Sustainable forest management and climate change
What would the 1980’s have been without big hair, wine coolers and the discovery that the earth’s atmosphere had a hole in it over Antarctica! This blanket of ozone, or O3, blocks most of the sun’s high-frequency ultraviolet rays. This discovery set the stage for the Montreal Protocol in 1987.
Today, the hole in the ozone is headed for a happy ending. Due to global mitigation measures, the hole is actually shrinking. Now however, some scientists say the environmental triumph of recovering the ozone layer could have a troubling side effect: boosting global warming, at least in the Antarctic region.
Ozone itself is a greenhouse gas. A thinner ozone layer not only reduced heat trapped over the region, it helped stir circumpolar winds, which in turn created sea spray that formed reflective, cooling clouds. Jonathan Shanklin, one of the British scientists that discovered the hole in the ozone, recently said, "It's very difficult to quantify the impact on a global scale, but I think the evidence suggests filling the hole will have a regional effect on the Antarctic, possibly leading to more warming for the bulk of the Antarctic. That could drastically change predictions about global sea level change."
Recently, an international panel of scientists suggested, with near certainty, that human activity is the cause of most of the temperature increases of recent decades, and warns that sea levels could conceivably rise by more than three feet by the end of the century, if greenhouse gas emissions continue at a runaway pace.
On the other hand, Greenpeace co-founder, Dr. Patrick Moore, claims that man-made climate change is just a bunch of hot air, as it were. In his Capitol Hill testimony responding to the United Nations Panel on Climate Change, Dr. Moore — who earned a PhD in ecology — insisted that “There is no scientific proof that human emissions of carbon dioxide are the dominant cause of the minor warming of the Earth’s atmosphere over the past 100 years … no actual proof, as it is understood in science, actually exists.”
No wonder the average person is so confused by the climate change debate. These mixed messages however, have not curbed the enthusiasm of those that would put more restrictions on emissions and emitters as the way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The president’s June 2013 Climate Change speech and Action Plan identified climate change as a high priority for the remainder of his presidency. Unfortunately, what was missing from the plan is the role of sustainable forest management in sequestrating atmospheric carbon.
No matter which side of the debate you’re on, sustainable forest management and carbon storage in wood products are significant countermeasures to greenhouse gas emissions. Forests are carbon sinks, as a result of natural processes such as growth, and human activities such as harvesting and afforestation. Harvested areas regenerate. In any year, there is substantial new carbon sequestration occurring on the areas previously harvested. The idea behind using forests to help mitigate climate change involves managing to reduce their potential to be a net carbon emitter (as in the case of wildfire) and increase their potential to sequester or store carbon. The amount of carbon released into the atmosphere from harvesting is small compared with the amount released due to forest fires and other disturbances such insects and disease.
As well, much of the carbon removed from the forest is stored in durable wood commodities, pulp and paper and other value added products. Wood-based construction is generally considered to be an environmentally sound alternative to steel, aluminum and concrete. Another example is bioenergy produced from wood waste or other forest sources. It provides an alternative to fossil fuel. Biofuels are renewable resources that can be replenished as new forests grow. Recycling harvested wood and using waste wood for bioenergy are also important steps.
Forests absorb about one-quarter of the carbon emitted by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and the changing of land uses. Forest carbon uptake reduces the rate at which carbon accumulates in the atmosphere. How well forests will continue to remove the proportion of carbon now being emitted by direct or indirect human activities will affect the future rate of atmospheric carbon.
While experts engage in the climate change debate, one thing is certain, forests and the products they produce, will continue to remove and store carbon, as they have for centuries. Recognizing the importance of sustainable forest management is up to our state and national leaders.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.
Protecting the sage grouse from the Endangered Species Act
One could debate whether the recent recommendations by Governor Bullock’s Greater Sage Grouse Advisory Council went too far to protect the bird or not far enough. There certainly have been concerns expressed from both camps. However, one thing is certain, the best way to protect the bird, and the people that share its habitat, is to keep the sage grouse off the Endangered Species list.
The Endangered Species Act passed congress in 1973 in order to increase protection for, and to provide the recovery of, vanishing wildlife and vegetation. Once a species is listed, powerful legal tools are available to aid its recovery and protect its habitat. Therefore, over the past 40 years, ESA has been viewed as an obstacle to continued human use of resources within protected areas on federal and nonfederal lands. Additionally, declining species have become proxies for broader ecosystem conflicts, adding further to the controversy.
Under the Act, species are to be listed as threatened or endangered based solely on the best available science, without regard to economic considerations. In addition to entire species, distinct population segments may also be listed as threatened or endangered.
As of December 2013, a total of 1,268 species of animals and 877 species of plants were listed as either threatened or endangered, of which the majority occur in the United States. A total of $1.4 billion was spent in 2011, on behalf of listed species.
An annual expenditure of $1.4 billion is a lot of money. Are species protection and restoration working? The answer to this question depends upon what is measured. The major focus of the ESA is the recovery of species to the point at which ESA protection is no longer needed.
Over the past 40 years, 58 U.S. and foreign species or distinct populations have been delisted. Of the 58 only 30 were actually recovered. Ten species became extinct; seven were dropped off the list because of classification revisions and 11 species dropped off due to original data error or legislative actions. Of the remaining 1200 species, only 35 have been reclassified from endangered to threatened.
A 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) only spent half of its recovery funds on the highest-priority species. A subsequent December 2008 study found that almost one-third of all recommendations made by Congress to strengthen ESA implementation over the previous 10 years had not been implemented. For instance, the FWS had not clarified the role of critical habitat and how and when it should be designated, nor had the agency periodically assessed expenditures on species in relation to their relative priority.
The ESA requires that a species’ status determination be made “solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.” In several situations, legal, economic, and social disputes have resulted from this sole focus, including species that live in Montana, such as the bull trout, grizzly bears, Canada lynx, and wolves.
The fact that the ESA has failed to recover species has not gone unnoticed by Congress, resource managers, and the public-at-large. Several attempts to amend the Act have come and gone over the years. Even in this current Congress there are six bills that either amend or restrict regulatory provisions. These may evaporate by the end of the year as well.
In the meantime, if Montana’s sage grouse are determined to be in peril, then taking steps to keep them off the Endangered Species list is important to the wellbeing of the bird and the people that share its habitat. The concerns whether the recommendations went to far may be legitimate. However, until Congress seriously addresses the failure of the Endangered Species Act to recover species, the ESA is no place for any species in jeopardy.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.
Sustainble growth in the forest economy
With the global financial crisis of 2007 (hopefully) behind us, it is time to look at the future and what opportunities lay ahead for the forest products industry.
The world is increasingly becoming a single market, with interdependent production systems, consumption of similar goods and consumers responding to similar conditions. We no longer compete only in a local economy.
Advancements in technology have definitely brought us to this juncture. The Director of Engineering at Google says the “law of accelerating returns,” suggests that “an analysis of the history of technology shows that technological change is exponential, contrary to the common-sense ‘linear’ view. We will not experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will seem more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” In other words, technology is moving faster than we can grasp.
Technological advancement and shifting demographic patterns will fundamentally shape our economic outlook. According to recent reports, the global economy is growing as a result in exploding populations in areas outside of the United States. According to experts, the global population will increase to 8.3 billion by 2030. Sixty percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas. There will be a 17 percent increase in urbanization in the United States and the middle class will see a 172 percent growth in developing countries.
A Global Trends 2030 report states, “Owing to rapid urbanization in the developing world, the volume of urban construction for housing, office space, and transport services over the next 40 years could roughly equal the entire volume of such construction to date in world history.”
What does this mean for the forest products industry? In addition to harvesting saw logs for traditional and essential commodity products, the exploding growth in the world economy likely means a greater emphasis on certified wood, an increased interest in cellulosic bio-energy, and new uses for wood fiber.
Where is the supply to meet the demand going to come from? Currently, there are roughly 400 million acres of timberland across all ownerships in the United States in need of restoration. Typically, restoration means removing excess forest biomass. Without market outlets for this excess; materials often accumulate until a wildfire event. Retaining and sustaining primary and secondary wood manufacturing, pulp and paper production, and creating high-value, market-based, outlets for excess forest biomass is vital to the success of accelerated forest restoration and meeting the emerging global demands for wood-based products.
In the late 1990’s, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that “the most extensive and serious problem related to the health of forests in the interior West is the over-accumulation of vegetation, which has caused an increasing number of large, intense, uncontrollable, and catastrophically destructive wildfires.” This report prompted the development of the National Fire Plan in 2001, which suggested that $850 million annually would be required to address this problem. More recently, the GAO concluded that $69 billion is required over the next 16 years or $4.3 billion per year. Relying on tax payer dollars, the U. S. Forest Service has managed an average of only $300 million annually for hazardous fuel treatments. This current model simply will not restore forests let alone meet global demands.
Congress is not likely to cut a $69 billion check without some assurances that harvest levels are sustainable and treatments are ecologically and economically viable. Traditionally, well-managed forests in the United States have been able to earn the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, the Forest Stewardship Council or the American Tree Farm seal of approval, demonstrating that harvest levels are sustainable, that bio-diversity and old growth are conserved, and water quality and wildlife habitats are protected.
Meeting the global demand for solid wood products and finding high-value, high-volume uses for low-value forest biomass is one of the most important challenges facing policy makers and the forest products industry today. There is little doubt that technological advancements and shifting demographic patterns will fundamentally shape our economic outlook and will shift environmental, economic and social conditions that will play out over the next few decades.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.
A season of goodwill and cherished memories
I must confess I am one of the roughly 30 million people in the United States that bought a Christmas tree from a tree farm lot this year. I do have fond memories however of many a cold winter’s day in December, as a youngster, trampling through a deathly quiet forest – with only the sounds of an occasional “thud” as huge clumps of snow would fall from pine tree branches, and my own heavy breathing from struggling to extract myself from waist deep snow – in search of the “perfect” Christmas tree.
I was all too eager to pass my wonderful childhood memories along to my own family, as we carried on the tradition of chaining up the car, bundling up to look like a Michelin family, and with bungee cords in hand and a toboggan strapped to the top of the car, set off in search of the “perfect” Christmas tree. The reward, when we got back, was a steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows and a stick of peppermint, Christmas carols and the scent of a fresh pine tree filling the house.
Fast forward to today. I am at an age that the thought of frost bitten toes and fingers, overrides the allure of the adventure. So, as I longingly and quite guiltily gazed at all the artificial Christmas tree options, I heard my youngest daughter’s admonition, “no way are we ever getting a fake tree!” Even though my children are adults now, their memories are still very vivid. It is first and foremost about the smell of a pine tree that permeates the entire house and then all that goes with the holiday season.
I know there is debate about whether a living tree should be cut as part of a holiday tradition, or whether choosing an artificial tree contributes to global warming or whether one should support a tree farmer instead of the above, but really it comes down to personal choice and circumstance. The memories we create, and the mark we leave, are way more important.
However, not everyone has fond memories of Christmases gone-by. Just being alone can make the holiday unbearable. Circumstances may find people (our neighbors) in need of food, clothing, and shelter; leading to the Christmas season being quite difficult for some.
This is probably why one-third of all charitable donations are made the last three months of the year with 18 percent of the annual total donated in December. In 2012, charitable donations increased by 3.5 percent for a sum of $316 billion dollars. Volunteers contribute over 15 billion hours every year. Charitable giving and volunteering (our actions) directly impacts communities.
Having been raised by a single mother, we didn’t have excess of anything, but we had a home, food, boxes of welcomed hand-me-down clothes, and toys under the tree on Christmas morning. Growing up, I didn’t realize our social circumstance because what we had, we shared year-round, especially at Christmas. My mother always made sure we invited (what she referred to as “shut-ins”) to our home for dinner. We entertained dinner guests for Christmas every year.
I guess the reason I am sharing this story, is because it is not unlike many others from the past or today. Even though growing-up we did not have an abundance of “things” we did had an abundance of goodwill, and isn’t goodwill really what Christmas is about? Giving to our community or helping a neighbor has long been an important part of Montana’s culture.
Whether you choose to be counted as part of the $316 billion in charitable donations, volunteer your time, provide toys or food for families in need, a Christmas tree (artificial or real) or Christmas dinner for a “shut-in”, our actions serve to help create lasting memories for our own family and for others.
On behalf of all the families of the Montana Wood Products Association we wish you cherished memories, a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.
Building with wood connects us to our environment
World demographic statistics report that one person in three, or one billion people, actually live in slum conditions. One hundred million people across the globe are homeless and over the next 20 years, three billion people, or forty percent of the world’s population, will need a new home. The scale of the challenge facing society is staggering.
City structures have been predominately built with concrete and steel. Even though these materials are durable, their process produces very high energy costs and green house gas emissions. The process that produces structural steel and concrete contributes eight percent of the world’s green house gases. The use of concrete and steel, as building materials, are important to the construction industry and our economy, and not going to be replaced. However, in order to meet the challenges that lie ahead, we must think how to incorporate the use of wood, as a structural material, and not just as a finish product.
Wood is the only building material that is grown by the power of the sun. Trees give off oxygen and soak up carbon dioxide. One cubic meter of wood stores one tonne of carbon dioxide. When a tree dies or is consumed by fire, it releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Two solutions to the world’s climate stresses are to reduce our emissions and find storage. Wood is the only major building material that actually does both. Turning wood fiber into products stores the carbon – forever. In essence, wood is nature’s fingerprint. The use of wood, in our building structures, connects us to our environment as no other building material can.
Scientific engineering models show that North American forests grow a 20-story wood structure every 13 minutes. This structure would store roughly 3000 tonnes of carbon or the equivalent of removing emissions from 900 cars every year. Unfortunately, most universal building codes do not allow the construction of wood buildings that are taller than four stories.
One solution, that addresses structural integrity in taller wood buildings, is the development of what is known as “mass timber panels.” These panels are made from young or suppressed growth trees, and small pieces of wood glued together. These “mass timber panels” are eight feet wide and 64 feet long with various thicknesses, and are flexible enough to be erected six stories at a time.
These panels were recently used in a nine story wood structure in London, an 11-story structure in Australia, and a 20-story wood structure is nearing completion in Vancouver, British Columbia. The race for the tallest wooden skyscraper seems to be on, as a 30-story structure is proposed in Austria and a 34-story structure is slated for Sweden. This race is similar to the race back in the 1800’s when the first 10-story concrete and steel skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1885.
Montana, being the rural state that it is, is not likely to build a 20 or 30-story wooden skyscraper anytime soon, however, there are opportunities to incorporate wood as both structural and finish materials in new building construction. Take for example, the new College of Technology (COT) building proposed for the University of Montana campus. The new COT proposes to be around 100,000 square feet on four floors. Montana’s wood products industry manufactures many of the products and materials that can and should be incorporated into the building design. They manufacture trusses, beams, lumber, plywood, fiber and particleboard, flooring, exterior siding, fascia trim and accents, and so on. After all, it is the College of Technology; an ideal location to highlight all the new innovations in wood product materials.
The use of concrete and steel, in building structures, is important to Montana and the global economy. However, incorporating the use of wood into structural design is the way of the future. New innovative building materials are not only structurally sound, building with wood reduces our carbon footprint and connects us to our environment in a way that other building materials simply cannot.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus. Thanks for listening.
Two tales of one industry
Two recent opinion articles in a local newspaper highlighted the fact that Montana’s forest products industry continues to suffer from two tales of one industry.
The first article opined that throwing billions more at logging was wrong and went on to suggest that “parroting of Bush-era ‘Healthy Forests Initiative’ propaganda, is nothing but a smokescreen for more corporate logging.” I guess this sound bite plays well, as it is a label the author uses quite frequently and loosely. I don’t even know what “corporate logging” means. The author is equally guilty of stooping to use propaganda to misconstrue and paint a picture in the mind of the reader.
A couple days later, another opinion piece appeared in the local paper from a certified forester. He and his wife were visiting our beautiful state from the east coast. He commented on the magnificence of our landscapes and how lucky we are to live here. “It is an outdoor paradise.” He went on to say, “In our travels, we saw several large sawmill operations and these mills were located in the midst of high-traffic, outdoor and recreational economies. It appears timber harvesting can, and is, compatible with that paradise and helps keep it alive and economically sound.”
French philosopher and writer, Voltaire once wrote that when “men argue; nature acts.” That was as true four hundred years ago as it is today. As we continue to argue about active or passive or no management at all of our public lands, argue about the affects of climate change on the environment, argue whether America’s wood products should come from public forest management or loggers should be employed to harvest trees, nature is acting; and acting with a vengeance.
It is true, for centuries, nature kept North American forests in balance prior to European settlement. However, this balance was upset when people and cities started inhabiting the landscape. Centuries later, it would be ludicrous to ask everyone to leave. So our job, as good stewards, is to mimic the role of nature as best we can.
Until the last few decades, our national forests did not grow overly dense because the natural role of fire was replaced with a program of forest thinning. Forests were logged to provide wood products, and recreational opportunities, resilient ecosystems, and to prevent wildfires.
Even though forests offer many important intrinsic values and experiences; managing the growing stock (by harvesting trees) congress treats wood fiber as a commodity, just like grain, cattle, and so on. This is why the U. S. Forest Service, as an agency, is under the U. S. Department of Agriculture, not the U. S Department of Interior, like the National Park Service.
When environmental groups started organizing in the 1970’s, logging became unpopular. During this timeframe, harvest on national forests plummeted 84 percent, from 12 billion board feet per year in the 1980’s to half the amount in the 1990’s, and has sunk to an all time low of about 2 billion board feet annually in recent years. “As men argue, nature acts.”
Our national forests produce eight times more new growth each year than is harvested. The result of decades of arguing is a massive overgrowth, and with warmer climates, a timber box, when ignited, leaves a moonscape where there was once “a paradise.”
The two tales of one industry is that logging leads to “more deforestation of our dwindling old growth forests,” and that “logging as the solution to wildfire is, at best, a myth.” That is one tale. The other tale is forests are not static environments. Trees keep growing and must be thinned in order to promote and protect healthy forests. This process provides jobs and economic stability to local communities.
The people that comprise Montana’s forest products industry believe they are not only compatible with outdoor and recreational economies; these economies are dependent upon healthy forests and interdependent upon the work this industry provides. One behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.
Montana Forest Products Week
This week marks the third annual Montana “Forest Products Week”. In 2011, the state legislature set-a-side a week every October, in order to recognize the value of Montana’s forest products industry, their contribution to the management of our forest lands, and to the stability of Montana’s economy.
The week, commencing October 18 and running through October 24, is a wonderful opportunity for the public, and Montana’s elected officials, to learn more about an industry that has been instrumental in the growth of Montana’s economy since the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Company established at its current Half-Moon site, just northwest of Columbia Falls in 1912.
Montana’s appreciation week coincides with the National Forest Products Week established by a joint resolution of congress in 1960. The joint resolution proclaimed that “our country and its people have always found constant strength, individual peace and personal pride in the bounty of forest and timber land; and from the beginning of our Nation’s founding, the forest and its products have provided a core of living and freedom touching and inspiring each citizen with majestic beauty and practical use.” “As our only renewable resource, wood offers the availability and abundance to satisfy the Nation’s ever growing demand and through modern forestry we can be assured of a continuous supply of timber for the future.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsak states, “Wood should be a major component of American building and energy design. The use of wood provides substantial environmental benefits, provides incentives for private landowners to maintain forest land, and provides a critical source of jobs in rural America.” Utilizing wood harvested through sustainable forestry practices in “green” building applications promotes a healthy environment and a strong economy.
Wood as a “green” product has long been recognized by the wood products industry nationwide through a life cycle analysis which is a well-established set of methods for measuring the environmental impacts of a product or service across its entire life cycle; identifying the flow of materials and energy through the various stages, from the point of harvesting raw material, through manufacturing, construction, use, and finally, disposal. This “cradle-to-grave” assessment demonstrates using lumber or wood products in residential and non-residential construction leaves one of the smallest carbon footprints. In addition, when the entire life cycle of lumber is accounted for, each ton of wood carbon replaces up to 2.1 tons of atmospheric carbon.
Sustainable forest management produces healthier forests that serve as a “carbon sink” absorbing greenhouse gases and purifying drinking water for wildlife and municipal water systems. This year alone, forests sequestered 14 percent of all atmospheric carbon.
Timber is among Montana’s most highly valued resources. For over a century, this plentiful, renewable and natural resource has sustained jobs and communities. In fact today, over 160 wood-manufacturing businesses in Montana employ roughly 6,700 people; provide labor income of $295 million dollars and product sales of roughly $900 million every year in the primary and secondary wood products manufacturing sectors.
Traditionally, Montana’s wood products focused on producing dimensional lumber for building and wood fiber for the pulp and paper industry. Today, Montana’s manufacturing consists of sawmills, plywood, fiberboard, and particleboard plants, pellet mills, biomaterial and sustainable building material companies, log and furniture manufacturers, planers and woodworks.
In addition to producing a wide variety of sustainably harvested wood products, Montana’s forest products industry provides the workforce for trail restoration, wildlife habitat enhancement, forest and riparian restoration, hazardous fuel reduction, fire suppression and many other activities.
Montana’s forest products industry is proud to promote healthy forests and healthy communities through the wise management of our forest lands. Forest Products Week is “a great time to celebrate all the things we use and enjoy that comes from trees!”
"Federal fault line"
The federal government manages more than fifty percent of the land west of the Mississippi. Interestingly, less than five percent of the land east of the Mississippi is under federal control.
As Western territories joined the Union in the 1800’s, the federal government made a promise to dispose of the public lands it acquired when each territory became a State. As the 1828 U.S. House committee reported, those terms were part of an implicit contract between the states and the federal government.
When states agreed not to tax the lands within their borders, until they were sold, they were resting upon the implied intent of Congress that lands would be sold within a reasonable period of time.
However, the federal government could not sell lands they did not have clear title to. This fact lead to virtually all Western Enabling Acts to have a disclaimer clause that states, “The people inhabiting said territory do agree and declare they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”
As new territories joined the Union, every single one had to agree to disclaim title to all of the public lands within their territorial boundaries. The federal government’s response was that until U.S. title could be extinguished, the states could not maintain or even tax those lands. The federal government promised to dispose of the lands so individual states could bring them into their tax base recognizing that “taxing the soil” is a power “incident to all sovereign states.”
President Andrew Jackson, made a statement in a veto message to Congress, emphasizing the Enabling Act and wrote, “It cannot be supposed the compacts intended that the United States should retain forever a title to lands within the States…” Subsequently, Congress never required the disclaimer. Terms in the Enabling Act were simply to provide clear title so lands could be sold.
The question of whether the federal government has seriously breached the law in virtually all Western states is under consideration by many legal scholars and resource management activists. They assert that the original and longstanding policies of the federal government were dedicated to the disposition (not retention) of federal lands. It was only in the 20th century that legislative and regulatory movements shifted towards federal retention of public lands.
At the time of statehood, all Western states recognized that until disposition occurred, the states would be in financial jeopardy. It was a revenue problem then and it is a revenue problem now. The General Accountability Office released a report that foretells of an ever-worsening fiscal outlook for state and local governments through the year 2060, with increasing gaps between receipts and expenditures.
Were Congress to honor compacts under today’s current federal deficit, the financial results could be catastrophic. In addition, in this day and age, few would likely support the federal government selling off public lands and putting them into private ownership where all government control would be lost.
The fact remains, with federal sequestration here to stay (requiring an eight to ten percent annual reduction in program and budget over the next several years) all federal land management agencies will be required to do more with less. With the majority of the impact felt in the West.
The idea that the federal government should dispose of all public lands within state borders is a pretty radical idea. In light of the current and projected challenges facing public land management agencies, bold and drastic measures may be our only recourse. In the meantime, it certainly makes for interesting discussion.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.