The U.S. forest products industry is very broad with diverse and sometimes conflicting interests. The American Loggers Council was formed in 1994 when it was clear our nation’s professional timber harvesters needed a strong, consistent presence in order to impact issues on a national level. ALC is billed as the “National Voice for Professional Loggers.” We are loggers working for loggers, because if don’t we don’t stand up and speak out, nobody else will.
Twenty-four years later ALC continues to grow, and we are stronger than ever. Just as importantly policymakers are taking notice and recognizing our organization as an important source of information regarding many issues, including forest management, transportation and economic health in rural America. This was clear when ALC was invited to a special meeting in December with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in Washington D.C.
I attended this meeting along with Associated Oregon Loggers Executive Vice President (and ALC Policy Committee Chair) Jim Geisinger. The meeting was organized as an inter-agency “listening session” on wildfires along with other federal, congressional, and state stakeholders. The Secretaries sought our input as the Trump Administration seeks to change the way federally-owned forests are managed.
Also attending the meeting was House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (UT) and Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR). Both were instrumental in writing and passing the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 (HR 2936), comprehensive legislation to increase active forest management on federal lands and reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfires. Congressman Westerman, the only forester in the U.S. Congress, also helped include language from ALC’s Future Logging Careers Act into HR 2936 that was approved by the U.S. House in October.
The listening session centered around fixing the wildfire funding problems, possible improvements to wildfire management, innovative ways to detect and suppress wildfires, and ways to improve cooperation between industry, state, and federal authorities. It’s clear this administration is prepared to take action to improve the management of federal forest lands, and promote timber harvesting and thinning to reduce the risks of catastrophic wildfires.
As a forest owner himself, Agriculture Secretary Perdue has a strong interest in improving the U.S. Forest Service under the USDA. His new Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tony Tooke, is already working hard to improve the agency’s operations. Tooke has convened other key personnel within the Forest Service to find ways to develop and implement timber sales and forest health projects more quickly. The agency’s new mandate is to do more, and faster.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in particular has a very strong understanding of our industry and way of life. Zinke was born and raised in Montana’s Flathead Valley and witnessed all the social, economic and environmental problems that occurred after timber harvests on federal lands declined dramatically. As a Congressman, Zinke sponsored legislation to reduce catastrophic wildfire risks through active forest management. As Secretary, Zinke has invested much of his own political capital restoring multiple-use management to federal lands under his department, including reviewing national monuments that were unilaterally established by presidents under the Antiquities Act.
During the meeting, and in conversations afterwards, Jim and I shared the loggers’ perspective on these important issues. We stressed the importance of protecting and strengthening the private-sector forest products infrastructure that is vital to the federal government’s mission to restoring federally-owned forests. Without loggers, and without viable logging businesses, the feds will never be able to treat the 100 million acres that are at some risk of catastrophic wildfires.
The Secretaries took note of this perspective, and we have been invited to participate in additional conversations about how the federal government can work better with loggers and the rest of the industry to improve forest health and support American manufacturing.
In Washington DC, decisions are made by those who show up, and ALC will continue to show up so that loggers have a seat at the table as the federal government considers issues and legislation that affect us. But just as importantly, it is essential that all loggers participate in the process in some form, whether it’s being active in state logging associations or responding to action alerts. We must stand up and speak out for all loggers, because nobody else will.
Danny Dructor is the Executive Vice President for the American Loggers Council with headquarters in Hemphill, Texas.
The American Loggers Council is a 501 (c)(6) not for profit trade association representing professional timber harvesters and log truckers in 32 states across the United States with headquarters near Hemphill, Texas.