When is a timber sale a timber giveaway?

dwheeler at teleport.com dwheeler at teleport.com
Sat Jan 30 10:59:42 EST 1999

The following article appeared in The Oregonian on Jan. 29, 1999, p B1

L-P seeks Alaska extension

The three-year contract for 300 million board feet of timber in Tongass forest
will expire at the end of the year

By HAL BERNTON, of The Oregonian staff

	Louisiana-Pacific Corp. is lobbying the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
for a year's extension on a contract that grants the company exclusive rights
to cut old-growth timber in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.  The
three-year contract for 300 million board feet of timber is scheduled to
expire at the end of this year. But the Portland-based company, faced with
slumping markets for lumber and pulp-grade timber, wants more time to harvest
the logs, said Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles. He offered a letter of support
Wednesday for a contrat extension.	  Company officials met Thursday in
Washington, D.C., with representatives of Agriculture Secretary Dan
Glickman's office.	  "We're still considering proposals," said Andrew
Kauders, a spokesman for Glickman.     Jerry Soud, an L-P spokesman,
confirmed that talks were under way but said he was unable to reach company
officials who could provide further details.  The Tongass timber harvests
provide just a tiny fraction of the company's $2.2 billion in annual revenue.
But L-P's investment in southeast Alaska has made the company a big player in
a contentious national debate over management of the Tongass, the largest
national forest in the country.       The Tongass spreads over 17 million
acres in southeast Alaska, encompassing glacier-clad mountains, muskeg swamps
and the national's largest expanse of old- growth forest. For decades, the
Tongass National Forest has offered old growth through Forest Service timber
sales.	      Those sales repeadedly have proved to be the biggest money
losers in the national forest system, costing the Forest Service millions
more to prepare and administer than the agency earned from timber revenue.   
     Louisiana-Pacific, through its Ketchikan-based subsidiary, was the
biggest buyer of this timber. The company held a unique 50-year contract that
gave it exclusive rights to a portion of that timber through 2004, so long as
the company operated an Alaska pulp mill.	 The Ketchikan pulp mill was
important to the southeast Alaska economy. The state's powerful congressional
delegation fiercely defended the L-P contract.	      But conservationists,
eager to protect Tongass old growth, campaigned to end the L-P contract. In
1997, administration officials and the company reached a settlement that
curtailed the long-term timber contract as the company shut down its
Ketchikan-based pulp mill.	The settlement awarded the company more than
$130 million. It also sought to keep open two L-P sawmills by guaranteeing
the company 300 million board feet of federal timber through 1999.	Since
the settlement, timber markets have plummeted and the cost of Tongass logging
has risen because of new protections for fish and wildlife. That has made it
much more difficult to profitably log the public lands, Forest Service
officials said. 	Conservationists say poor markets are no reason to
extend more breaks to the company, citing the record of pollution violations
and other problems during the years of the long-term contract. If L-P wants
Tongass timber, they said, the company should big for it just as other
companies are asked to do.   "Enough is enough. It's time for
Louisiana-Pacific to play by the rules," Matthew Zencey of the Alaska
Rainforest Campaign wrote in a Jan. 21 letter to Glickman.	 Knowles said
the contract extension is reasonable, and he hopes it will encourage L-P to
make new investments in Tongass wood processing.

Comment by poster: the Tongass has been a cash cow for L-P. In exchange for
road-building contracts that cause stream siltation and reduce salmon runs
exponentially, L-P has been using most of the timber logged not for lumber,
but for chips to make pulp. The pulp is typically made into toilet paper and
sold to the Japanese.

In the last few years research into hybrid cottonwood (which can grow 13 feet
in a year near Boardman, OR under near desert conditions) has depressed the
pulp market. And it seems to me that removing old-growth trees at a net-loss
of revenue (i.e. the government spending money to pay L-P to cut old-growth)
is another boondoggle of Congress, and one that should stop. Such artificial
support of pulp suppresses the real need to have greater hybrid cottonwood
plantations, which produce more pulp in fall less time and with less costs.
Without L-P's glutting of the pulp market, the demand for pulp would rise in
the lower-48, and the need for old-growth harvesting in the Tongass would
quickly cease to exist.

I feel personally offended by the perceived need to harvest 300-1200 year old
trees to provide pulp to wipe someone's butt. Who knows? Maybe the increased
demand will force more recycling of magazines and catalogs, instead of sending
them to landfills? <G> Of course, it is also possible to re-process that
material _at lower costs_ into toilet paper than cutting the Tongass too. Of
course, that would not provide the government-subsidized boost to SE Alaska's
economy though. Oh well, maybe eating salmon for a few more years is worth it,

If ecosystem destruction is the desired effect, wouldn't it be easier to
torch the whole thing? Much cheaper than subsidizing L-P to do it now. <G> Of
course, that would end up with less road-building contracts for "timber"
extraction for L-P too.

Daniel B. Wheeler
"I like to walk a mile in a man's shoes before criticizing him. That
way, if he gets angry, I'm a mile away. And he's barefoot."

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