2022: What to Watch for in Washington D.C.

By Nick Smith

After a year of political change, devastating wildfires, volatile wood markets, and a continued pandemic, 2021 was a wild and unpredictable year for the timber industry. For better or worse, 2022 could offer much of the same. When it comes to forestry and public lands management, here’s a look at some key issues to watch for in Washington D.C. in the new year.

It’s All about the Upcoming Election

When it comes to politics and policy in Washington D.C., the 2022 mid-term elections will loom large. Currently Democrats have a razor-thin margin in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as a 50-50 tie in the U.S. Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris providing the tie-breaker. Thanks to President Joe Biden’s sagging approval numbers, Democratic retirements, and new congressional maps from redistricting, Republicans are expecting to win a majority in the U.S. House, and perhaps recapture the U.S. Senate.

Against this political backdrop, the Democrats are feeling pressure to deliver on campaign promises and preserve their political power. Will Democrats move to the center, or will they move further to the left and pass Green New Deal-style policies to satisfy their base voters? The answer to this question will determine how the timber industry fares in 2022. It is up to us to be active members of the political process.

More Regulations

The Biden Administration spent much of 2021 reversing Trump-era rules aimed at streamlining federal environmental regulations. These include reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act that would have helped accelerate forest management projects throughout the west. Expect the Biden Administration to continue this course. When federal agencies such as the Department of the Interior release proposed rules for public comment on Regulations.gov, it’s important for our forestry community to understand the impacts and submit comments. Otherwise the Administration will only hear from anti-forestry special interests. One way to stay up to date is to subscribe to the American Forest Resource Council’s monthly newsletter at amforest.org.

Billions in New Federal Funding for Forest Management

On the positive side, after years of chronic budget shortfalls and spiraling wildfire suppression costs, the U.S. Forest Service will receive billions of dollars in new federal funding for forest management, climate change mitigation, hazardous fuels reduction, and other land management programs. Since timber is often a product of these efforts, this new funding has the potential to support additional forest management and timber outputs this year and into the future.

In total, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Bill passed in early November directs about $6 billion to the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, along with some modest new legal authorities to streamline forest management.

After years of steadily increasing timber outputs, the U.S. Forest Service sold just more than 2.844 Billion Board Feet in Fiscal Year 2021, which was down 11.5 percent from the previous fiscal year. Outputs in USFS Region 6 (Oregon, Washington) dropped 24 percent from the previous year, largely due to disruptions caused by the 2020 and 2021 wildfires, and subsequently, a disappointing lack of post-fire timber salvage on fire-damaged national forests. With the renewed focus on accelerating active forest management, the Forest Service will hopefully look to rebound from 2021’s anemic results. The agency can no longer blame a lack of funding for its failure to implement forest management projects, especially as wildfires threaten national forests and communities throughout the west.

Watch Out for New Wilderness and Land Set-Asides in Congress

Despite increased funding for federal land management, Democrats will feel added pressure to pass new wilderness bills and other land set-asides that prevent timber sales, fuels reduction, and other activities that promote wildfire mitigation and multiple-use of public lands. At the top of the agenda, Democrats are seeking to pass a 126,000-acre “Wild Olympics” wilderness bill on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. They are also seeking to pass a massive 257,000-acre wilderness and 730,000-acre “Restoration Area” bill in Northwest California — a region that has experienced massive wildfires.

Not to be outdone, some Democrats in Oregon’s congressional delegation will seek to pass new land set-asides. This includes Sen. Ron Wyden’s “River Democracy Act” that would designate 4,700 miles of waterways — mostly small creeks — as Wild & Scenic and add new restrictions to 3 million acres of federal lands. Sen. Wyden has also introduced legislation to expand the Wild Rogue Wilderness and create new set-asides in Southwest Oregon. There is also an effort to create new wilderness areas on the Mt. Hood National Forest. Anyone who cares about responsible, multiple-use land management should keep a close eye on all of these proposals in 2022. Make your voice heard.

Other Key Issues to Watch

There are numerous other issues that could affect the business of logging, trucking, and wood products manufacturing. Climate change will continue to be high on the agenda under current leadership in Washington D.C., and it is essential that we educate our federal lawmakers on the carbon sequestration and storage benefits of active management and wood products. If we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu as anti-forestry groups press for reduced harvest levels.

Tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber will also continue to receive attention as inflation affects homebuilding and the economy at large. With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, we must also keep a close eye on workforce mandates and potential aid to industries. Though we’ll see many of the same opportunities and challenges in 2022, the new year promises many surprises. Stay informed, get involved, and make your voice heard.

Nick Smith is Executive Director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities and provides public affairs services to the American Forest Resource Council.

TimberWest November/December 2013
January/February 2022

Photo taken by Andrea Watts of Pacific Logging and Processing

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