Lawsuit to stop national forest logging

KMorrisD kmorrisd at aol.com
Sat Dec 19 19:01:17 EST 1998


dwheeler at teleport.com wrote:

>The following article appeared in The Oregonian on Dec. 17, 1998, p A25
>
>Lawsuit will demand stop to national-forest logging
>
>The environmentalists; action against the U.S. Forest Service relies on a
>theory that puts a price on a healthy ecosystem's benefits

After reading about this lawsuit, I emailed FOE and Forest Guardians offering
to join in their lawsuit as a consulting forester who is adversely impacted by
USFS disinformation on forest economics.  I also sent them the following. 
Sorry it's so long, but I've been working up to this one. <G>

Karl Davies


CURING THE PSYCHOSIS OF FEDERAL AND STATE FORESTRY AGENCIES

Psychosis: fundamental mental derangement characterized by defective or lost
contact with reality. (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary)

The basis of all problems with federal and state forestry agencies may be
attributed to one simple cause:  They are out of touch with financial reality. 
They are in fact financially psychotic.  Since there is virtually no financial
accountability for management of federal or state forests, costs are routinely
greatly in excess of returns.  USFS costs are currently about 150% of returns
to the Treasury.  Massachusetts state forest costs are currently about 300% of
returns. 

That wouldn't be so bad if this psychosis were confined to public lands. 
Unfortunately, it is the same federal and state agencies that are responsible
for motivating private landowners to manage their lands.  Is it any wonder that
private landowners haven't responded when they see the examples set by federal
and state forestry agencies?  

Of course the disgraceful cost information is generally not available to
private landowners.  Public forestry agencies don't publicize their gross
inefficiency and irresponsibility.  However, whenever it comes to talking about
the economics of forest management to private landowners, there tends to be a
great deal of obfuscation and disinformation by these agencies and their
"service forester" and extension forester cohorts.  

This makes no sense at all if the purpose really is to motivate private
landowners to do forest management.  But it makes perfect sense if the purpose
is to cover up the inefficiency and irresponsibility of public forestry
agencies--or at a minimum to avoid embarrassing questions for them.  This bind
leads to an inherent conflict of interest among "service foresters" and
extension foresters, and it is in fact the root cause of the lack of good
forest management on private lands.  In Massachusetts and elsewhere, only about
15% of private forest land is under
management.  

Private landowners have been repeatedly told by "service foresters" and
extension foresters that trees only grow at 3-5% per year in value.  They are
also told that the primary purposes of management are aesthetic and
recreational--or timber production for the next generation.  The idea that
private landowners would or could actually manage for a good return on
investment is never mentioned.  This disinformation has been spread by public
foresters for decades.

So of course landowners, being rational financial agents, make the simple
calculation that if their trees are only growing at 3-5%, why bother with
costly management practices?  Or worse, why not just cut them all and put the
money in the stock market where it will have a chance at 10%, 15% or even 20%? 
This kind of disinformation also makes landowners easy prey for unscrupulous
loggers who take advantage of their financial ignorance.

Is there a way out of this dilemma for "service foresters" and extension
foresters?  Is there a way that they can actually tell the truth about tree
value growth rates--that they are competitive with rates on stock
investments--and thereby motivate private landowners to do good management?  It
would appear that they cannot do this without putting their relationships with
their public land agency cohorts at serious risk.   

Therefore the only way to resolve the dilemma is to introduce some financial
sanity into public land management, and put an end to state and federal
forestry agency psychosis.  Public land managers must be made accountable to
the same financial demands that private landowners face.  They must become good
fiduciaries if they are at all serious about fostering good forest management
on private lands.  Absent this sort of sea change, we will continue to get poor
or non-existent management on our private forest lands.

Of course, given the multiple demands on state and federal forest lands,
managers should not be required to earn the highest rates of return, but they
should at a minimum earn a positive rate of return.  And they should be
required to explain and justify all their costs in terms of the benefits that
they provide to the users of state and federal forests and the public at large.

However, even with such a sea change in attitude and policy, there would remain
yet another serious conflict of interest for "service foresters" and extension
foresters.  This conflict stems from the fact that a primary justification for
their jobs has historically been the perceived unprofitability of forest
management--and the need for the state to subsidize forest
management through "service foresters," extension foresters and cost-share
programs.  

If forest management were suddenly to be seen as profitable, there goes a big
part of the justification for their jobs.  Thus "service foresters" and
extension foresters are in a double bind when it comes to providing accurate
information about forest investments.  They don't want to risk their cohorts'
careers, and they don't want to risk their own careers either.    

Therefore, it may well be that there is not a way out of this double bind for
these public foresters.  It may be that they will have to stop trying to
educate and motivate private landowners entirely.  It may be that they will
have to either move into management of public forest lands themselves, or find
other jobs in the private sector.
  
Ultimately, if federal and state forestry agencies are unable to cure their own
psychosis, and perform in a financially responsible manner, then management
should be put out to bid to private forest management companies.  If private
companies cannot perform responsibly, then the land should be turned into
parks, and not managed for forestry purposes at all.








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