a "timber industry ploy to log old growth" forests.
The fact is, not only is there no significant market left for old growth logging, but, as my fat, formerly logging, friend from Oregon pointed out to me: " The real story is that logging old growth has no lobby. NOT logging old growth does. The Sierra Club and Weyerhaeuser have the same goal. The Wilderness Society and International Paper have the same goal. The Defenders of Wildlife and Georgia-Pacific have the same goal. They don't want old growth logged. All it does is compete with the current production and profits."
Logging old growth is a sham issue. The western timber industry is now only a few giant companies that have paid vast sums to own their own, short cycle, small diameter-tree forest. They don't want old growth products to get in their way. The only large organizations that exploit old growth trees for profit are the Sierra Club, et. al., which harvest a handsome crop of dollars from nincompoop contributors who can still be separated from their money by old tales from the old woods.