Uncle Sam Must Practice Forestry Too
The establishment of the National Forest System was one of the great forestry accomplishments of all time. It's time congress went back to the beginning.
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Editor’s Note: No forest industry association executive has ever equaled, much less surpassed, W.D. Hagenstein’s prolific output. In the 35 years that he ran the venerable Industrial Forestry Association [IFA], he testified before Congress some 250 times, spoke publicly 770 times and wrote at least 500 newspaper columns and magazine articles. Reprinted below from the December 15, 1973 edition of Southern Lumberman is an article he wrote titled, “Uncle Same Must Practice Forestry Too,” that is as timely today – if not more timely – than it was when Hagenstein wrote it more than 39 years ago. Now 97, Mr. Hagenstein retired in 1980 and lives in Portland, Oregon. IFA went out of business with the 1987 formation of the Northwest Forestry Association, which merged with another association in 2001, forming the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council.
The establishment in 1905 of the National Forest System was one of the great forestry accomplishments of all time. Most American foresters are brought up to believe this. This writer believes it too. Yet despite the congressional charge that the National Forests were to provide a continuous flow of water and an adequate supply of timber for the use and necessities of the citizens of the United States, there is today a strong reluctance by the Executive Branch of government to fulfill this promise made almost 70 years ago. With our growing population and its need for more of everything – jobs, commodities, services and tax revenue Americans can no longer afford the luxury of not practicing intensive forestry on their National Forests.
Some think this struggle is a contest between “interests” that want to prohibit or severely restrict forestry on National Forests and those who want to intensify forest management in areas most suited to it. It may be that such a contest exists, but let’s take a closer look at who the “interests” are. Those who don’t want to practice forestry are those who would prohibit forestry because they don’t believe in harvesting trees. Those interested in seeing forestry intensified believe that the renewable forest is our best means for assuring a great abundance for all. A growing country needs abundance so it can be employed and housed and pay taxes proportionate to the wealth the renewable forest can produce.
Since 1969, there’s been an attempt in the Congress to figure out some way of sustaining a progressive forestry program for the National Forests, the result of skyrocketing lumber and plywood prices during active homebuilding years, The contest over legislation always pits those who don’t want to practice forestry against those who know that our timber resource must play a much greater part in America’s life, if only because it is a renewable natural resource.
The fact that for the first three centuries our nation was housed principally from timber harvested from private lands leaves the National Forests today with the largest single inventory of merchantable timber in the United States. Forestry critics say that had private lands been properly managed they would still be the most important single source of timber, thus relieving the “pressure” now being brought on the National Forests to start playing their role in fulfilling their congressional founders’ dream of an adequate supply of timber for the use and necessities of the citizens of the United States.
In 1969, following hearings of the Senate and House Banking and Currency Committees, the House Committee on Agriculture heard a bill designed to provide a continuous means of financing better forestry on the National Forests. The bill was favored by the Committee, but because of pressure by those who don’t want to see better forestry on the National Forests, the House took no action.
Now, four years later, after another supply-price crunch caused by record homebuilding in 1972, similar hearings were again held and, again, it was concluded that something needed to be done to put pants on the National Forests. Every knowledgeable person agrees that if the old-growth timber inventory on western National Forests is to be saved from waste it must be harvested in increasing quantities. To insure that there is no hiatus in future timber sup-ply, old-growth forest conversion should be accelerated and management on converted forests should be intensified. If we didn’t know how to do this, and we do, there would be a greater argument for adhering to the old theory of even flow, balancing growth and harvest, so that by the time we harvest the last old-growth stands, a beautiful distribution of age classes would have taken their place.
Meanwhile, with mortality on the National Forests in the neighborhood of six billion board feet per year, the country is losing enough wood to build 300,000 new homes every year, and this figure assumes that only half of what is dead can be salvaged in time. Yet neither Congress nor the Executive Branch has come up with a politically viable plan for continuously financing road build-ing, tree planting and improvements in forest protection; this despite the half billion taxpayer dollars that have already been invested in Forest Service research in the hope that the government will figure out how to practice the kind of forestry the American people need for their use and necessities.
In the current Congress, there is an-other attempt to develop a plan for get-ting the National Forest timber train on the track so it can arrive at the station on time. Most of these proposals have centered on finding some means for sustaining funding so that the National Forest contribution to the nation’s wood basket can be increased. One proposal would earmark a portion of all National Forest harvest receipts from which Congress could appropriate regularly on a budget justified annually by the Forest Service. But Congress has a tendency to disfavor ear marking, although management of National Forest timber is one of few Government activities that brings in revenue from public lands.
Another consideration is the effect the environmental movement is having on Government activity. The Forest Service has surely had its share of public criticism in the name of environmentalism. This has markedly slowed the application of its own knowledge in forest improvement. The chief cause is the misnamed National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA], the environmental impact statements it mandates and resulting lawsuits by those who don’t agree with the Forest Service’s environ-mental impact statements, and further, by pressure from influential members of Congress who are riding the environ-mental hobby horse.
There are other possibilities for improving forestry on the National Forests that have not been publicly discussed. One is a requirement that whenever environmental constraints or land withdrawals reduce harvesting receipts on National Forests, Congress should automatically appropriate sufficient money to fund more intensive forestry on the remaining land so that the allowable cut is maintained or increased where land productivity makes such an increase possible. The justification for this is that the Forest Service has as much responsibility to guarantee opportunities for employment from its lands as do private owners and the states. Just because forestland is publicly owned doesn’t exempt government from its responsibilities for providing employment, furnishing commodities and services, and providing either harvest receipts or some other means of replacing tax revenues that local government loses. This was evident 60 years ago, when Congress decreed that National Forest harvesting revenue would be shared with local governments because the lands had been withdrawn from their tax jurisdictions.
Another way we could do a better job of forestry on our National forests is to amend NEPA to require that the social costs [the denial of jobs, payrolls, building materials and taxes] be clearly spelled out in every environmental impact statement that advocates for a reduced harvest on National Forest timberlands that have heretofore been managed for multiple uses.
One other suggestion, which comes from a Federal District Court decision in North Carolina, is that any time a class action lawsuit is brought in an environmental matter, plaintiffs should be required to post a bond of sufficient size [should they lose their case] to reimburse the public for its interim losses in jobs, wages, commodities and taxes.
Another idea worth considering is the formation of a Government corporation that would manage the National Forest timber business. The precedents for this are many, including the Spruce Production Corporation, an arm of the Army’s Signal Corps, which bought great stands of Sitka spruce, built logging railroads, logged timber and manufactured lumber for aviation military use in World War I.
In World War II, the Rubber Reserve Corporation and the U.S. Commercial Company were assigned a huge task - rounding up strategic materials needed by the military. They did if far more efficiently than Government agencies function today. Why not run the National Forests as a business and make certain that they do practice the kind of forestry that is needed to provide the American people with jobs, commodities, services and taxes?
Some think that with the timber volumes now extant on National Forests, and with a more realistic allowable cut based on the ability of these forests to grow more timber, business management of the national forests could not only be self-sustaining, but could yield a significant sum over and above their costs, and could thus help retire our huge national debt.
The time for decision making is now. What we do in forestry in the near future on our National Forests will deter-mine the adequacy of timber supplies for people yet unborn. Our National Forests should be providing far more building, packaging and communications material than they provide, and they should be paying more money to the rural counties that lost much of their property tax bases when the National Forests were established in 1905.
All of this can be done without any draft on funds collected from taxpayers. Forest products consumers will pay the bill, and gratefully so, if the National Forests do their part. It’s easy to blame the other fellow for an inadequate timber supplies, but Uncle Sam must practice forestry, too.