KUFM Commentary

The need for comprehensive federal forest reforms

There has been quite a bit of opinion writing lately about whether members of congress should focus on place-based federal forestland pilots, or whether they should work to pass comprehensive federal forest reforms.

On the one hand, place-based efforts are homegrown initiatives that carve out temporary solutions to meet local needs, while a comprehensive reform package offers sweeping changes that land managers, timber companies and timber-dependent communities can rely on for the long-term.

Under past Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee leadership, placed-based initiatives were the darling of the committee. With different leadership and worsening forest conditions, that is no longer the case. There is a growing national concern over the health of our nation’s forests, escalating fire suppression costs, and the economic stability of our timber-dependent communities.

While the National Forest System was created to serve as working forests, external forces have been at play over the past 25 years that have made achieving the goals set in the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act almost impossible.

These forces include a handful of aggressive litigants working to prevent timber harvest on federal lands, 73 million forested acres subject to insect and disease infestation, rising fire suppression costs, layers of laws, rules, and regulations that drag analysis out for years, and declining budgets.

Of the 193 million National Forest System acres, 143 million are forested. Of this total, 96 million are capable of growing 20 cubic feet of timber per year and are thus classified as “timberland.” Of this subset, only 46 million acres are designated by Forest Plans as having a “timber objective.” That is only 23 percent of the total acres.

Timber harvest has declined by more than 80 percent over the past two decades. These reductions have devastated rural communities, where sawmills and paper mills provided some of the only stable, year-round employment. Of the 56,000 direct jobs lost in the west, Montana lost roughly 3,300 jobs, 27 saw mills, and one paper mill.

In 1990, the Forest Service sold 12bbf of timber and burned 4 million acres. In 2010, the Forest Service sold 2bbf of timber and burned 8 million acres. Currently the agency spends over $2 billion dollars annually suppressing wildfires. This is more than 50 percent of the total Forest Service budget.

Passage of the Farm Bill delivered new opportunities for the Forest Service to partner with state, city and county agencies to implement projects that not only restore forest health but economic viability to rural communities. We are cautiously optimistic in the success of these programs, but recognize efforts will likely run smack dab into a buzz saw without further federal forest reforms.

The Forest Service currently spends $356 million annually on NEPA compliance, therefore reforms must: streamline NEPA analysis, ESA consultation, and judicial review of projects on the 23 percent of the federal timberland already designated for timber production. Reforms must set volume and acres treated targets to ensure accountability. Reforms must clarify to the courts that timber production is the primary objective, which allows resource managers to focus on timber economics in the design and implementation of projects.

Fire suppression dollars must be taken offline and put into a natural disaster emergency account. The Forest Service can no longer afford to be a $2 billion dollar fire department. It must focus on preventative forest health measures instead.

The Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) must be amended to ensure project recommendations brought forth through a collaborative process have standing in court. Thousands of stakeholder hours are put into developing project recommendations only to have their collective work derailed by outliers.

Judicial reforms include requiring plaintiffs to put up a bond to ensure frivolous lawsuits stop flooding the courts and that plaintiffs must prove to the judge the likelihood to prevail before a temporary restraining order can be awarded.

Collectively, these reforms set the Forest Service on a trajectory of reclaiming their multiple-use mandate, offers long-term stability to timber-dependent communities and to an industry that is committed to supplying the nations wood products.

On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.

National BMPs muddies the water

Well, it looks like the Forest Service has done it to themselves again. By this I mean the recent Federal Register notice announcing the agency is undertaking the writing of national Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Water Quality Protection on National Forest System lands.

For many reasons, a set of national BMP standards is unnecessary, likely costly, and may undermine state and regional programs that have a proven track record of effective water quality monitoring, and it is questionable whether the Forest Service even has the legal authority to proceed with a national program.

Congress enacted the Clean Water Act (CWA) as the primary tool to regulate the discharge of pollution into the nation’s waters. The Clean Water Act authorizes federal agencies to directly regulate the discharge of pollutants from “point sources,” from which pollutants are or may be discharged.

The Clean Water Act manages water pollution through Section 303 requiring states develop water quality standards applicable to interstate waters, and submit such standards to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval. Only in situations where a state fails to submit water quality standards does the EPA have the authority to develop standards for a state. Not the Forest Service.

In 1987, Congress amended the CWA to add Section 319, as mitigation for non-point sources of pollution. Section 319 directed all states to develop a plan that included a description of the BMPs to be undertaken and identify programs to be used in implementation.

Section 319 also designated the individual states as the government entity primarily responsible for controlling and managing NPS pollution. As a response, Montana’s legislature passed House Joint Resolution 49, directing the Montana Environmental Quality Council (EQC) to study how forest management practices affected watersheds. The EQC formed a BMP technical committee, consisting of experts in the field of forestry from MSU Extension Forestry, The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and several applied forest practitioners to develop Montana’s first statewide Forestry BMPs.

In 1989, an interdisciplinary work group released the revised Forestry BMPs, providing guidance in the areas of riparian and wetlands, sediment, streamside management, roads, stream crossings, soil, timber harvest, and reforestation. Since that time, Montana’s Forestry BMPs have served as compliance with the national CWA and HJR 49.

Critical to the historical success of these practices is the biennial, on-the-ground, audit of harvest activities on federal, state and private forestlands, logger-training courses covering BMPs, the state’s Streamside Management Zone (SMZ) law, and a biennial report to the EQC.

Since water quality varies naturally due to geology, soils, and climate, BMP audit investigators are able to collect a large number of samples, over long periods that can accurately characterize water quality, record trends and proactively develop adaptive management guidance and educational training tools.

Therefore, we are concerned that a set of national BMP standards will only serve to muddy the waters since the Forest Service has failed to explain how its proposed revisions to the Forest Service Manual and Forest Service Handbook comport with the directives of Section 313 of the CWA, which requires all federal agencies comply with existing laws concerning the control and abatement of water pollution.

Not to mention the cost of compliance. The Forest Service’s proposal states the National Core BMPs will integrate individual state and Forest Service regional BMPs under one umbrella to facilitate an agency wide BMP monitoring program. We have not seen a cost-benefit analysis, only an assertion that “This action to clarify Agency direction will not have an annual effect of $100 million or more on the economy, nor will it adversely affect productivity, competition, jobs, the environment, public health and safety, or State or local governments.” Everything the Forest Service does affects (in some manner) all of the above. It is rather puzzling to assert that this new national program won’t.

Those that work and recreate in Montana’s forestlands recognize our headwaters produce both a quantity and quality resource that supports some of the West’s best aquatic and terrestrial habitat and as such, take the management and protection of our precious water resources very seriously. A National Core BMP is at best a distraction, and at worst may be a costly undermining of over 35 years of effective water quality monitoring and adaptive management.

On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.

Art Ortenberg and Liz Claiborne's Legacy of Philanthropy and Forest Stewardship

This past winter, Art Ortenberg passed away at the age of 87, some 7 years after his longtime partner, wife and friend Liz Claiborne passed. Although they were very wealthy New Yorkers and could live anywhere in total seclusion, they chose a far more visible path-engaged and active in their communities. They loved Montana and the folks that live, work and play here.

Art and Liz were long time philanthropists and supporters of wildlife conservation and efforts that paralleled their values and vision. They came to Montana in the early 90’s to become a part of the communities of the Seeley-Swan Valley and Canyon Creek not apart from these communities. Art and Liz locally supported the Seeley Lake Elementary School’s pioneering school lunch program and the award winning pre-school program, Montana Public Radio, the Canyon Creek Fire Department, the Helena Public Library and many, many more. With their strong interest in getting kids outdoors and connected to the environment, they worked with the Montana Wildlife Federation to establish a youth elk hunting program on their Triple 8 Ranch near Canyon Creek. They also sponsored the Montana Natural Heritage Project at Seeley-Swan High School, allowing students to observe their natural environment and host a community gathering to share their findings.

In addition to being generous and a Montanan at heart, Art was a visionary and understood accomplishing conservation and habitat objectives required the involvement and support of Rural Community members. He was a proponent of community-based conservation and embraced the benefits of a wide variety of interests working together to help each other see more of their values on the ground. Beginning in 2001 in Red Lodge, Montana, Art brought together a group of conservationists, county commissioners, congressional folks, loggers, ranchers and agency leaders which served as an incubator for today’s collaboration.

Not only did Art envision the benefits from bringing folks together but, also showing them on the ground results that advanced stewardship and restoration. Pyramid Mountain Lumber had completed several such projects by 2003 on Art and Liz’s “Tranquility” ownership in the Swan Valley as well as the Clearwater Stewardship Pilot Project in Seeley Lake. Pyramid Mountain Lumber is a family owned mill in Seeley Lake with a long history and reputation for working with diverse interests to accomplish mutual objectives.

That summer, Art invited National leadership from the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife and The Wilderness Society to visit with various agency, industry and community members and to visually review on the ground treatments on “Tranquility” and Clearwater Stewardship. They viewed protection of old growth veteran trees, habitat restoration for fisheries and wildlife, fuel reduction in the wildland urban interface, recreational improvements and came to realize the benefit to rural communities in providing raw materials for processing which offset the cost of the restoration treatments while providing high paying jobs for local workers and contractors.

Convening this group was a landmark event in moving the dialogue between conservation community interests, timber industry folks, and other community members supporting active forest management in Rural Communities. Many current efforts in advancing collaboration to get the right thing done on the ground for the right reason started as a direct result of Art’s invitation.

In our many discussions over treatments on their Triple 8 Ranch to restore the Ponderosa Pine Savanna landscape that Lewis & Clark would have observed, it was clear that Art Ortenberg and Liz Claiborne had a deep appreciation and respect for Montanans and their diverse perspectives. Also, they were deeply attached to Montana’s incredible landscapes and its distinctive wildlife. So, as they worked worldwide to support the conservation and recovery of tigers, elephants and a variety of other endangered species and their habitats, rest assured they were grounded in Montana and their legacy is living their lives, dedicated to making a difference.

On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Gordy Sanders, thanks for listening.

First Constitutional Amendment and Civil Discourse

At 3 o’clock today, every American was asked to stop and take a moment to pause, remember and pay special tribute to our nation’s men and women who have made the ultimate service and sacrifice in the pursuit of freedom and of the liberties we all presently enjoy.

Even though many of us visited our loved ones at a cemetery this Memorial holiday, it is important to remember what this day signifies and pay homage to our fallen soldiers and the millions of veterans whose only public marker may be that of a gravestone. This Memorial Day, we honor those who have died in service to our country, veterans who have moved on, and thank the many men and women currently serving in our armed forces.

In this modern age of public rancor and ideological division, it is only fitting that we pause and remember the words carved into the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., that “Freedom is not free”. These words are not about the cost of defending our freedom. It is the fact that the rights and freedoms defined in our U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were paid by their ultimate sacrifice.

America was built through the exercise of free speech and the protection of individual rights to assure a representative democracy. We hold our First Amendment rights sacred. And yet, the strident tenor of contemporary American discourse is threatening our cherished democracy and only serves to impair the development of sound policy.
Freedom of speech, and the values of civil discourse, should go hand-in-glove, but sadly, it doesn’t. Treating others with dignity and respect, even when we strongly disagree, should be a priority of every community. Civil discourse is described as "the language of dispassionate objectivity". “It requires respect of the other participants. It neither diminishes the other's moral worth, nor questions their good judgment; it avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion; it requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant's experiences.”

Civil discourse is intended to enhance understanding. It is not the absence of critical analysis. It is the manner in which we share the territorial freedom of discussion. Yes, we all have the “right” to yell and scream our opinions, but being uncivil does not lay the foundation or opportunity to engage in civil discourse; nor does it pay homage to the 1.17 million Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our right to do so.

Sadly, incivility seems to be the norm anymore, especially lately when it come to discussions around public land management in Montana. Internet blogs and comment fields have become a cesspool, an incubator for incivility. The vitriol expressed has taken on new dimensions, to the point of deceit and downright bullying. Really? Is this the best we can do? I would like to suggest to those that apparently believe the way to sway public policy is to take up a “poison pen”, to remember your right to free speech was paid for by the blood of a nation, and you dishonor their memory when you choose this course.

It is important to remember that it is the veteran, not the preacher, who gave us freedom of religion. It is the veteran, not the reporter, who gave us freedom of the press. It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who gave us the freedom to assemble. It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who gave us the right to a fair trial. It is the veteran, not the politician, who gave us the right to vote, and it is the veteran, not the poet, who gave us the freedom of speech.
As we take time to pause, reflect and pay tribute to those that have died for freedom and liberty, they sacrificed their own hopes and dreams to preserve the hope of a nation; and to remember, because those that fought the fight, the duty is now ours. We best honor our fallen soldiers, our veterans and our active military by not only caring for the living but by caring of the living. This is our duty. To do good works, to contribute, to be tolerant and to be respectful.

Don't be fooled by false and inflammatory statements

I simply have to shake my head at the blatantly false accusations and statements made in the press lately by a few fringe environmentalists concerning Governor Bullock’s priority landscape recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The accusations are so false and so out-of-line that they must be corrected.

Forestry provisions in the Farm Bill are the direct result of several national concerns, fire budgets, fire risk to public safety and infrastructure, lack of management on federal lands, litigation and jobs.

The Forestry Title of the 2014 Farm Bill sets into law new opportunities for governors and the U.S. Forest Service to work together on management of federal and non-federal lands within state boundaries.

The section receiving the most adverse attention is Section 8204, entitled “Insect and Disease Infestation”, which gave governors the authority to recommend priority treatment areas to the Secretary of Agriculture by April 9. Based on annual forest surveys, these areas are experiencing declining forest health, are at risk of experiencing substantially increased tree mortality over the next 15 years or in an area in which the risk of hazard trees poses an imminent risk to public infrastructure, health or safety.

Governor Bullock was one of 36 governors that chose to engage in the opportunity presented by congress. Based on the criteria specified in the Farm Bill, the governor recommended a priority designation on just under 5 million acres, of the 12.5 million acres identified in Forest Plans as suitable for timber harvest or production.

The Farm Bill is very specific regarding resource condition as the qualification, but completely void of specifying process. Idaho’s Governor Otter turned to established collaboratives to identify areas. Other governors used different processes. In the spirit of collaboration, Governor Bullock chose to gather an ad hoc working group of diverse interests. The Forest Service and state agencies pulled together layers of scientific data and maps. The Forest Service presented draft areas to Forest Supervisors, county elected officials, representatives of collaboratives, environmental groups and timber industry representatives for feedback.

All future projects, within the priority areas, are considered authorized hazardous fuel reduction projects and will be carried out in accordance with certain authorities in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003.

An additional provision not in HFRA is the ability to use up to a 3,000-acre categorical exclusion as long as the acres identified for treatment are recommended by a collaborative group or by a collaborative process. Categorical Exclusion applies to actions that “do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment.” In addition, the use of a CE must not trigger “extraordinary circumstances” such as the potential to adversely impact threatened or endangered species, archaeological remains, historical sites, or other protected resources.

That’s it. That’s what the entire ruckus is about. So, the few that are crying foul have either not read the bill or are deliberately trying to sabotage a bill produced by a congressional conference committee and the outcomes it will produce.

Don’t be fooled by false and inflammatory statements; like a “secret logging deal”, or “Categorical Exclusions will treat an unlimited number of projects up to 3,000 acres or almost five square miles in size”, or that a CE could be used where this is “a likely to effect threatened or endangered species”, or that to “Treat” acres could mean a “full-on clearcut.” Farm Bill criteria and individual Forest Plans dictate pace and scale.

Collaborative conservation emphasizes the importance of local participation, sustainable natural and human communities and voluntary consent and compliance rather that enforcement by legal and regulatory coercion.

Over the past few years, mainstream environmental groups and the timber industry have invited the few fringe organizations to enter into a collaborative discussion or process on numerous occasions. However, they decline in favor of the failed status quo of attacking projects through pre-objection and litigation.

It is rather disingenuous for these people to cry foul now because they were not consulted. They sealed their own fate long ago by choosing the path of obstruction rather than construction.

On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.

Building tall with wood supports rural America

If we are serious about tackling climate change, then the solution may be found in building the city of tomorrow to look more like the city of yesterday. As glass and steel towers continue to rise, wood skyscrapers are likely to start sprouting alongside. Multi-story and high-rise wood buildings are already planned or rising in Europe and Canada. They are architecturally distinct, and they are made of the original green building material.

When the President signed the 2014 Farm Bill in February, he directed his Administration, working through the White House Rural Council, to lead a new “Made in Rural America” export and investment initiative. This initiative is charged with uniting federal resources to aid rural businesses and leaders to take advantage of new investment opportunities and access new customers and markets both at home and abroad.

As a response, U.S. Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsak, recently took the first step by announcing a partnership with Wood Works – an organization that provides support to the wood building industry – to educate architects and engineers on the potential of using wood as a commercial structural building material.

In addition, the White House Rural Council and the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently hosted a workshop in Washington, D.C. as part of the Council’s work to enhance economic opportunity in rural America, entitled “Building with Wood: Jobs and the Environment.”

As a participant, I was invited to discuss the environmental benefits of building with wood and opportunities to advance the use of wood in high-rise construction. At this workshop, Secretary Vilsak said, “Wood may be one of the world’s oldest building materials, but it is now also one of the most advanced.” The Secretary went on to say, “Building stronger markets for innovative new wood products supports sustainable forestry, helps to counteract green house gas emissions, and puts rural America in the forefront of an emerging industry.”

At the launch of the International Year of the Forest last week, Secretary Vilsak announced a three-part plan addressing the Forest Service and USDA’s current green building practices. The strategy directs the Forest Service to preferentially select wood in new building construction while maintaining a commitment to certified green building materials. The Secretary asked the Forest Service to examine ways to increase its commitment to green building by reporting on ways to enhance the research and development being done around these materials and to actively look for opportunities to demonstrate the innovative use of wood for all new structures of 10,000 square feet or more.

In carrying out this plan, Forest Service Chief, Tom Tidwell, issued a directive to all districts calling for increased use of locally milled timber in all new agency buildings and facilities. Secretary Vilsak also directed other USDA agencies to incorporate this policy of using domestic wood products as the preferred green building material for all future USDA buildings.

By making the case for more wood in construction, the USDA is calling attention to the value of sustainably grown and managed forests and the products they produce in storing carbon throughout the building’s lifecycle.

Emerging engineered wood technologies, and other wood products, can be used in industrial building projects such as high-rise construction. A 3-5 story building, made from wood, has the same emission control as taking up to 550 cars off the road for one year. Wood-based designs have also been demonstrated to improve energy efficiency, thereby reducing energy consumption for heating and cooling.

Increasing the demand for domestic sustainably harvested timber products will directly impact rural America. Presently, the market for wood and other related forest products supports over one million jobs, mostly in rural areas. In addition, the 22 million family forest owners (who actually own more timberland than the federal government) also rely on new economic opportunities as markets expand.

Even though the momentum around building tall with wood is exciting, what is even more encouraging is the recognition by our state and national leaders that forest health is directly tied to a sustainable forest products industry. To decouple is to lose both.

On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.

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.