Voices: Reporting misses the costs of the Darby lumber lands project

Recently, Bitterroot Valley newspapers reported many of the facts associated with the Friends of the Bitterroot’s (FOB) first lawsuit in more than a decade.

Their suit asks a federal judge to put a hold on the project (now called the Tabor Mountain timber sale) until such time as the Court can determine if the implementation of that project follows existing government laws and regulations.

Unfortunately, missing from the reporting was any mention of the Forest Service’s financial projections for the project.  Those projections can be found online at the Agency website—https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/104575_FSPLT3_4625178.pdf.

Page 10 of the Agency Economic Analysis summarizes the findings of the 22-page document. When all the expected costs are included, the analysis estimates a loss of $885,000.

Why such a large deficit? The Forest Service sold the timber from the project at the extremely low price of $60 per log truck load (or approximately $6 per cord), this when a cord of split firewood in our valley costs well over $100. Such a generous sales contract for a single out-of-valley logging company is a bad deal for taxpayers.

I am not against logging.  However, I am opposed to a government agency using my tax money to subsidize private companies and that is exactly what the second phase of the Darby Lumber Lands Project (Tabor Mountain timber sale) is doing.

Masquerading as a “restoration project,” this Forest Service project provides trees at a below-cost price to a privately held company whose sole purpose is maximizing profit for the owners. Privately held timber companies love tax-subsidized sales because they cannot grow and maintain their own tree plantations at such a low cost per log.

As expected, that company repeats the often-used claim of “job creation.” Anyone paying attention recognizes those claims for what they are; false.  We understand that the very small number of jobs created will not go to valley residents.

Long gone are the days when a timber sale generated a large number of new jobs. Today almost every phase of a logging operation has been mechanized. Even when new employees are hired, they only operate large machinery not chainsaws.

Along with Jim Miller, FOB president, I hope that, beginning with this project, the Bitterroot National Forest will follow the law and bring to an end its practice of tax-subsidized timber sales that damage the environment, reduce opportunities for hunters and anglers, and cost the taxpayers of Ravalli County hard-earned money.