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E-M:/ Senate Subcom on Timber Mandate

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

 Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Timber Mandate 4/4/00
 Summary: On Tuesday afternoon, April 4, the Senate Approps Subcommittee 
 took testimony from former DNR Acting Director Mike Moore, timber industry 
 lobbyists, Sierra Club, Sara Davis of Forests Forever and the DNR on 
 timber mandate in the DNR Budget.  No action was taken, and the next 
 meeting is expected to be when decisions are made.
 Detailed account:  In the second hearing of the Senate Appropriations 
 Subcommittee on Natural Resources on the FY2001 DNR Budget this year 
 extensive testimony was offered on the mandated timber marking and sale 
 boilerplate language in the bill.  New faces and voices were heard and the 
 hearing provided additional discussion and information than in the House.
 The first person to testify was Michael Moore, retired from the DNR after 
 serving in upper level positions, including as Acting Director.  Moore is 
 currently teaching at the University of Michigan and is doing consulting 
 work as well.  His testimony gave both a historical perspective and 
 analysis of the effects of this continued use by the legislature of 
 boilerplate language in budget bills to mandate timber management by the 
 DNR.  Moore explained that his opposition to the use of boilerplate 
 language put him in the same corner as "preservation" groups such as the 
 Sierra Club.
 In particular, Moore discussed his take on National Forests policies and 
 their evolution at the federal level and how that foreshadows similar 
 problems in Michigan.  During the Reagan administration, at the upper 
 level of the Forest Service a mandate to increase timber production well 
 above sustainable levels was made.  According to Moore, this resulted in 
 reactions from Congress leading to the use of riders on the budget that 
 have increasingly politicized the decision process on the National 
 Forests. Mike Moore advocates having decisions on public forests made by 
 professionals using scientific information. 
 Relating this to the now four year debate over a timber mandate in the 
 budget, Moore pointed out that with term limits the Legislature will 
 increasingly include people who are there only briefly.  Annualized 
 mandates for timber production could as easily turn to a 0 cords per year 
 on 0 acres mandate as the makeup of the body changes. Moore advocates that 
 if the legislature does want to provide direction on timber, that they 
 should amend PA 451, the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act 
 (NREPA) to set how decisions about management of the State Forests should 
 be made, though he advocates a broad outline directing the use of science, 
 leaving it to the professionals and the Natural Resources Commission to set 
 Moore's discussion also raised concerns about the effect the mandated 
 timber sales levels would have if the economy were to falter and prices 
 for timber were to drop.  Adding a historical note, he observed that 
 research he is doing with another retired DNR official led to uncovering 
 quotes from the 1930's in which forest managers at the time thought the 
 state would be lucky if at the turn of the next century they could produce 
 35,000 cords of wood from state lands, and today the debate is about 
 levels 20 to 30 times of wood more than they thought could be available.
 Questions from the Senators included concerns from Senator Koivisto that 
 if the DNR wasn't required to cut, that they would not put up the timber. 
 Moore said he didn't disagree with some legislative direction, but that 
 the annual battle in the budget is a real problem.  
 Senator Gast asked Moore if he supported the idea of a ceiling on timber 
 levels instead of a floor, and after some discussion Moore indicated that 
 he saw no problem with a ceiling, but the current use of a floor is 
 unacceptable.  Gast expressed interest as well in leaving issues as much as 
 possible to the Natural Resources Commission, while stressing that they do 
 best when they listen to the public.  The Senator shared Moore's concern 
 about successors in the Approps. Com losing sight of the history of issues 
 as a result of term limits, and saw the problems with the annualized 
 boilerplate in the budget.
 After Moore, Tim Karasek lobbyist for the Michigan Association of 
 Timbermen presented virtually the same testimony as was given to the House 
 Subcommittee (see archives of Enviro-Mich if you wish to see the content). 
 One theme that came out in questions from Senator McManus of Karasek was a 
 distinct prickliness regarding the protests and criticism of him in the 
 Traverse City area on this issue.  McManus asked Karasek if knew of Tim 
 Flynn (a Sierra Club leader and contributor to Enviro-Mich) whom McManus 
 called a "yahoo" from his district who kept raising questions, some of 
 which McManus asked.  Comments were shared back and forth about the 
 alleged inaccuracy of the information presented by Flynn, referencing in 
 particular an article published in a Traverse City newspaper that laid out 
 analysis of the effect of the mandated timber harvest proposed in the 
 House on the State Forests over time. Karasek also commented that he 
 didn't understand why this issue, out of all the boilerplate issues, 
 attracts so much attention. He was followed by Judy Augenstine, lobbyist 
 for the Timber Producers and another group I didn't catch, who said she 
 had thought that in the House of Representatives a compromise was hatched 
 that everyone was happy with. She expressed support for the language 
 passed by the House.
 Then I spoke on behalf of Sierra Club. Many of the issues I raised have 
 been raised before (you talk about an issue long enough you do in fact 
 repeat yourself!).  I did point to various pieces of information from the 
 DNR that had been provided to the House but not yet to the Senate, hoping 
 that they would be reviewed by the Senators as well. I raised the issue of 
 the $2.5 million of General Fund now being proposed as a fund shift into 
 the Forest Development Fund to cover the shortfall in that fund as a 
 result of timber industry backlogs in the cutting of timber sales they 
 have already purchased from the state.  The backlog is largely because of 
 a generous policy regarding timber sales on State Forests, allowing a 
 small upfront fee from the successful bidder and allows the logger years 
 to actually complete the sale.  I pointed out that this alone raises 
 serious questions about the idea more timber should be mandated to be put 
 up for sale on State Forests.  Also, I took issue with the comments 
 regarding the information that Tim Flynn has presented, inviting the 
 Senators to have independent experts of their choosing to examine this 
 analysis rather than simply taking anyone else's word about its supposed 
 flaws.  In addition, I urged the Senators not to accept at face value the 
 materials handed out by the timber interests, including an analysis by 
 former State Forester Hank Webster which is based on very out of date 
 information and has not been subject to peer review.
 Questions posed to me included some about Sierra Club's position on timber 
 sales on federal forests (Sierra Club is seeking legislation to stop 
 commercial timber sales on federal lands) and state forests (Sierra Club 
 does not oppose timber sales per se on MI State Forest lands, though we 
 have many deep concerns about management of the State Forests), follow ups 
 on the comments on the $2.5 million fund transfer.  Senator Gast asked me 
 as well about the use of a ceiling instead of a floor on timber sales on 
 State Forests, and I expressed support for that.  I did say, however, that 
 I don't think the state is capable of setting a number for what is an 
 appropriate level of timber cutting because they have never collected all 
 of the information they need to make such a determination.  I discussed 
 that the use of the Compartment Review process would be better than an 
 arbitrary number set by the legislature, but also said the fact is without 
 Plans for the State Forests that balance all the demands there is no good 
 way to set a number for timber management.  In addition, I expressed 
 concern that the mandate is interpreted on the ground in the DNR as saying 
 that getting the timber out is the top priority, and the professionals on 
 the ground feel that pressure. This was challenged by Senator Koivisto, 
 who asked if I was saying that DNR professional staff stop considering 
 effects on wildlife, etc., as a result of this mandate.  I explained that 
 my understanding was that there has in fact been direction given to staff 
 on the ground in the UP either one or two years ago to increase the number 
 of acres of timber marked in order to try to meet the mandate.  My sense 
 is that the staff will try to do what they are trained to do but feel 
 compelled to try to meet this mandate timber level.
 Then, Senator McManus had an aid provide me with a flyer from the rally 
 held in Traverse City last week protesting the timber mandate.  He asked 
 repeatedly if Sierra Club had organized the protest, characterizing the 
 participants as "nut cases". I noted I had actually only heard about it 
 after the fact and was not even aware of the name of the group.  Sierra 
 Club had, I noted, broadcast over email (including Enviro-Mich) our 
 extensive concerns about the boilerplate on timber mandates.  Senator 
 McManus took particular offense at the flyer stating that he is pushing a 
 bil that will cut 80% of the trees in our state forests in the next 36 
 years, and asked if I had said that.  I noted that the concern tied to the 
 boilerplate language, and suggested that if he was to support doing away 
 with the boilerplate I would gladly broadcast that information. 
 Next was Kelli Sobel for the DNR, who provided additional clarification 
 and information on many of the topics raised.  Senator McManus asked her 
 to respond to the "accusation" that DNR staff are not using their 
 professional judgement to manage the land because of the mandate. Sobel 
 said the staff of course use their professional judgement, but also noted 
 that they end up "walking a fine line to meet the boilerplate." She gave 
 an overview of the process by which sales are put up, the DNR's 
 Silvicultural Analysis which provided the various numbers that have been 
 used in the proposed legislation, and other background info as well.
 Senator DeBeaussaert asked what is in the current DNR Budget, and Sobel 
 cited the 855,000 cords marked, and that last year there were no acres 
 included.  DeBeaussaert asked about how the money flows into the Forest 
 Development Fund, and also if there is a connection between the shortfall 
 in revenue and the boilerplate.  Sobel explained that there isn't a direct 
 connection, but that the revenue has been less than the costs for the 
 Forest Management Division for a number of years, eating up a surplus 
 developed in the mid-1990's.  DeB also asked about the claims by the 
 Michigan Association of Timbermen that the reason they are continuing to 
 push this mandate in boilerplate is that they were promised by the DNR 
 that there would be increased timber production if the industry lobbied 
 for an extra $1 million of tax dollars to be put into the budget in 1994.  
 Sobel said they are exploring the history of this and will report back.
 McManus asked about the lag mentioned between when a timber sale is made 
 and when the trees can be cut.  Sobel explained that the DNR requires 10% 
 down from the successful bidder at the time of a sale, and allows 3 years, 
 with an option of a 4th, for the logger to complete the sale.  The DNR, 
 she reports, is trying to get loggers to complete cuts within a year of 
 when they are sold, but there is 1.3 million cords of timber in the 
 pipeline right now which has been sold but not cut. DeB asked that more 
 information about this be provided to the committee.  
 Koivisto asked about the fund transfer in the context of a permanent fund 
 transfer built into the budget the 1990's from the Forest Development Fund 
 to the Forest Fire fighting programs.  Forest fire fighting had come 
 entirely out of general funds prior to that time, but in 1995 the 
 legislature put about $2.8 million into the fire fighting from the then 
 Forest Management Fund because there was a lot of money coming in. Sobel 
 explained that history some, and noted that the DNR was supportive of that 
 fund shift when the Forest Development Fund was flush, and would now 
 support a shift back so that all Forest Fire fighting funding comes from 
 General Funds now that the Forest Development Fund is poor.
 The last testifier was new to the process and so had not known to put in a 
 card, so was called only after attention was called to her waving her hand 
 at the back of the room.  Sara Davis of the Traverse City area came to 
 speak on behalf of many people in Michigan who she don't like what the 
 legislature is doing with the timber mandate.  She brought a petition with 
 111 signatures of people opposed to the timber mandate, and said more are 
 being collected.  The concern she expressed was that people didn't even 
 know about this issue, and they disagree with cutting down the trees 
 without public input on it.  She said she didn't necessarily oppose all 
 timber cutting on public lands, but thought that in a democracy people 
 needed to be able to have some say, and this process didn't give people 
 that chance.  She referenced her baby, whose cooing and gurgling noises 
 were a stark contrast to the noises heard in and around the capitol 
 normally, and that she wanted to see that her child would grow up with 
 forests to enjoy and appreciate.
 Senator McManus began early on to throw questions at Davis in a way that 
 many afterwards expressed deep surprise at because of the level of 
 hostility.  Davis was indeed part of the group that had protested in 
 Traverse City, and the protest was brought by Forests Forever, a some what 
 looseknit, but clearly homegrown group of people who are concerned about 
 the forests.  McManus peppered her with questions about where her 
 information came from, stating at one point that we have been cutting 
 trees on state lands for almost 100 years -- "where have you been?"  Davis 
 held her cool under the badgering line of questions, raising questions 
 about how anyone is supposed to know about these decisions because it is 
 so hard to find out about what is going on with the forests.
 After a while, Senator McManus called on Senator Koivisto, followed by 
 Senator Gast, both of whom disagreed with Davis's points but were offering 
 up supportive and informational comments and observations about the 
 process by which the decisions are made.  Their comments and questions 
 helped to take the hostile edge out of room, but the initial questioning 
 stuck with all in the room for quite some time. 
 At the end of this testimony, Senator McManus called an end to the meeting 
 and said they will discuss the DNR budget bill at their next meeting.
 One footnote on this:  I was startled at the end of the hearing, held in 
 the Senate Appropriations room in the Capitol Building, to see two 
 uniformed capitol police and a red-coat page lingering by the doors of the 
 Committee room.  This is something I have not seen before, or certainly 
 for a very long time.  I can only assume, since I then realized the 
 uniformed cops had been in the doorway from the start of Davis's 
 testimony, that they must have been summoned to be present.  Davis was 
 with her baby and three other young adults from their Traverse City.  
 Davis has long, dark hair in dredlocks, and one woman had hair died 
 magenta color.  They all wore piercings and dressed like many people one 
 routinely encounters particularly in college communities.  
 What a lousy commentary on our allegedly open system of decision making 
 for legislation in this state.  A citizen who seeks to testify about a 
 controversial issue is subjected to harsh questioning bordering on 
 insults, and, I have to believe because of their appearance, she and her 
 group are shadowed by law enforcement officers as they seek to present 
 their point of view.  And people wonder where the cynicism comes from.
 Anne Woiwode 

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