Forestry analysis must include all the facts
by Ernie Niemi
for the Register Guard
We’re tired of the bickering over logging. Tired of people talking past one another: “Logging is good!” “No, it’s bad!”
Let’s replace the rhetoric with facts. Compare the benefits of logging against the costs. If the facts show that the benefits exceed the costs, cut the trees down; if not, let them stand.
At a recent public meeting in Springfield, staff from the Oregon Board of Forestry said the board took this approach to develop a proposed rule that will restrict logging along the banks of some streams that are home to salmon, steelhead and bull trout. Current rules permit loggers to remove trees that otherwise would shade these streams, keeping the water cool. Without the shade, summertime stream temperatures become hot enough to harm fish.
The forestry staff described the process used to decide how much to restrict logging, and where. With assistance from citizens representing different points of view, the board first identified a wide range of alternatives with different levels of stream-side logging restrictions in different parts of the state. It then weighed the benefits and costs of each alternative, rejected those whose costs exceeded the benefits, and selected the alternative that offers the best net benefits.
Excellent! This sounds like a textbook approach for fact-based decision-making about complex issues.
Hoping to learn more, I asked the forestry staff if I could see the board’s benefit-cost information. They sent me a summary, contained in the report the board recently released in response to the state law that requires it to provide the public with a “comprehensive analysis” of the economic impact of the proposed rule.
What a disappointment. The board’s report (bit.ly/2l6iwXi) fully describes the costs of logging restrictions: reductions in timber production, timber jobs, and workers’ incomes. But nowhere in its 29 pages does it have a single word about the benefits. Not one.
The report has nothing about the benefits from leaving trees on stream banks to provide more shade to cool the water and boost salmon, steelhead and bull trout populations. It has nothing about the likelihood that restrictions on stream-side logging will reduce the amount of logging-related sediment in streams, which will be good for fish and improve the quality of drinking water supplies for numerous communities. There is nothing about the potential benefits for the outdoor recreation industry from healthier, cooler streams.
Rather than a “comprehensive analysis,” the board’s report contains nothing about the recent research by Oregon State University scientists that shows letting trees grow likely will increase stream flows in the summertime, when fish have critical needs. It has nothing about the positive impacts that would result when trees left unlogged grow larger by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Are these important omissions? Yes. Is there readily available information the board could have used to describe the benefits? Yes again.
The Bureau of Land Management, for example, recently produced data that compare the benefits and costs from reduced logging on the forestlands it manages in Lane County and throughout western Oregon. The result: The recreation and climate-change benefits, alone, exceed the costs by more than 4 to 1.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated the benefits of reductions in stream sediment, and the Forest Service has estimated the benefits of increased stream flows. Economists at OSU have measured the positive impacts of unlogged forests on the value of nearby residential properties. And there’s lots more.
So how did the board produce a “comprehensive analysis” that isn’t? The report was prepared for the board by an economist trained to describe the proposed rule’s benefits as well as its costs. Why did he not do so? If its “comprehensive analysis” of the economic impacts ignores the benefits of logging restrictions, does this mean that the board also ignored them as it developed the proposed rule?
Was all that talk by the forestry staff about weighing benefits and costs a sham?
Getting good answers to these questions is especially important now, when The Register-Guard and other reputable news outlets carry unending stories about distortions of science and facts intended to protect big industries and allow them to continue degrading the environment.
Threats to fact-based government have never been acceptable. But in these times, when these threats are so extreme within the federal government, it is especially important to keep Oregon free of the corruption. Gov. Kate Brown should take a hard look at how this “comprehensive analysis” ignored half of the relevant facts. She should take a hard look to see if her appointees — the members of the Board of Forestry and the head of the Department of Forestry — have an unwavering commitment to fact-based government.
We all need reassurance that, in Oregon at least, facts matter.
Ernie Niemi is president of Natural Resource Economics Inc. in Eugene.