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[GreenYes] FW: American Forest and Paper Association,
Dead Wood  
The lousy economics of Bush's new forest policy.
By Douglas Gantenbein
Posted Wednesday, December 4, 2002, at 8:06 AM PT
 One day before Thanksgiving, when the only environmental issue anyone was
paying attention to was turkey depopulation, the Bush administration
quietly declared an enormous change in how the government will manage its
192 million acres of national forests. Billed as a way to "streamline"
planning in the forests, the Bush proposal would, among other things:
Allow local forest managers to decide if logging and grazing deserve
as much weight as protecting animals or birds;
drop a 25-year-old requirement that forest-management plans contain
detailed environmental impact statements;
set the stage for reducing requirements that the Forest Service
protect plant and animal diversity in the forests.
It's perhaps true, as Forest Service officials claim, that current
forest-management rules are too complex and costly to administer. But if
so, it's equally true that the proposed rule changes are essentially an
effort to open national forests to more logging than they have seen in
 Among those with fingerprints on the proposal is Mark Rey, the
  u ndersecretary of agriculture who runs the Forest Service. Rey was a
longtime foe of logging regulations on national forests, primarily as vice
president of the American Forest and Paper Association, an industry trade
group that bitterly fought logging cutbacks during the early '90s. "This is
a timber industry proposal, pure and simple," Charles Wilkinson, a
University of Colorado law professor, told the Denver Post.
 But the real problem with the logging changes is not that they are
pro-timber industry, it's that they are economic nonsense. It's curious
that an administration that is so business-friendly would take measures
that actually would hurt business, let alone dozens of small towns across
the West. But that's exactly what would happen.
 For starters, the last thing the United States needs right now is more
lumber. Despite the continued housing boom, lumber itself is as cheap as it
has ever been. Two years ago, for instance, the lumber required to build a
new home might have cost about $12,000. Today that same lumber package
would run about $7,500.
 Despite a tariff on Canadian lumber, wood from north of the border
is inexpensive and plentiful. The continued strength of the U.S. dollar,
meanwhile, has encouraged timber imports from Europe. At the same time, the
strong dollar has discouraged exports to Japan, which once bought millions
of board feet per year taken from private U.S. timberlands (exports of logs
from national forests are banned). That privately owned timber also is
finding its way onto the U.S. market, adding to the glut.
 And on a per-capita basis, Americans simply use less wood than they once
did. Today new homes are built with big pieces of wood made by gluing
together little pieces of wood, a process that saves big, mature trees from
the chainsaw. Some "wood" isn't even wood?many homes now have siding made
with a mix of concrete and sawdust. In many new homes, the only traditional
sawn lumber may be the cheap 2-by-4 studs used for framing, and sometimes
steel studs replace even those.
More important, the proposals represent an archaic understanding of the
Western economy. The policy is designed to help a West traumatized by the
spotted owl and salmon logging cutbacks of the '90s. But this West doesn't
need the help.
 Logging is an extractive industry. Even during boom times, lumber towns
ever really prospered. They didn't attract other businesses or investment
 b ecause they were designed to be more or less temporary, since they were
mowing down their chief resource: trees.
 For many parts of the West, it was only when logging was curtailed in the
late '80s and early '90s that things picked up. That's because standing
trees?which attract tourists, well-heeled fly-fishers, and retirees looking
for a home in the country?are worth more than cut trees. Thomas Power, an
economist with the University of Montana, says that by the late '90s, eight
of 10 national forests in Montana generated three times as much income from
tourism and recreation as they did from cutting down trees.
Typical of the West's new economic order are companies such as North Fork
Anglers, founded by fishing guide Tim Wade in Cody, Wyo., in 1984. Today
the shop employs 15 retail employees and guides and hosts as many as 400
fishers a year who pay $150 a day for the privilege of wetting a line, fill
Cody's hotel rooms and restaurants, and add to the coffers of United and
Delta airlines. Moreover, Wade's company is theoretically permanent. It is
not destroying the rivers. Loggers, by contrast, are paid to decimate the
very thing that keeps them employed.
But perhaps the Bush administration's rule changes really are not about
economics. In conservative circles logging is a bellwether issue, a club
with which to beat Bill Clinton, the Sierra Club, and the heavy hand of
government in general. Logging is a kind of religious issue: Conservatives
take it on faith that cutting down trees is good for business. But the
economics of the West during the past 20 years argues that it isn't.
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