January 9, 2008

Logging trees to save forests from development

One of my favorite forest industry resource sites is the Smallwood Utilization Network operated by Craig Rawlings and Nora McDougall of Missoula, Montana. I find a timely piece of information whenever I read one of their monthly newsletters (you can subscribe for free here).

This month's nugget is an editorial published in the Seattle Times about the retrenchment of various conservancy groups who are suddenly realizing that the forest products industry is good for forests and is a bulwark against the plagues of bugs, fires, and real estate developers that are ruining these precious resources.

The author of the article is Brian J. Boyle was Washington's commissioner of public lands from 1981 to 1993 and is the leader of the Northwest Environmental Forum. The University of Washington's College of Forest Resources has brought together a broad spectrum of stakeholders to apply scientific and policy information to address critical environmental and natural resource management issues. Potential users will include resource and environmental agencies; energy, forest, agriculture, and real estate interests; and land conservancies, environmental groups, tribes, and NGOs.

Here is the text of his article in its entirety...

Save Northwest forests for conifers, not condos
By Brian J. Boyle

The Nature Conservancy announced this past summer that it plans to log trees on 161,000 acres in the Adirondack forest in New York to preserve the forest. The conservancy says that the logging will help pay off the debt incurred buying the land from a private owner, pay taxes, supply logs to a local sawmill and protect "a unique jewel of nature from fragmentation and development."

In Washington, the Cascade Land Conservancy has acquired 140,000 acres of "working forests" with a similar goal — to prevent development. The land conservancy also has plans to log sustainably, in keeping with the idea that the forest "works" when it provides logs and jobs — and income for the conservancy to manage the forest.

One might ask, how did the conservationists become tree-cutters?

Twenty years ago, environmental activists chained themselves to trees to save them from cutting, and the forest industry was often branded a threat to the environment. Yet, today, sustainable logging may be the salvation, because in the words of one conservationist, it's a choice between conifers and condos.

When you fly over Western Washington and some areas east of the Cascades in the daylight, you see unbroken swaths of trees. A forest? you ask. But try flying over at night — in Eastern King, Snohomish, Okanagan or Lewis counties — and what you will see are lights, thousands of them, from houses on rural subdivisions split into one- to five-acre parcels. This isn't a forest, it's "rural residential." This forest doesn't have spotted owls or murrelets, and the dominant bird species may be the crow. Once-timbered slopes now have serpentine driveways leading up to rural mansions.

Working forests, on the other hand, include areas actively managed for timber and for environmental services, such as fresh water, wildlife habitat and climate protection. Washington's working forests include 8 million acres of private and tribal forests and more than 2 million acres of state forestland.

Protecting the forests from development has turned conservation leaders into working-forest proponents. They've teamed up with old enemies and other strange bedfellows to keep sustainable timber operations in business, and they're stopping forests from being converted to subdivisions the old-fashioned way, by buying the land.

The forest industry isn't the same one your grandparents knew. The so-called industrial forest is disappearing. Weyerhaeuser is the last big corporate owner in the Northwest and its future is uncertain. Other former industrial forests are now owned by pension funds and investors and valued as financial investments, not for their tree values, and are swapped from landowner to landowner to rebalance portfolios.

Family forest owners eke out a living while fending off pressures from neighbors who live in subdivisions that used to be forests. Any forest landowner may find it expedient to sell as Washington's urban areas grow and subdivisions are permitted. The money from a developer fattens a retirement portfolio faster than the money from trees that can't be harvested for 30 years. But, a forest thick with houses ceases being a working forest, a shelter for wildlife and a protector of streams.

Conservation groups, local land trusts, and timber industry, government and tribal representatives, at a series of dialogues convened as the Northwest Environmental Forum, agreed that to sustain the forest environment, they need to help keep the timber industry in business through incentives for landowners. Here is what this diverse group thinks the Legislature should do:

• Create conservation markets, by putting a price on fish-and-wildlife habitat and carbon capture, so landowners can realize profits from more than just timber;

• Help nonprofits and others acquire and trade easements and development rights to protect critical forest watersheds;

• Remove wood from overstocked and overstressed forests to reduce wildfire risks, protect wildlife habitat and save state forest-fire-suppression funds;

• Help investors produce bioenergy from wood cellulose;

• Provide tax incentives so developers permanently protect forestland in exchange for higher-density development elsewhere.

Many say the Puget Sound-area population will double by 2050. That's a lot of potential condos, unless we can find ways for the forests to be saved and to support this new image of the industry.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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