By Steve Sherich – President, American Loggers Council
Our Spring Washington D.C. trip still weighs heavily on my mind, and I wanted to share with you a few of the thoughts that I have had since our visit. Results of these trips are hard to measure immediately but I know we left some good impressions with our representatives in D.C. I am very proud of everyone who showed up to represent the loggers all across America and the American Loggers Council, as they are a part of the process.
I am disappointed that the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act, S. 1369, has not moved out of committee and on to the Senate floor for a vote. Our plan now is to get other industries that will also be affected by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to join us, putting pressure on the leadership in the Senate to move the bill forward. This decision by the courts could be the largest regulatory burden that our industry has ever faced, impacting timber harvesting on both federal and private lands.
Several of us visited with Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, and expressed our concerns about the health of our forests, jobs, rural counties and schools. When we explained to Chief Tidwell how increased volumes could help our rural schools, he became defensive and told us the U.S. Forest Service was “not in the business to make money.” While this is true, one might think that with our growing deficits, someone in D.C. might take it under consideration to at least create revenue from the forests in order to fund other programs and projects and to make our federal timber dependent communities whole. With target volumes set at 3 billion board feet for 2012, a 80% reduction in historical high volumes during the 70’s and 80’s, it is unlikely that the agency will meet those targets.
I personally feel our national forests that were set aside for multiple uses are the largest, most productive farms in America. The American Loggers Council continues to go on record asking Congress to support full funding for the USDA Forest Service Timber Products line item.
A broad definition for renewable biomass has been on our agenda for the last six years and it appears that the definition that we fought for in the current Farm Bill will remain intact as Congress debates reauthorization of the bill this year. We realize with natural gas being so inexpensive woody biomass will have a hard time competing, but if we are going to meet the 25% renewable energy goal by 2025, our forests will have to be included as a source for producing renewable energy.
For our industry partners in California and other western states, we asked members of Congress, and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to change the “two year protocol” for surveys of the northern spotted owl. We asked that it be moved back to a one year permitting process permanently. It is impossible to predict markets from two to three years out before harvest can occur. Forest landowners in western states should not be required to have a two year wait (possibly three) from the time they make the decision to harvest timber, to getting the approval, if granted, from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
We asked for an appointment with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and were told that they did not have anyone that could visit with us. We would have liked to have asked that our sixteen and seventeen year old children be granted the same rights as farmers and ranchers have under the existing farm child labor laws to be able to work and begin their training at an earlier stage in life. The Department of Labor has recently been engaged in attempting to change policies which would not allow youth to work on farms and ranches, but after much outcry from the farming community, they have backed off of the issue. We can’t help but wonder if the reason that we were not allowed an audience with the DOL was because of their desire to change the child labor exemptions for children in the agricultural community and certainly didn’t wish to see another agricultural related industry asking for those same exemptions that they were attempting to abolish. It is important that we have future generations to take over our businesses and I have already heard from one of my Congressman and a Senator that they understand the issue and agree with our view. We don’t expect a change soon, but it will continue to be on our agenda.
There have been several coalitions pushing for changes in weight limits on the Federal Interstate Highway System this year, but with the likelihood of a transportation bill being passed prior to the November general elections being slim to none, it is doubtful that we will see any changes in the near future. The American Loggers Council will continue to look for opportunities to insert language into the proposed bill that would make your state tolerances legal on the Interstates, providing for a safer and more efficient route to existing mills.
November elections are only a few months away, and we need leaders in Washington D.C. that will take the initiative and use common sense to move this nation and our industry forward. Now more than ever, we are asking that you know the candidates, know their platforms, and support those that are willing to do what is right for all Americans. We are asking you to be a part of that process.
About the American Loggers Council
The American Loggers Council is a non-profit 501(c)(6) corporation representing professional timber harvesters in 30 states across the US. For more information, visit their web site at www.americanloggers.org or contact their office at 409-625-0206.