Forest Management Benefits for the Forest and the Community
By: Anna Swanson
To help educate myself in the importance of forest management, I chose three people representing different perspectives in the forest industry. All three have a secondary education in the management of forests. I interviewed: Janet Spindler (Eugene BLM), representing public forest management; Jill Bell (Columbia Timberlands, Weyerhaeuser), representing private forest management; and Alex Dunn (McGee Engineering), giving a perspective of an educated independent public sector. All three gave very similar responses but had different perspectives. I am grateful for their professional input and positive perspective in the active management of our forests.
It is obvious that the active management of our forests creates a vibrant, diversified forest in which timber, fish, wildlife, water, and air quality all thrive. All sectors of the industry are regulated by numerous state and federal laws as well as company/agency rules and guidelines. This not only ensures an infinite supply of timber but also allows our entire ecosystem to thrive.
The private sector obviously manages timber to create a return on investment. This is just good business to invest in active forest management, the same way any farmer invests in their crops to return maximum yield. For example, the laws requiring replanting of forests for large industrial forest companies are routinely exceeded as a matter of practice. Sustainable forestry has become what the public expects, but is a matter of practice and has been the standard in the industry for many years. Now most of the industry gets an independent third party to certify their forests are being managed responsibly.
We are now seeing the public sector looking more at timber harvest than in previous years, not only for revenue generation, but habitat enhancement. With each new administration comes a new focus on how our public forests are managed. Time will tell how the federal forests are managed under the current, new federal administration. The one thing that is for sure is that each administration will have a different focus on forest management. Our State Forests are challenged with many of the same issues that the federal forests are, which is why the saga of the Elliot State Forest continues.
The raw product of timber management is timber production. This renewable resource is converted into many products without ever depleting the resource. Products generated from timber include lumber, plywood, paper, cardboard, cellulose, and many other products that make our lives comfortable and functional. The uses of timber continue to evolve today and will only become more important over time.
With the concern over several diminished fish species populations over the past several years the industry has responded with both voluntary and regulatory forest management strategies. Many private industry companies and public agencies have cooperated with other agencies to accomplish voluntary fish enhancement projects, including habitat improvement and removal of fish migration barriers. These were funded through many different avenues, and show the spirit of cooperation to come to a common goal of increasing fish populations. I am told that new regulations are about to be implemented by the Oregon Department of Forestry around fish protection. With this kind of cooperation linked with science, I know that the timber industry is doing their part to help rebuild fish populations.
Wildlife is the true occupants of the forest. Many species, especially game species, rely on the diversification of habitat created by active forest management. The active management of forests creates many ages of forest, with many different ecosystems. This creates many different types of forage and living habitat. After my interviews this hit home, remembering what we were taught at Forest Field Day in sixth grade. Fire created the natural cycle of the forest before timber management. This created the multi-aged stands that many species need for survival. Timber management today emulates this cycle, enhancing wildlife populations. The BLM has recently discovered that their many decades of “light touch forestry” has limited diversity in habitats needed by many species, especially big game species. Today the BLM is implementing several different types of forest management including some regeneration harvest units.
Greenhouse Gasses and Global Warming is one of the most important, most talked about subjects of my generation. Forests are the single most important factor in providing clean air. The most effective way to clean the air and pollutants from the air is through these forests. Carbon banking is, simply put, plants turning carbon dioxide into carbon, which they store and return clean oxygen to the atmosphere. Younger vigorous stands of timber are more efficient at converting carbon dioxide into oxygen than older stands. Having a never-ending supply of clean air to breathe is one of the most important assets of active timber management.
A young, vibrant, vigorous forest is a healthy forest. We have seen many large scale epidemic catastrophes in some of the forests of the West. A few years ago, my family and I drove to Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. I saw first-hand the damage that was done by the pine beetle in the Northern Rockies. It was devastating to see thousands of acres of skeletal, pencil thin trees standing dead. I saw this same thing closer to home in Central Oregon. This, I am told, was because the only management of these forests was to keep fire out of them, leaving an even-aged, continuous stand of trees for the beetles to attack. Diversity of ages of timber like those created with active timber management helps keep large scale epidemics such as this from happening. Fire can have a catastrophic effect over a large area, if active forest management is not practiced. Many different ages of timber, along with a robust road network and a large forest workforce, helps keep fires from getting catastrophically large.
If you drive through one of the many small rural towns of Western Oregon you will normally find a lumber, plywood or other timber conversion mill located either in or near by. The reason for this is timber and its conversion is the primary reason for existence of these small communities. The timber industry provides jobs from the management, harvest, transportation, and milling of timber. Not only are their direct jobs related to the conversion of timber into products, but there is a multitude of indirect jobs related to the industry. These timber workers have families that require a whole economy to support them, from teachers, to doctors, to retail clerks, and many more. People in these communities are usually very in tune with the industry; hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and other recreational activities in the woods. It is a whole economy in of itself, centered around timber management. When a large mill closes in a small community it is often the death sentence for the town. Many small towns are now, or almost ghost towns without their local mill. Timber is the reason for the existence of our rural communities in the West and it is a way of life.
People in urban settings may feel disconnected from the timber industry, but in many cases that is not the fact. Many may disagree with timber management and dislike clear-cuts, and can only say they are ugly, not understanding this is a management tool in forest management. Numerous jobs may be indirectly related to the timber industry, such as equipment and parts suppliers, dock workers and transportation specialists, government, and insurance employees to name a few. If you look back in history, even these large urban settings, Portland and Seattle, were directly tied to the timber industry. I recently learned that Skid Row in Portland was named for the skid road used to skid logs to the river originally. Just knowing that there are publicly owned timberlands may be enough for some, while others view our timberlands as a place to relax and get away from it all.
It is obvious that in some way either directly or indirectly, we are all connected in some way to the timber industry. At some level we all have an emotional ownership to the timberlands, whether it is a place we live and work in or simply know it’s out there if we ever want or need it. The managed forests of the West provide clean water, clean air and a multitude of habitats for all animals and plants great and small. Our forests are a constant source of income for much of the West, not only including good paying jobs, but providing a steady source of revenue to our state and local governments through income, fuel and severance taxes.
My understanding of the far and deep reaching impacts of our managed forests has greatly increased through my discussions with Janet, Jill and Alex. A well-managed, healthy, vigorous forest will not only help the forest ecosystem, but will provide all residents of the West income, services, clean water and air, and the peace of mind our forests will be there for all for eternity. It is everyone’s job and responsibility to educate our friends, family and acquaintances that managed forests will benefit us all forever.