MISSOULA – Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester urge the US Forest Service to substantially increase Montana’s timber harvest.
Some say it’s essential for the survival of the timber industry.
Peter Kolb, the Montana State University Extension Forestry Specialist, says Montana’s lumber mills are mostly dependent on wood from private land. Simply put, this won’t last much longer and without using National Forest Service trees, it could put hundreds of jobs in jeopardy.
Both congressmen set their sights on 300 million board feet a year. That’s the goal the Senators put to US Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell Wednesday. It can sound like a lot, but Kolb says it would take Montana more than 200 years to harvest all of the currently available 5 million federal acres, but there’s a bottleneck: the National Environmental Protection Act.
“If you are 100% anti-logging, you just don’t like logging period, you can use this process to question and delay because every appeal on a federal timber sale has to be taken seriously,” said Kolb.
Not everyone wants more logging in big sky country, and this has seriously slowed the work of Montana’s less than a dozen mills.
“I love our forests. I hate what’s going on in our forests. They’re sick. They’re overcrowded. Is the Forest Service doing a good job? I don’t think you can say so,” said Rich Lane, the log buyer for Willis Enterprises, a chipping plant in Bonner.
Bonner’s plant can still eke out a living without Forest Service land, but if things did change, Lane says it would add more jobs.
“We’d like to do more with the Forest Service because there’s a lot of need for that,” said Lane.
In the last fiscal year, timber production was almost a third of the 300 million mark in Montana’s national forests.
Senator Daines says most of Montana’s sawmills are running at two-thirds capacity or less.