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In the news

Two Mills Close Their Doors
Portac Inc. will permanently close its sawmill in Tacoma, Wash., on February 25. The company says that timber supply problems and the nation’s weakening housing market are behind the closure. Portac’s sawmill in Beaver, Wash., will stay in operation. Sierra Cedar Products LLC, out of Marysville, Calif., has also informed employees that the company’s two sawmills will close permanently on March 31 or sooner. Processing of inventories, sales, and shipping will continue through January and February.

Colorado to Remove Roadless Designation
The Bush administration has announced that it intends to remove the existing legal protections covering over 4.4M acres of Colorado’s national forests.                       

The USFS formally announced it’s beginning to establish a new rule for managing Colorado’s roadless areas. The change is the result of a petition submitted by Governor Bill Ritter, on behalf of Colorado, requesting specific regulatory protections with certain management flexibility.

Free Access to National Forests
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that three Northwest senators (two from Montana and one from Idaho) introduced a bill to restore free public access to national forests across the West.                       

If S2438 passes and is signed into law, there will be no charge to park, hike, fish, and hunt in national forests in Northern California, and no fees will be charged at Angeles, San Bernardino, Cleveland, and parts of Los Padres national forests. It will also eliminate the program to automatically raise entrance fees at national parks every three years. Under the new law, the Forest Service could charge fees only if six listed amenities are available — permanent toilet, trash can, picnic table, interpretive sign, designated developed parking, and security services. The Forest Service is studying the bill and has not yet responded.

Final Year of Payments under the Secure Rural Schools Act
On December 21, Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner announced that more than $389 million in Forest Service revenue will be distributed to 41 states and Puerto Rico for improvements to public schools, roads, and stewardship projects.                       

“This is the seventh and final year of payments as authorized under the Secure Rural Schools Act and Community Self Determination Act of 2000, as extended by PL 110-28 for one year,” said Conner. “The Forest Service has distributed more than $2.5 billion dollars under this legislation, since 2001, to assist counties in maintaining and improving local schools and roads.”                       

Since 1908, 25 percent of Forest Service revenues, such as those from timber sales, mineral resources, and grazing fees, have been returned to states in which national forest lands are located. Due to the fluctuation of receipts from timber sales, the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self- Determination Act of 2000 was developed to stabilize payments to counties. The funds have been used for schools and roads, as well as to create employment opportunities, maintain current infrastructure, and enhance forest ecosystems, improving land health and water quality. Authority for the Forest Service to make the payments expired at the end of fiscal year 2007.

Commitment to Reduce Green House Gases by 90%
The U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), a consortium of 33 prominent businesses and organizations, announced, in December, a commitment                       

by its members to a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The announcement from USCAP’s members also includes a mid-term commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.                       

It’s the first consortium of major businesses to make such a commitment to yield policy decisions to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission technologies and energy efficiency.                       

USCAP’s members include many US market leaders such as Alcoa, BP, Caterpillar, ConocoPhillips, Dow, DuPont, Ford, General Electric, General Motors Corp., Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, PG&E, Shell, and Xerox. USCAP has produced a comprehensive set of principles and recommendations for scientifically effective, socially responsible climate policy. This document is titled A Call to Action.

Logging Practices in Question
This winter, a huge storm hit Southwest Washington and triggered numerous slides. Some of these slides crashed into Stillman Creek, a major tributary of the South Fork of Chehalis River, adding to the mix of mud, wood debris, and floodwaters that destroyed homes and farms in the Boistfort Valley near Chehalis.                       

Some believe heavy logging contributed to the destruction — in particular, a 106-acre clearcut on a steep slope along Stillman Creek. Approximately three years ago, Weyerhaeuser asked state officials for approval of the clearcut. Weyerhaeuser geologists found “no potentially unstable areas,” and the state approved the logging.                       

“This storm was a catastrophic event, a natural disaster,” said Frank Mendizabal, a Weyerhaeuser spokesman, noting that a Stillman Creek gauge recorded nearly 20 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period. “That said, what I can tell you is that we are going to look at this particular unit and others, and see what effects the storm had, and see if we need to make any changes in our practices.”                       

The state Department of Natural Resources is also reviewing the damage to learn from it and make changes, if necessary, in how they regulate logging practices. Meanwhile, Lewis County is focusing on recovery.

Family Invests in Bankrupt Pacific Lumber
The San Francisco family that founded the Gap has promised to invest $200 million to revive bankrupt Pacific Lumber Co. and restore its heavily logged redwood forests — but there’s a catch. A federal judge in Texas must evict current owner, Houston financier Charles Hurwitz and his Maxxam Corp.                       

It will be April before the Texas Bankruptcy Court will decide. Before a decision can be made, the various plans must be presented to the court on January 30. In addition to Maxxam’s plan to retain control, and the Fisherbacked bid, it is likely that bondholders will present a plan to sell off some, or all, of the 200,000 acres securing their debt.