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Politics — Society and the Forest Industry Our time is now!

Having worked in the forest industry in the West during the late 1980s, I have an appreciation for the difficulty the decline of timber harvests has caused.

Having spent the last twenty years as a forester in the most unfriendly forestry state — New Jersey — I assure you it can, and will, get worse. In much of NJ, forestry is regulated and viewed in the same light as a “major land development.” This situation has all but eliminated viable forestry as a permitted land use for many private landowners.

Losing the Ability to Manage
The loss of our ability to manage and harvest our forests has resulted from many social, political, and economic factors. However, misuse, misinterpretation, and abuse of environmental regulations, have played a major role in the suppression of forest management activity.

New Jersey has world class forest resources and a long history of local forest industries these resources once supported.

Colonial America was built with forest products from New Jersey. Atlantic white cedar from New Jersey was the primary roofing material for colonial Philadelphia and New York. Since the European settlements, most of New Jersey’s forests have been clear-cut a minimum of five times, for a wide range of forest products.

Southern New Jersey once had a vibrant, viable pine and cedar industry into the late 1970s. Two pulp mills and 60 saw mills were operating and provided excellent markets for landowners to sell their timber. Today, we have one pine mill and one cedar mill that employ 12 people! The timber resource remains, but access to the timber is difficult.

Things have gotten so bad our last pine mill, which makes pine pallets, imports Canadian poplar for the runner broads. How sad is that, when this small family saw mill is located in the middle of an ocean of low grade hardwood, and it must import wood!

We are all now confronted with a downturn in our economy that threatens what is left of our forest industry throughout America.

Big Role in the Future
With the exploding public concern over global warming, renewable energy, and the need for job creation, we in the once demonized forest industry, are perfectly positioned to play a major role in solving these critical societal problems.

To move our issue forward, we must begin to focus 24/7 on “Forestry Advocacy.” In the past, we have done a poor job in getting the facts, science, and truth regarding our Nation’s forest issues to the general public. The public has been misled by a well-organized effort to distort the forestry facts with half truths and myths. We can now counter this with a more receptive public.

A recent report has shown that the loss of spotted owl habitat, during the last 10 years, has been from catastrophic wildfires, not logging. Forest management would have helped reduce the impact of these fires and the negative impact on the owls.

New Jersey Barred owls are used in the same fashion as the spotted owls in the West, to suppress the ability of land managers to manage forest resources. Yet in the West, barred owls now threaten populations of spotted owls, and it has even been suggested that barred owls need to be shot in the West. Send a few barred owls back East so the barred owl can be de-listed, and we can get back to working our forests.

Forest management and forest industry are essential to the future of a healthy environment and healthy economy. Recently, the New Jersey Forest Fire Service went out to bid for their first fuels reduction project, only to find what we have been saying for 20 years. “There is no forest industry.” Thus people, wildlife, and forests remain at risk.

The New Jersey Audubon Society hopes to enhance forest habitats for the threatened red-headed woodpecker, but finding it most difficult to find a forest operator who will thin the forest and restore this bird’s habitat. With no markets, there is no forest industry, and wildlife suffers!

Take a Stand
We in the forest industry must advocate for forestry now. If you own forestland, or work or live in the forest, work your phones and e-mails. Call your elected officials, a print media editor, or simply support groups such as the California Forest Foundation or Jim Petersen’s Evergreen Foundation. DO IT NOW!

We will likely never have a better opportunity to get back in the conservation game. If you do not think forest regulations can get any worse, please ask a New Jersey landowner who discovered he needs two state permits and one local permit, simply to plow and plant forest trees in an old field — just imagine what he needs to harvest timber!
Get busy now. These regulations will be coming soon to a forest near you!!

Bob Williams is a certified forester, V.P. of the NJ Forestry Association, and the Vice chair of New Jersey SAF. He can be reached at (856) 307-7800 or bob@landdimensions.com