Timber harvests in Montana peaked during the late 1980s and have declined substantially since, a drop attributed in large part to a 70 percent to 80 percent reduction in harvests on national forest lands during the 1990s.

That’s according to a new study by the Forest Industry Research program at the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

The study concludes that without “substantial increases in timber availability and timber harvest volume in Montana, we can expect the industry to erode further, employ fewer people and generate less income.”

That conclusion dovetails with what some timber industry representatives told U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale during a recent meeting in Kalispell. The men complained that the U.S. Forest Service seemed reluctant to propose timber sales.

One of the men at that meeting was Tim McEntire, northwest region representative for the Montana Logging Association.

On Wednesday, McEntire agreed there is a need for more timber offered for cutting.

“With a more available and reliable timber supply, our local mills will be able to up their production,” he said. “This not only means more jobs in the mills, but more jobs for the loggers in the woods.”

Both McEntire and Todd Morgan, director of the Forest Industry Research Program, referred to “active management” of forests – a phrase that bothers those who believe it plays on people’s fears of and misconceptions about wildfires to justify ill-advised timber cuts.

Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said it is a myth that the timber industry in Montana can’t find enough timber to cut.

Garrity cited statistics from Region 1 of the Forest Service that show about 52.6 million board feet of some 302 million board feet of timber offered for harvest in fiscal 2016 received no bids.

Authors of the Forest Industry Research study included Morgan.

Most of the research program’s funding comes from the Forest Service, he said. The timber industry has not contributed money during his 11 years as director, Morgan said.

In a news release, he made a pitch for cutting more timber.

“With active forest management and a viable wood-products industry, Montana has the ability to manage the forests, help reduce wildfire risk to communities, improve habitat for a variety of species and contribute to the state and local economies,” he said.

In turn, Garrity said, “There is no science that shows logging reduces wildlife risk to communities.” An op-ed he co-authored with Chad Hanson, a research ecologist with the John Muir Project, cited research that demonstrated forests with the fewest environmental protections and the most logging had the highest levels of fire intensity. The man emphasized, too, that fire is essential to maintaining ecologically healthy forests and native biodiversity.

Morgan said Wednesday that 60 percent of Montana’s timberland is in national forests.

He said the Forest Service “is talking quite a bit about increasing the pace and scale of restoration activities and increasing timber harvests on national forests.”

Morgan added, “Our paper clearly shows that increases in harvest can significantly increase employment and earnings in the forest industry.”

Carol McKenzie is assistant director for renewable resource management for Region 1 of the Forest Service. She said there has actually been an upward trend since 2001 in the volume of timber offered in Region 1.

McKenzie said there has been more budgetary emphasis from Congress and other stakeholders on active timber management in the wake of wildfires and concerns in recent years about forest health. Those factors have yielded, she said, a “certain amount of social license” for timber sales.

Region 1 plans to offer 420 million board feet for harvest next year, she said, noting that any cuts will have to comply with the regulatory standards that govern logging in the national forests.

McEntire said it makes sense to allow logging that could improve forest health.

“Every year, more and more of our forest goes up in smoke,” he said. “It costs taxpayers millions of dollars fighting these fires.”

He said active forest management would also create jobs.

Garrity said timber jobs aren’t coming back, partly because mechanized cutting in the woods requires fewer loggers and automated sawmills need fewer production workers and partly because the industry has moved to the nation’s Southeast, with its warm, moist weather and longer growing season.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at [email protected] or 758-4407.

Source: The Associated Press

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