Vote: Why the 2022 elections will be critical to our industry’s future


Election Day is November 8. By the time you receive this issue of TimberWest Magazine, candidates at all levels of government will be making their final pitches to voters. Elections always matter. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

This is no time to turn our backs to the fire. There’s a lot at stake for the forest products industry and the forests and communities where we operate. Here are the candidates and issues to watch as America votes in 2022:

The mid-term elections will determine who controls the United States Congress for the remainder of President Joe Biden’s first term. Democrats currently control the entire legislative branch, but by the slimmest of margins. In the U.S. House, Republicans only need to flip five seats to gain a majority in 2023. The U.S. Senate is currently tied 50-50, though Democrats control the chamber thanks to Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie breaking vote.

The President’s party typically loses seats in mid-year elections. And Republicans have been favored throughout the election year due to Biden’s low approval ratings and voters’ frustrations with pocketbook issues such as inflation, high gas prices, and a sagging economy. However, Democratic voters have become highly energized as social issues and former President Donald Trump made news headlines throughout the summer. What once appeared to be a “red wave” for the GOP has turned into a highly competitive election. Regardless of where you sit in the political spectrum, your vote matters.

It matters because Congress will make decisions on many issues affecting the industry, including timber supplies from lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. After years of steadily increasing timber outputs under Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump, outputs have declined during the first two years of Biden’s term. It is likely the Forest Service will fail to reach 3 billion board feet in timber sold this year. It’s worth remembering the agency’s initial timber target for this year (3.4 billion board feet) is just more than half of the harvest levels permitted in current forest plans.

Timber outputs are declining despite record levels of new federal spending on hazardous fuels reduction and other public lands management activities. After years of chronic budget shortfalls, it is unacceptable the Forest Service is doing less management with more of our taxpayer dollars. Timber outputs from federal lands will be critical in the coming years, especially in the West as wildfires have resulted in generational losses of private timber. There are also projected reductions in timber harvests on state-managed lands in Oregon and Washington state. Congressional oversight and accountability of the Forest Service and BLM is needed to address this alarming trend.

Congress will also have a say in how the Biden Administration implements its climate change policies and specifically its approach to “old growth and mature forests.” Anti-forestry groups are exploiting this issue to push the White House to create a massive new land set-aside, similar to the Clinton-era Roadless Rule that would restrict timber harvesting and other forest management activities on millions of additional acres of federal lands. As millions of acres burn every year, this would be a disaster for efforts to reduce wildfire risks on the nation’s most fire-prone forests.

It’s worth noting that if Republicans gain a majority in the U.S. House, the chamber’s Natural Resources Committee will likely be chaired by Congressman Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the only professional forester in the Congress. In recent years Westerman has introduced comprehensive forest management legislation to address the analysis paralysis and anti-forestry litigation that often stymies active management on federal lands. Most recently, he introduced the “No Timber for Tyrants Act” that bans Russian wood imports and promotes American-made wood products.

Of course, there are many other federal issues that affect our industry. The party that controls Congress will determine the fate of public lands bills that seek to create new designated wilderness areas and other arbitrary policies that impact forest management and wildfire mitigation. How the next Congress addresses rising energy prices will be critical to many of our small family-owned businesses that have been squeezed over the past year. So will efforts to address new taxes, new spending, and the nation’s growing $30 trillion debt.

There are many races throughout the West worth watching. With this election, Oregon will gain one additional seat in the U.S. House, and Republicans are hopeful they can win three of the six available seats. The state also has a highly competitive, three-way race for Governor that may impact changes in state forest practice rules and environmental regulations.

Meanwhile, Democrats hope to flip the timber-rich Southwest Washington seat after GOP Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler was defeated in the primary election. Democratic Congresswoman Kim Schrier may be in danger of losing her seat in the heavily-forested 8th District. Washington may even have a surprisingly close race for U.S. Senate, where longtime Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is facing a spirited challenger in Tiffany Smiley. Elections to the Washington Legislature will also be important as timber issues are expected to be contentious during the next session.

Campaign season is the one time every two years that politicians come to us. Challenge the candidates on the issues and hold the incumbents accountable for their votes. Make sure to educate yourself, vote, and be sure your friends, family, and co-workers do the same. The election belongs to us, it is our decision, and we can’t afford to turn our backs as our country — and our industry — face many challenges now and into the future.

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

TimberWest November/December 2013
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