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Federal Forest Resource Coalition Weekly Report for Friday, March 26, 2021

By Bill Imbergamo, FFRC Executive Director. Declining Timber Outputs on Black Hills, Forest Service Study Imperil Local Industry: Failure of the Black Hills National Forest to meet their timber targets for the last several years forced Neiman Enterprises to announce the closure of their sawmill at Hill City, SD Monday. “If given the opportunity to purchase timber to keep the mill running, we would have done that,” said Jim Neiman, President of Neiman Enterprises and an FFRC Board member. “Keeping the Hill City location running would be in the best interest of the forest and our communities over the long-term.”

On Tuesday, the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station released a General Technical Report claiming that timber outputs from the Black Hills must decline by 50 to 60 percent to be sustainable. Local experts have cast doubt on the assumptions and modeling behind the report.

“Although (the GTR) is one piece of information the Forest Service can use in determining if the timber sale program should be adjusted, it is important to remember this report covers only a portion of the acres compared to previous reports and attempts to analyze a subset of the area available for harvest on the Black Hills National Forest,” said Ben Wudtke of the Black Hills Forest Resources Association. “There is a more than 100 year track record of forest products companies and the Black Hills National Forest working together, finding success in mitigating wildfire hazards, pine beetle mortality, and other factors that would negatively affect carbon sequestration efforts. If implemented, the harvest levels in the final report would completely throw away our ability to find those successes moving forward.”

At an unrelated House Agriculture Committee hearing on Thursday, South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson (R) noted that such large harvest reductions would impact a very large number of “socially disadvantaged people,” saying 40 percent of the forestry workforce on the Hills was lantino. “We know that when you lose those jobs, in forestry, in timber, they are highly unlikely to come back,” Johnson said. He pressed Vilsack to commit to fully analyzing all of the data on the Black Hills, and Vilsack agreed. “I would point out that this is a scientific document, it is not a policy or decision document.” He said the Forest Service would consider other information “before any specific decisions are made.”

The Black Hills is almost entirely composed of ponderosa pine, a species that responds well to management. Research by Dr. John Ball at South Dakota State University indicates that the pine beetle populations on the forest are driven mostly by how dense the forest is. Periodic insect outbreaks have a long history on the Forest, including before the Forest Service was in charge of managing things (Deadwood wasn’t named Deadwood for nothing). The forest industry, including mills run by the Neiman family, has grown up along side the forest and has helped recover from past beetle outbreaks.

It’s not clear what the Forest Service will do now that the report is published, but we’re working with local industry to try to make sure they take everyone’s views into account.

Governor, Southeastern Alaska Leaders Step Up to Defend Roadless: The state of Alaska, the city leaders of Ketchikan, and a host of municipalities, trade groups and businesses have filed a brief defending the Tongass National Forest’s exemption from the 2001 Roadless rule, which had effectively put 85 percent of the Tongass National Forest off limits to management. Late in their term, the Trump Administration adopted a full exemption from the rule, which applies on a total of about 60 million acres nation-wide. One third of all “roadless” acres are in Alaska, most of them on the Tongass.

A coalition of environmental groups, tribes, fishermen and tourism companies sued the federal government, seeking to overturn the decision. They say the Trump administration decision to provide the Tongass exemption was based on a flawed environmental analysis and ignores the input of Alaska Native tribes and the public.

“The Tongass holds great economic opportunity for not only Southeast Alaska, but the State as a whole,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a news release. “From resuming our timber industry to attracting tourism, this region has the potential to create good-paying jobs and it is my administration’s intent to defend our state’s rights and improve access to public lands.”

“What really is the issue, in my mind, is having a conversation of, how does Alaska really access and control and have more of a conversation about how the forest is managed?” said Robert Venables, executive director of Southeast Conference, an economic development group. He said the Roadless Rule hinders all sorts of development, pointing specifically to renewable energy projects. While developers can apply for exemptions to the Roadless Rule — and most are granted — he said the rule adds to the cost and time required to complete projects.

“This is not about extraction of resources. This is about every single economic sector meeting having unique needs for the forest, and we need a management plan that can reflect that,” Venables said.

There a non-negligible chance the Biden Administration will just withdraw the exemption in order to moot the lawsuit. After all, that’s exactly what the Obama Administration did to the much more narrowly drawn exemption promulgated by the Bush Administration.

Homebuilders to Chief: Maybe Cut Some More Trees? Echoing the messaging from FFRC Executive Director Bill Imbergamo’s recent Op-Ed, the Chairman of the National Association of Homebuilders last week wrote to Chief Vickie Christiansen saying the agency could do more to help meet housing demand.

“I write to encourage you to continue your efforts to better-manage our national forests which will, at least in part, help strengthen the housing supply chain and promote affordable housing opportunities for all Americans,” John Fowke, NAHB’s board chair, wrote the Chief on March 19th. “Improving the health of our nation’s forests and increasing the supply of domestic timber are not mutually exclusive goals, and we strongly encourage you to maintain current harvesting plans for the National Forest system. Doing so will restore the health of one of our great natural resources, offer the potential to reinvigorate the forestry industry, and improve housing affordability. Better forest management practices will not only promote the health of our nation’s forest system but also improve housing affordability.

Fowke said that “record-high lumber prices are putting the American dream of homeownership just out of reach for hundreds of thousands of potential homebuyers,” and that “a sustained, meaningful annual harvest from our public lands would help” lower prices and improve home affordability.

The general public has certainly noticed high prices. We think the Forest Service ought to manage their lands no matter what lumber prices are. The agency hasn’t changed their management practices during previous fluctuations in end product markets. But the agency leadership talks endlessly about the need to manage more acres and reduce hazardous fuels. Seems like a peak lumber market would be a good time to put a lot of volume under contract, regardless of your motivation.

You can find NAHB’s letter at this link, and an NPR story on surging home prices at this link.

Briefly Noted:

American Petroleum Institute Endorses Carbon Price: This week, the American Petroleum Institute, the national trade association for the oil and gas industry, endorsed a carbon price as a means for addressing climate change. Mike Sommers, API’s President, said they are not backing a specific carbon price, or even a specific mechanism for it. "What we're advocating for is a market-based approach," he said. "It could encompass an economywide, transparent, price, like carbon tax. Or it could include a cap on emissions like a cap-and-trade program."

Chief Roberts Points Out Some Ignored Words in Antiquities Act: Ever since President’s have had the authority to declare “National Monuments” under the Antiquities Act, they’ve conveniently ignored some key words in the Statute. While the Court decided not to review a multi-million acre “Marine Monument,” the Chief Justice pointed out that the 1906 law includes a provision requiring that monuments be "limited to the smallest area compatible with the care and management of the objects to be protected." "Somewhere along the line,” Roberts noted, “this restriction has ceased to pose any meaningful restraint," Roberts wrote. "A statute permitting the President in his sole discretion to designate as monuments 'land-marks,' 'structures,' AND 'objects' — along with the smallest area of land compatible with their management — has been transformed into a power without any discernible limit to set aside vast and amorphous expanses of terrain above and below the sea." The abuse of the Antiquities Act started almost immediately, with President Theodore Roosevelt deciding 800,000 acres was just barely enough to protect the “object’ known as the Grand Canyon. President Clinton located another 1.2 million acres of previously unknown “spectacular” slickrock and declared the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in Utah. President George W. Bush declared millions of square miles of ocean as “Marine Monuments” (limited parking – arrive early!). President Obama was a piker by comparison, although he did try to use the Act to fundamentally alter the purposes for which Congress set aside the Bureau of Land Management’s O&C lands. Maybe with Roberts statement, some balance can start creeping into this process.

The Week Ahead:

With Congress out on recess – “District Work Period” – till April 13th, this will be the last FFRC newsletter until April 16th, unless something earth shattering in the forestry universe happens between now and then.

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