Support landowners who keep their property in forestry
Conversion of forestland is at an all-time high and accelerating. The main force behind this is the difference in the value of land for...
Special to The Times
Conversion of forestland is at an all-time high and accelerating.
The main force behind this is the difference in the value of land for development, versus growing timber.
The problem is most acute in the gentrifying counties around Puget Sound, where the average lot value is about $250,000, while timberland per acre is around $2,000.
Even with this vast difference, many private landowners continue to farm timber — and deserve the public's support. They continue in their work for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is their love for the land and forestry. Land remaining in the forest base provides environmental benefits for all to enjoy.
Practicing forestry requires infrastructure: loggers, truckers, sawmill operators, marketers, and others who support these businesses. The forest industry is not a robber baron or cut-and-run affair of past reputation.
Today, logging is highly mechanized, with sophisticated processes incorporated into many applications. Large-log mills have given way to high-speed, computerized, small-log mills. The industry has adopted programs such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Washington Contract Loggers Association's master-logger-certification program, which promote and monitor best-management practices.
Landownership patterns have changed as well. The traditional vertically structured forest-products company is giving way to real-estateinvestment trusts and timbermanagement organizations. Values are different. The new companies all have conversion strategies. Large, nonindustrial, private land and timber parcels are held mostly by elderly owners, whose heirs may not share the same love of the land. A vibrant and competitive industry yielding maximum returns on their forestlands is the best insurance against conversion.
The timber industry is threatened by an economic perfect storm. The subprime-mortgage mess has destroyed the domestic lumber market. Fuel prices have soared. Shippers to Asia have just substantially raised their freight rates.
Add to that the storm we had in December that blew down 600 million board feet (150,000 truckloads) of timber now hitting a market that doesn't want it.
The industry already has been tested by the spotted owl, mechanization, recessions and regulation. Ordinarily, I would say this is going to be a year that separates the men from the boys. But the boys are already gone.
What forest owners and the industry do not need is more regulation.
The last major forest regulation in Washington state was the 2001 forest-and-fish law. It set buffers up to 200 feet wide on each side around rivers, streams, trickles and dry ditches.
Rules are complicated. Certain thresholds and proposals require review by an interdisciplinary team made up of the departments of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, and Ecology, and tribes, and even the feds. It is a daunting process. Impacts are greater on owners who have less land for averaging the buffers. This is another major factor driving conversion.
Some have blamed logging practices for the flood damage in last December's storm. One such critic seeks political advantage in the upcoming race for lands commissioner. He calls for more regulation.
But blaming logging practices for a catastrophe of this magnitude makes no sense. What would have happened if Seattle had received hurricane-force winds and 22 inches of rain, as Lewis County did? It would have suffered slides and downed trees, too. Regulating for a weather anomaly like this would bring society to a halt.
When Doug Sutherland took over as public-lands commissioner, in charge of the Department of Natural Resources, the agency was in disarray and nearly bankrupt. His predecessor had been preoccupied with activities that hurt the forestry infrastructure. Sutherland did a good job of turning the agency around and getting it back to managing state trust lands, permitting forest projects and performing fire protection. Today, the agency is fiscally sound.
More regulation will not serve the forest industry. Overregulation will only drive more forest conversion. We should be bending over backward to support landowners who keep their property in forestry. The moderate environmental community knows this. It has observed that when you drive out the loggers, you welcome the developers.Preston Drew is a logging and land-clearing contractor based in King County near Carnation. He writes on rural, timber and property-rights issues.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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