November December, 2004





Multiple Use Is Not So Multiple Anymore

By Mickey Bellman, Private Forestry Consultant

A decade ago the spotted owl reared its fuzzy head in federal forests, and the timber industry of the Pacific Northwest changed forever. Woods workers and sawmillers united in droves to attend rallies and demonstrations. Rousing speakers stirred the workers to march on Capitol Hill demanding that people be placed ahead of birds. President Bill Clinton came to Portland promising to resolve the bitter controversy and put certainty back into federal forest management. Unfortunately, the certainty he promised decimated an entire industry.

The grassroots organizations that sought to preserve jobs and communities are now gone. Gone, too, are the jobs and communities the grassroots sought to protect. Silent, rusting relics stand in mute testimony to a keystone industry that once was. Mills have been converted into casinos and shopping malls while Oregon unemployment hovers stubbornly near 8 percent. Federal timber harvest is less than 15 percent of what it once was. Worse still, the government has yet to offer even the reduced annual timber harvest it promised. Community stability and employment are no longer considered to be a multiple use or a reason to harvest trees in the Northwest. Salvage logging of fire-killed timber is a pitiful farce. Valuable old-growth timber left in the aftermath of the Biscuit, Clark and B&B Fires is left to rot while the government conducts studies and solicits public comments.

It takes nearly two years before salvage sales are offered to harvest the black trees. In that time the trees have lost nearly half their value and usable volume—infested with insects, dry rot and stain. In three years the trees are all but worthless. The black forests devolve into refuges for termites, woodborers and woodpeckers. The limited harvest of federal trees is cloaked in objectives other than community stability. Forage Enhancement Areas may be created but are not called clear cuts. Hazard reduction work is conducted to insure safe passage for recreationists, but we cannot log the danger trees along forest roads. Forests are thinned to reduce fuel loads and fire hazards, but all trees over 21" DBH must be left. Dying oldgrowth trees cannot be salvaged since they are now "legacy" trees.

Blowdown trees must be left for wildlife habitat. Every shallow draw that might someday have a stream is protected with a wide buffer strip. Other areas cannot be harvested as they may have spiritual significance to one group or another. Nearly 90 percent of the federal forest is today managed as a park and not as multiple-use forest. Timber harvest has been relegated to private lands. There are few glimmers of change on the federal horizon. Stewardship contracts—trading federal trees for other forest work—are now being prepared. Perhaps contract loggers can be coerced to do the work once performed by underfunded agencies. These projects might someday showcase how the timber industry can improve the forest. The Healthy Forests Initiative is allowing land managers to remove hazardous forest fuel loads near communities. The risk of devastating wildfires is reduced while some trees are harvested.

Other stands may be thinned to eliminate competition and allow the remaining trees to thrive. The pendulum of public opinion is swinging back toward responsible forest management. Measure 34—the initiative to end timber harvest on 200,000 acres of Tillamook Forest—was soundly defeated by a 2 to 1 margin. Perhaps the public is no longer swayed by the hysterical, sky-is-falling rhetoric of preservationists. In his second term President Bush has solid support to move forward with common sense revisions to the Endangered Species Act and the management of 58 million acres of roadless areas. While federal harvest remains nil, there has been a record harvest of timber from private forests in Oregon. Fueled by low interest rates, homebuilding has sustained a frantic pace pushing lumber prices to record highs.

Computerized logging and sawmilling equipment now allow us to efficiently harvest smaller trees. From stump to home site, the cellulose may never be touched by a human hand. We will never again see an annual harvest of seven billion board feet of timber that we saw in the 1980s, nor should we ever again expect the federal government to offer more than a token amount of timber harvest. Community stability and employment are no longer reasons to harvest federal trees. Multiple use forest management will include water, wildlife, and recreation, but not timber harvest. It just won’t be so multiple anymore. Bellman is a private forestry consultant out of Salem, Oregon. He has over 35 years of experience and can be reached at (503) 362-0842 or


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This page was last updated on Wednesday, December 29, 2004