The President’s Agenda: Timber

The federal timber wars have been raging for decades. I say the next president should end them.

The U.S. Forest Service manages millions of acres of forest plantations: artificially established monocultures that were hand-planted following clear-cuts or natural disasters. These areas should be aggressively managed for optimal timber production, and all other federal lands should be off-limits to timber production.

Like grazing, timber harvests are a tremendous source of conflict. No matter the objective, and there are valid conservation reasons for harvesting trees, someone will object. Someone always objects. The next president could remove all the costs, uncertainty, and conflict involved in timber production on federal lands.

My proposal is simple: inventory all plantations on federal lands; determine the level of board feet needed over a set period of time by timber type – the Obama administration wants three billion board feet a year – and then; establish a rotation schedule of sustainable harvests. Remove these areas from all environmental oversight and appeal and political nonsense. All that is left is a brief fight over which plantations would be selected for the program.

Even in northern spotted owl range, environmentalists support thinning in plantations. This is because plantations have limited wildlife value. I support plantation harvests because this policy would remove the uncertainty from future timber harvests, returning some sense of security to those timber communities that win the plantation raffle. My plan would also save the taxpayers’ money by removing these projects from endless and expensive environmental analysis and litigation.

At first, I though some level of environmental review would be required, just to make sure some sensitive species hadn’t decided to take up habitat in a plantation. But then I recalled all of my experience with “clauses” like this in environmental law, and the obnoxious lawsuits and pathetic federal responses that are the result of such wishy-washy thinking, and the really obvious solution to ending the timber wars once and for all is to state unequivocally that these plantations are set aside for nothing but timber supply.

Simplify. Free the Commons.

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