Michael Hoyt

The rush to improve forest resilience has unintended consequences.

For years the Forest Service, BLM, and timber industry have claimed that publicly owned forests are unhealthy and therefore susceptible to insects, disease, and worst of all, wildfires.  They have asserted the only solution is increasing the amount of logging and thinning, euphemistically known as vegetative management.

The concept of improving forest health by increasing logging and thinning remains unsupported by scientific evidence and an increasing number of people oppose such activities.  The reasons for that opposition are based upon scientific research that exposes vegetative management techniques typically diminish the health of forest-based ecosystems, reduce wildlife habitat, lower forest carbon sequestration, and often increase the potential for wildfire.

Now, as evidenced by the recently announced closure of two forest products businesses, Pyramid Lumber and Roseburg Forest Products, we’re discovering there can be economic consequences to unchecked logging and thinning.  As company management stated, “unprecedented rising costs, plummeting lumber prices, and the cost of living in Western Montana have crippled Pyramid’s ability to operate.”  Roseburg echoed those factors.

Unsaid is the fact that, in this case, plummeting lumber prices are caused, not because there is diminishing demand, but by a market glut (i.e., the production of lumber above what the market can absorb).  So, one must wonder if the continued push by the Forest Service and BLM to increase logging and thinning on public lands for any reason makes any sense at all.  Will any companies even be willing to purchase timber?  If so, how far will the sawlogs have to be shipped for processing?  Does it make sense to increase vegetative management activities that already produce more greenhouse gas emissions than transportation, all while reducing the capacity of forest ecosystems to sequester carbon?

The Forest Service and BLM should reevaluate the validity of their internal culture based on logging and other extractive activities.  After all, forests survived for millennia without management of any kind.  Maybe the time has come to finally accept that nature in general and forests in particular do not require help, whereas we, as humans, need the provided ecosystem benefits for our continued survival.

Michael Hoyt is an independent environmental researcher and the author of guidebooks for the Bitterroot Mountains.