The Politics of Forestry- was- Re: State Forestry

Larry Caldwell larryc at
Sun Jan 4 17:24:07 EST 1998

In article <68m8eo$cjh at>,
sylva at (Andrew Heggie) wrote:

> I have snipped the beginning of Ron's comments though they are
> pertinent. 

And poor Joe ends up sucking hind teat as the discussion moves away from
the service forester/consulting forester debate.  At least I'll try to
stick with politics.  Sorry Joe.  

> In real terms in UK timber prices have been in decline for a century,
> the recent restocking has been very heavily subsidized to create a
> strategic reserve which is now deemed unnecessary.

It seems that half the world has spent the last 50 years fighting WWII.
The whole cold war NATO thing consumed a huge number of resources that
could have been put to better use elsewhere.  We'll probably never know
what the real cost was.

Raising timber for strategic purposes is one of those things that is just
foolish if you consider it a bit.  First, the lifetime of a forest is many
times the lifetime of international alliances, and second, a few incindiary
missles will take care of any strategic forests in short order.  During
WWII the Japanese floated incindiary balloons over the west coast of North
America.  They just didn't know enough about the climate to realize they
were doing it during the rainy season, or they would have burned the entire
west coast of North America to the ground.

The real reason for managing forestry is the same as the reason for managing
agriculture.  Land and rain and sunshine will produce renewable wealth for
the human race with some industry on the part of the inhabitants.  While
a food crop yields every year, forests yield once in a human lifetime.
The result is that forestry is still dominated by the opportunistic harvest
techniques practiced by neolithic hunter-gatherers over 6000 years ago.  

The only individuals reliably practicing long term forest management are 
the much-maligned industrial forest corporations.  Stockholders come and
go, but at least a corporation has a chance of living as long as a tree
and reaping the profit of their work.

> The decline is both from import and alternative material substitution.

You see the reason governments are not reliable foresters.  Cheap imports
mean low consumer prices and a better chance of getting elected next time.
The cheap prices will continue until the Canadians and the Russians mine 
out the last of their legacy timber.  Once that's gone, it will be a long
time coming back.  Boreal pine doesn't grow that fast.  Some of those
30 cm logs they are cutting are a hundred years old.

I think the Canadians have finally started to reforest, though only 10 years
ago they weren't bothering.  The Russians still haven't started reforesting.
They view all that Siberian pine as a disposable resource.

> >Landowners are really missing the boat as a market force.  They are too fragmented to make
> >much difference in timber supply.  Landowners should unite and co-op for services.  The
> >landowner only receives about 10% of the final market price for their resource.  No wonder
> >they feel like they are getting ripped off!  In Sweden, the landowner association even owns
> >their own sawmill.

I've never heard of a market where timber prices were that depressed.
Around here you can buy an economy 2x4x8 ( five and a third bf ) for
$1.50.  That works out to $280/mbf.  Stumpage prices are running about
$600 to $650/mbf.  It's pretty obvious that they're milling the economy
lumber out of overrun, but it's also obvious that the timber seller
isn't getting ripped off.  Any rancher in the USA would be tickled
pink to be selling his cattle for 2.5 times the retail price of stew 
meat or hamburger.

> Here again I was given to believe the UK was the worst in repect of
> lowest standing prices and highest finished goods prices with lots of
> Mr. Tenpercenters in between.

It's interesting how a discussion among foresters devolves to a discussion 
of stumpage prices.  I know a few small landowners who are raising stumps,
but not many.  Almost all small woodland owners view timber production
as a secondary consideration.  From their standpoint, they're doing a better
job of land management than the foresters think they are.  

The extension agents and service foresters might be giving the small tract
owners what they want.  With all due respect to Massachusetts tree hugging
hippie capitalist foresters, I might hire a forester to manage a timber
sale, but I'm not going to hire one to manage my life.  I'm not sure that
consulting foresters are in the same game that service foresters and 
extension agents are in.

-- Larry

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