Click here to download a pdf of this article

The State of Our Forest Resources

Malcolm R. Dick, Jr., Washington Manager, American Forest Resource Council out of Olympia, Wash.

The state of our forest resources is a mixed bag, complicated by politics and misguided actions, and is as much about people as trees. Therefore, we will explore forests and people of the forests.

Our ability to grow, harvest, and manufacture forest products is unequaled, as is our ability to protect fish, water, wildlife, air quality, and soil resources. While we produce products people demand, we face several challenges. Here are just a few: • Forest Practices rules fill a three-ring binder. The average landowner cannot complete a routine forest practices application form without assistance.

• Forest landowners routinely decide it isn’t worth fighting bureaucracy and sell all or part of their forest lands. Many folks are so enthralled with expanding regulations they do not see the real threats to our woodlands.

• The media continues to criticize; justified or not. Writers, and even a political candidate, for example, made hasty public pronouncements about the Dec 07 Storm that may well be incorrect.

While the media horse-whips the forest industry, they ignore the deplorable state of our federal lands. Insects, fire, disease, decrepit roads, and lack of salvage contribute to a national embarrassment. Federal road systems would earn instant “Stop Work Orders,” if they were on non-federal lands. Anyone with access to a pro bono lawyer can stop federal land managers from doing anything about the problems. On the consumption side, how many industry outsiders understand that we import 40% of our solid wood forest products from other countries? One look at Canadian insect infestations will tell you that Americans are in trouble if we expect Canada to make up future U.S. lumber deficits. We live a paradox.

We grow, harvest, and manufacture forest products better than ever, but we increasingly cannot practice our craft. Society limits our ability to produce in a time of demand. Why would anyone want to be in this business? Here’s why: My father and I looked over the remains of “his” forest shortly after the 1962 Columbus Day Storm. I saw horizon to horizon devastation. He saw a job that needed doing. Within two years, the blowdown was salvaged and the land planted with young trees — an invaluable lesson for a seventeen year old kid. The impossible just takes awhile.

Don Johnson, of D.R. Johnson Lumber Company, hosted a tour of his John Day mill several years ago. At one point, he stopped to watch his resaw. He was perfectly happy watching his mill produce lumber even when he deserved to be, and could have been, retired. The Dahlgren’s “flying cats” are a classic example of the forest industry’s can-do approach. Loggers were innovators decades before the word became popular.

Les Darrin was a logging contractor from Montesano when I began my career. Les kept his operation shut down one morning, while he and his crew coaxed a kitten from a hollow stump where some misguided soul dumped it. Les took the kitten to town while his crew went to work. He was hard as nails but had a heart big as all outdoors, a common trait in our industry.

We do our jobs because we love the woods, our chosen lifestyles, and our professions. We enjoy the challenge and the independence. Some of us will become wealthy, others will go broke. Many of us will be satisfied to just survive the industry’s ups and downs, but the present and future are bright.

Today’s harvest system and road construction technology has exploded. Young foresters have an array of tools my generation could only dream about. Forest management, from mapping and reforestation to stand manipulation and environmental protection, is a world away from yesterday. Manufacturing plants bustle with computers, lasers, and automated equipment that a few years ago was unthinkable. Product moves at incredible speeds, from tree to market. The building may look the same, but the equipment, engineering, and people within are definitely new.

Americans use a lot of wood, and demand is growing. Regardless what the loud few might say, society needs what we produce. We will survive and thrive. We will continue to change as technology and markets change, but we will still be here when it’s time for our grandchildren to retire, and beyond.

We face significant technical and socio-political challenges, but we will survive. We can be enormously proud of who we are, what we produce, and how we do it. The state of our forest resources has its challenges, but those resources are in good hands and have a bright future spawned from an honorable past.