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E-M:/ Timber Mandates: House Committee Hearing

Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org

 Enviro-Mich folks:
 Yesterday afternoon the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Natural 
 Resources and Environmental Quality held a hearing to learn about the 
 "boilerplate" language in the DNR's budget which mandates a timber 
 production level off the State Forests.  The array of interests were 
 represented in testimony, which most committee members stayed in place to 
 The DNR Budget Bill, as submitted by the Governor, includes language (HB 
 5281, Section 802) which says that the DNR "shall not allow the amount of 
 timber marked for harvest to decrease below 855,000 cords or 60,000 
 treated acres provided that the department takes into consideration the 
 impact of timber harvesting on wildlife habitat and recreation uses." This 
 language has been modified from the previous three years of boilerplate by 
 the inclusion of "or 60,000 treated acres".  ["Boilerplate" in budget 
 bills is a way for members of appropriations committees to avoid having to 
 go through other legislative committees which address more policy oriented 
 legislation, while forcing agencies to take certain actions by tying their 
 funding to those actions. ]
 The range of comments presented were from the timber industry insisting 
 that the acreage figures be eliminated (that is, to return to a straight 
 volume mandate as in the last 3 years) to those asking that NO mandate be 
 The DNR Forest Management Division Chief John Robertson presented an 
 overview of the timber management on State Forest lands that provided some 
 useful information, but was also clearly quite confusing to the Committee 
 members, many of whom are totally unfamiliar with these issues.  The key 
 points Robertson was making, and that can be drawn from a handout 
 provided, was that the DNR supports using an acreage figure because the 
 amount of wood produced per acre on an annual basis will vary dramatically 
 depending on what type of forest is being reviewed and what kind of 
 logging is being done.  The DNR has set up its management regime for its 
 forests on a 10 year cycle where one-tenth of the State Forest is reviewed 
 each year for management prescriptions (logging, wildlife management 
 activities, etc.) however the acreages reviewed each year vary 
 dramatically and the system was never designed to create an "even flow" of 
 timber volume off state lands each year.  
 For example, the average volume of wood per acre on State Forest lands 
 logged in the last 15 years has varied from a high of 16.4 cords during 
 the 1988-1990 period, to a low of 13 cords per acre from 1997-1999 (a cord 
 of wood is 128 cu ft, or a stack 8' x 4' x 4').  That difference was 
 largely because clearcuts average 18 cords per acre vs selection cuts at 8 
 cords per acre and thinning at 12 cords per acre. In the 1988-1990 period 
 a little over 70% of the timber "treatments" (timber sales) on State 
 Forests were clearcuts vs. about 20% selection or thinning cuts, while in 
 1997-1999 about 40% of the treatments were clearcuts while almost 50% were 
 selection or thinning cuts.  But during roughly those same time periods, 
 while adjusting for inflation, the value of the average cord of wood 
 increased from approximately $15 per cord (1986-1990) to approximately $26 
 per cord (1996-1999), largely because the selection cut wood produced a 
 much higher value product.   
 Robertson also pointed out that the DNR has a variety of values it is to 
 manage its lands for that take land out of timber production.  In 
 addition, out of the 3.9 million acres of lands in the State Forest 
 system, at least 700,000 acres are not even forested, but are waters, 
 openings, rock outcroppings and other lands which don't support growth of 
 trees.  The DNR concludes they could manage up to 69,000 acres per year, 
 but say the minimum of 60,000 acres treated gives them a cushion for 
 unforeseen problems.
 The next speaker on behalf of the Michigan Assoc. of Timbermen (MAT), Tim 
 Karasek, took issue with the DNR's figures, in effect accusing the agency 
 of being unwilling to cut as much wood as they could. Offering an 
 exclusively timber oriented view of the management of the State Forests, he 
 presented interpretations of state policy as being aggressively pro-timber 
 expansion going back through three governors, based on the goal of 
 transitioning away from a "rust belt", automobile industry dependent 
 economy.  Karasek cited the economic contribution from wood products in 
 Michigan, asserting that most of the jobs are in the secondary processing 
 of wood which occurs mostly in the lower part of the lower peninsula. 
 Referring to a statewide timber inventory from 1993, Karasek recited a 
 claim  that the state's forest are producing wood at a rate 2.5 times above 
 the harvest levels in the state.  
 But most of the MAT's ire, as presented by Karasek, was aimed at a 
 supposed promise made by the former chief of Forest Management Division 
 (FMD) in the early 1990's.  In a story repeated every year in this same 
 debate, MAT claims the DNR came to them at that time and asked them to 
 lobby for the addition of $1 million of tax dollars to the FMD budget for 
 one year to allow them to bring on more foresters and increase the amount 
 of timber management on State Forest lands.  Allegedly, the FMD chief at 
 the time "promised" that if MAT lobbied for this money and got it into the 
 budget, the DNR would dramatically increase the amount of wood cut in 
 succeeding years.  Karasek characterized the lack of any significant 
 increase by saying "the DNR squandered our money, and ruined our 
 reputation" by failing to produce.  Later on, Chairman Byl came back to 
 this phrase, commenting that this seemed a rather "rash" statement on the 
 part of Karasek, who after confirming that is what he said, corrected his 
 statement to say it was the public's money that he was talking about, not 
 Karasek also said the industry doesn't like the language associated with 
 the 60,000 acre phrase in the budget boilerplate. "Treated" acres could 
 mean acres that were burned for wildlife purposes, not logged, and the 
 industry wants all of this mandate to produce timber for them to cut.  As 
 he said, the treated acres was not a commitment to produce timber.
 The next speaker, Bill Rockwell, came as a volunteer from the Michigan 
 Society of American Foresters, which is an association of professional 
 foresters. Rockwell had actually left the meeting of the MSAF early to 
 bring their resolution to this committee meeting, and it was presented as 
 a longer term resolution to this ongoing annual debate.  The MSAF is 
 recommending that a legislature convene an independent body of people 
 "knowledgable and interested in Michigan's State forests ... to develop a 
 sound process for establishing timber harvest and other objectives for 
 State Forest  management on an ongoing basis and for monitoring 
 MSAF is concerned that the mandated levels the Legislature has included 
 each year are arbitrary and that a system for developing sound goals and 
 monitoring the management of State Forests can be put together to address 
 the concerns the current language seems intended to address.  Rockwell's 
 presentation drew a number of questions, including an effort by Rep. 
 Tesanovich to extract a cordage number from him, which Rockwell observed 
 was not in keeping with his mandate from MSAF.
 Next, I spoke on behalf of Sierra Club, pointing out that the discussion 
 at the meeting was emblematic of why this kind of issue really does not 
 belong in boilerplate language within the DNR's budget.  In addition, I 
 put some different interpretations on the history of our forests and 
 forest management, including pointing out that the DNR has been supposed 
 to do comprehensive State Forest Planning since the 1970's but has never 
 gotten it done.  Some of the information Robertson presented was the first 
 bits of information we have seen about what is actually happening on the 
 forests, but it is not adequate to set a mandate of this sort.  In 
 addition, I raised the point that what should be of interest to the state 
 if not the number of cords coming out of the forest, but the number of 
 jobs they produce, and none of the preceding had even mentioned that fact. 
 Selection cut wood produces more jobs than clearcutting for pulp, both in 
 the forests and in the mills. Lastly, I pointed out that Michigan is the 
 ONLY state in the country that has a mandated minimum timber production 
 level, and stated Sierra Club's position that no mandate should be 
 included in the DNR budget.
 Jody Kaiser of MUCC spoke next, advocating for keeping the language with 
 the 60,000 acres included.  She helped to clarify some of the issues 
 raised by Robertson and corrected information presented by Karasek.  In 
 particular, she pointed out that the 2.5 times growth of wood over harvest 
 of wood from 1993 applied to ALL forest land in Michigan, not State Forest 
 land specifically.  Kaiser pointed out that each land owner must assure 
 that they apply the information directly to their own lands, and can't 
 simply take the state wide average.  In fact, as she noted, much of the 
 excess growth is on private lands and private land owners need to make 
 their own decisions about what they want from those lands. In any case, 
 the numbers don't apply to the STate Forests, and she argued the acreage 
 figures are a much better measure.  Kaiser also said that MUCC is 
 supportive of performance criteria for the DNR on managing its forests, 
 but that volume was not the appropriate measure.
 Lastly, Kel Smythe of the Mead Company briefly testified that they wish to 
 see the acreage figures removed.  He did not elaborate on the reasons why.
 Chairman of the Subcommittee, William Byl, indicated that the Subcommittee 
 members shouls submit to him over the next week their suggestions for how 
 this issue should be addressed in the bill.
 COMMENTARY:  I give great credit to the Legislators who willingly 
 attempted to focus on this issue and tried to learn as much as they could 
 in a brief and confusing set of conflicting presentations.  With the 
 exception of Mr. Tesanovich, who was clearly committed already to MAT's 
 stance, the members of the committee seemed open to learning about the 
 issue. It is important that they hear from State Forest users, however, 
 who are in fact the ones put at most risk by arbitrary mandates for timber 
 production off our public lands.  The members of the House Subcommittee 
 Chairman William Byl     517 373-2668 
 VC David Mead            517 373-0825 
 Sandra Caul              517 373-1789 
 Cameron Brown            517 373-0832 
 VC Paul Tesanovich       517 373-0850 
 Deb Cherry               517 373-3906
 Check out the House website for email addresses, or write to them at the 
 House of Representatives, State Capitol, Lansing, MI  48913.  

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