PHILOSOPHY 101

A A friend of mine and fellow forestry graduate, Dale Yelton of Sedalia, Mo. was trying to get his mind around the reasoning for the sorry situation in U.S. Forestry today. There must be a logical reason why a scientific or forestry organization would black-ball a significant discovery in the field of forest insect control, even while an infestation rages across the country. Why would a city or a state forestry agency destroy hundreds of treated and saved pine trees – essentially sweeping scientific evidence under a rug? At the same time, a delegation of Colorado land-owners flies to Washington, D.C., probably staying in expensive hotels, to lobby their congressman to DO something about pine beetles. Why would newspapers boycott a story about natural pine beetle control in the west? Why is it that we have no handle on bark beetle control, after studying the problem for more than 100 years? In 1906, the Wright Brothers were flying their biplanes and we’ve been to the moon and back since then. Why do herds of scientists behave in irrational, destructive ways? I could go on – but you get the idea.

The practice of forestry emerged in middle-Europe hundreds of years ago. Trees were cut, trees were replanted. Timbers for a cathedral in England were cut from 500 year old oaks. It was calculated that the timbers would last 500 years, so new oaks were planted. After the passage of 500 years, the new trees had grown to replace the old timbers. Formulas for calculating allowable annual cut are named after old German foresters, Hundeshagen, Von Mantel, etc. Near the end of the 19th century, while the primordial forest was being cut and burned away in the U.S., a German forester named Schenck started the first forestry school at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Early students included Gifford Pinchot. When President Theodore Roosevelt saw the need to preserve large portions of the public domain for forests, he calls Gifford Pinchot into his office. The two men simply delineated the boundaries of all the western forest lands to be preserved for the practice of forestry. The idea was to assure a steady stream of wood, water, wildlife, forage and recreation from a new National Forest system. Twenty five percent of the gross timber receipts were to go to finance local public schools. The rest went into the U.S. Treasury. Through forest protection from fire, insects and disease and responsible management, wood products would flow from this resource into perpetuity.

During the Great Depression, the McIntyre-Stennis law allowed the government to buy up worn out, abandoned farmland within certain boundaries, creating the national forest system in the east. The entire Nebraska National Forest was afforested – planted on bare ground. Today, the U.S. Forest Service manages 191 million acres of land all over the country. By the 1960s the National Forest system was cutting and replacing trees, protecting from fire, insects and disease and returning an annual surplus to the U.S. Treasury. It was calculated at that time, that forest fires, insect infestations, and tree disease EACH consumed more timber than the timber industry. The frontier for producing more wood lied in pushing back against the natural tide of insects, disease and fire.

A new paradigm began to develop after the 1960s. Up until then, forestry was a male chauvinist preserve. Suddenly, with the feminist movement, public agencies had to find qualified females to fill nearly 50% of their total staff. Qualified male forestry graduates were turned away en masse; old foresters sent to pasture prematurely, while an army of females – mostly with distant qualifications – filled the open slots. At the same time, the environmental movement blossomed. Environmentalists looked at clear-cut’s as an evil. Fields of stumps were considered a blight. Pressure groups, such as the Sierra Club fought to eliminate timber cutting from public lands. There was a paucity of professional voices to rebut the environmentalist claims. So, over the 70s and the decades beyond, timber cutting on the national forest system essentially stopped. Remittances to local public school systems stopped. The western logging industry dried up, towns went bust. But, hey, these were small places, like Elgin, Oregon, Carson, Washington, Libby, Montana, and Edgemont, South Dakota. Lawyers and activists from places like Los Angeles, New York and New Jersey can’t see the forests they “protected” or the towns they destroyed.

A lesser-known factor comes into play. This is the rising cost of health care. I heard a story from an old Washington logger once, when I was on a fire patrol. He told of logging days in the ’40s, driving to a clear-cut in a “crummy” (a “crummy” is a vehicle used to transport a logging crew to a worksite – usually a Chevy panel truck.) The logging “show” was a clear-cut on a steep slope, over 100% grade. There was a spar tree rigged out on the landing at the top of the slope. Choker setters were hooking logs to a high lead line. A donkey engine pulled the logs up the slope to the landing. A stout, steel cable strung from the spar tree to a pulley at the bottom of the clear-cut did the lifting. Suddenly, the cable snapped. The end whipped around and took off half of the skull of one of the choker setters. The show stopped as the crew carried the corpse up the slope to the landing. The leader said: “Okay. Back to work. There will be a couple more of those by the end of the day.” The entire crew quit and walked down the road.

Yep, logging is dangerous. It is considered to be, along with coal mining, the most dangerous occupation in the country. It is also relatively low-paying. Workman’s Compensation laws balance the risk of injury with the salaries of employees to arrive at a formula for calculating insurance rates. Typically, rates for the logging industry run to 50% of payroll. That is: for every dollar of gross pay per employee, an additional 50c is paid to an insurance company to hedge against the risk of injury or death. By comparison, the workman’s compensation rate for a typical office worker is less than 1% of payroll. Rising health care costs and stagnant wages for woods workers would stretch this formula to intolerable levels, making the whole proposition of woods work ridiculous. The only way for timber crews is to organize themselves into small units. The boss is not required to be part of the system and can keep a closer eye on safety. This tends to favor small fly-by-nite operators who can simply fold up and move away after a disaster.

In Canada, the situation is better. They have a national health care system. Injured loggers can get care without creating a financial disaster. Canada has a workman’s compensation law, too. But, a lot of the extra risk is spread over a larger pool of workers, using a less-expensive medical care system. So, loggers in Maine would pay a 50% workmen’s compensation rate, while workers just across the border, in New Brunswick, working in the same type of timber, pay only 5%. This makes a big difference. Canada has a thriving timber industry, while ours has stagnated. You can see idle forests all over the state of Washington, while there is active logging and state-of-the-art silviculture just across the border in British Columbia.

What do we do with these idle forests out west? There is, at least 100 million acres of them. Campers and sight-seers look at only a tiny slice of it. The rest might as well be on the planet Mars. A motorist can cross the Columbia River on the Bridge of the Gods, head north through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest of Washington State and travel over 100 miles of gravel forest roads without seeing a single billboard, store, house or commercial development – all the way to Ohanapekosh, the south entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. All of this is unused, productive forest to this day.

Adrian is the fire guard of Desolation Guard Station, a 108 square mile remote forest area. Umatilla National Forest, summer 1967.

Adrian is the fire guard of Desolation Guard Station, a 108 square mile remote forest area. Umatilla National Forest, summer 1967.

I was a Fire Guard at a place called “Desolation” on the Umatilla National Forest in eastern Oregon in the summer of 1967. My territory was a 108 square mile area on the upper reaches of the Dale district in the Blue Mountains. This entire forest had burned in the great Idaho fires of 1910 and had re-seeded with dog-hair stands of Lodgepole pine, with big fire-resistant Western larches scattered here and there. I was connected by old-fashioned hand-crank telephone and a walkie-talkie to Bob, the

Bob Wright, the towerman at Desolation Butte, Umatilla National Forest, summer 1967.

Bob Wright, the towerman at Desolation Butte, Umatilla National Forest, summer 1967.

towerman at Desolation Butte. A line of dry thunderstorms would pass over the mountains in an evening and dry lightning would flash. Bob would keep track of where the lighting would strike, and by first light, he’d pinpoint a little smoke somewhere in the far-off forest. With his Brunton firefinder, he could locate the fire within a 40 acre spot on the map and relay the coordinates to me. I would take of with my fire pack and my car and drive to the end of the road. Using triangulation and dead-reckoning, I’d find the spot – usually by noon – and put the little fire out. I’d roll out my paper sleeping bag and spend the night, walking out the next day. I put out about a dozen of these that summer, protecting the forest from another big fire each time.

Chatting with the towerman.

"I talked to the towerman. We chatted about the Arborgast store in Dale, Oregon, the whereabouts of ‘Merk‘, my boss and the old whorehouse across the border in Orofino, Idaho." (Bob

In 2001, I returned to Desolation Butte, Oregon. I talked to the towerman. We chatted about the Arborgast store in Dale, the whereabouts of “Merk”, my old boss, and the old whorehouse across the border in Orofino, Idaho. While we were talking, smoke was billowing up from a fire north of us around Ukiah. Seems like the Forest Service was slow getting an initial attack on it. The smoke chasers should have been on it yesterday, when the lightning hit, allowing it to grow to 60,000 acres and thereby employ hundreds of firefighters and air tankers. Nice going. What a great way to extract money out of a forest without having to harvest trees! I looked around the Desolation Butte tower, and the entire forest, in all directions, had been burned off in 3 separate fires.

Forest Service was slow getting an initial attack on the it allowing it to grow to 60,000 acres....

"While we were talking, smoke was billowing up from a fire north of us around Ukiah. Seems like the Forest Service was slow getting an initial attack on the it allowing it to grow to 60,000 acres...." (Snags in the foreground are from repeated forest fires.)

The Forest Service now burns about 6 million acres of forest every summer out west. Too bad. But, they successfully milk the Federal treasury of billions to put fires out. What a great system! Beetle killed timber burns better. Live trees aren’t worth anything anyway. You can now see why the bureaucrats in government don’t want to see a remedy for this age-old pine beetle problem!
But, what about all this knowledge, all the PhD’s employed by government? Well, for every PhD in a government position (I didn’t say job, or work, or anything like that!); there were about 100 unsuccessful applicants who will have to piss-off, wait tables or sell cars instead. The folks in the positions know that. The first thing they wish to do is keep their positions unto retirement. This means – no controversy, no deviation from the norm! Innovation is controversy! So, we have a century of no-progress in fighting tree insects and disease and recovering the timber that is our right. The only new ideas are those presented by the chemical pesticide industry – for a price. Those folks have Congress all bought and paid-for. Instead, we go to the Wailing Wall, eating lotus leaves with the cognoscenti at Copenhagen – and lay it all on Global Warming! What a nice kettle of fish!

x Adrian S. Juttner, 2011