By Rebekah Rast -
What better example of American folklore then the tales of Paul Bunyan, the Giant Lumberjack. Nothing ever got in the way of him or Babe his Blue Ox companion. Paul Bunyan’s giant ax never left his hand and he loved to harvest timber.
Though Paul Bunyan is a fictional character, his loyalty to the lumber industry is felt by all lumberjacks. Whether chopping down trees, transporting wood or running sawmills, the work required by the lumber industry is not easy.
Now lumberjacks are facing a different challenge — a fading industry. The Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal and state restrictions are jeopardizing an industry critical to America’s past and future.
“This is just another example of an industry being destroyed by the environmental agenda of the federal government,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG).
Richard Krawze was 12 years old when he started harvesting lumber with his brother. They lived on a farm in Northern Wisconsin and had lots of trees on their land.
“When you’re a young person you don’t always know what you want to do,” says Krawze. “I loved living in Northern Wisconsin and I really enjoyed the people in the lumber industry. It was just natural for me to follow through with it.”
Krawze went onto to start his own lumber company in 1969 called Pine River Lumber Company Ltd. He ran the business with a friend, and in its prime it employed 326 people. Now the company employs one full-time employee and one part-time employee.
Elena Forcher’s husband, Thomas Forcher, is the President of Northwest Skyline Logging Inc. in Happy Camp, California. Their small business, started in the 1970s, once employed 25 people, then dwindled to half that and now only employs a few. Most companies in that area have already closed.
“We probably have this year and another year to log,” Elena says. “Hopefully we can sell all the equipment we have and dissolve the business. Luckily we are on our way out of this business and not just getting started in it.”
The Western part of the United States is ripe with stories like these. Communities once dependent on lumber harvesting don’t exist any longer. Professionals in the industry have been forced to move on and find a new line of work. Krawze says that in Northern Wisconsin about 50 percent of sawmills that once thrived with business are now closed. Elena says their town has been devastated and it has impacted every family there.
The main reason: mismanagement of federal lands.
“The federal government has mostly gotten out of the timber business,” says Mark Pawlicki, director of corporate affairs and sustainability for Sierra Pacific Industries in California. “They are managing the national forests so little now that they are creating fire hazards.”
Bob Mion, communications director at California Forestry Association, says timber harvesting is down 90 percent on public lands, including federal lands. Since January 2000, he says 46 percent of sawmills have closed. California, which used to produce 80 percent of its own lumber, now imports 80 percent.
Over the years the federal government has deemed it necessary to close off more and more land to the logging industry. Many in the industry say it started with the Endangered Species Act, and the need to protect the Spotted Owl. Many sawmills in Washington State were forced to shut down because of this species. Come to find out, says Mion, the owl thrives on managed lands, not the untouched, mismanaged federal lands. The owl’s favorite food is a wood rat, Mion claims. “If the forest is overgrown, it can’t see the rat,” he says.
Pawlicki says Colorado is also suffering from overgrown forests. “There is a huge problem of bugs killing trees,” he says. “The forests are too dense and the trees are weak and fighting for water.” Therefore they are easily taken over by the bugs.
Overgrown forests also can emit more carbon into the air. As national forests are left mismanaged because of the federal government’s environmentalist agenda, more greenhouse gases are being emitted into the air.
“We are the only industry that helps air quality,” says Pawlicki. He goes on to say that because timber harvesters must replant much more than they remove from forests, long term studies have shown a reduction of greenhouse gases because younger trees grow faster and absorb more carbon and other gases.
Despite scientific studies proving the benefits of timber harvesting for the environment, the industry still suffers an anti-Mother Earth reputation.
“The environmental community has done a marvelous job at creating a world view that cutting down a tree is a crime; when in fact, you need to take out the old and dying trees to keep forests young and growing,” says Tom Talbot, CEO of Glen Oak Lumber in Wisconsin.
Causing more damage to the industry are environmentalist groups taking their anti-logging cases to court, tying up the approval for timber harvesting permits for years. Pawlicki says if there is no lawsuit against a timber harvesting job the permit process takes about 2 years. If there is a lawsuit, it can take about 5 years.
“Restrictions on the lands and lawsuits have crippled the industry,” Pawlicki says. “In 2009 the industry was half of what it was in 2007.”
Even though state agencies have to follow rigorous environmental rules and steps before receiving harvesting permits, organizations like Center for Biological Diversity take them to court anyways.
“More often than not, it seems like the environmentalists win,” says Damien Schiff, staff attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation in California, who has handled many cases involving the permitting process. “The environmentalist groups will sue the state agency permitting the harvesting. After a while, the agency gives up. In practical matters, it’s the timber harvesters that lose.”
The outcome of lawsuits and less availability of public lands leaves the timber industry with a great loss of resources and jobs.
“The exodus from the timber industry in the last four or five years is tremendous,” says Krawze. “Furniture factories and sawmills continue to shut down on a monthly basis. Young people don’t stay in Northern Wisconsin anymore. They have to head out to find work elsewhere.”
The story is the same for those in the timber industry in other states. Leaving public and federal national forests unmanaged is a waste. Who better to take care of these lands then the families that depend on them for years to come as a way to make a living?
“The government has been destroying this industry for the past 20 years for all the wrong reasons,” Talbot says.
ALG’s Wilson agrees and adds, “The federal government says job growth in the U.S. is a priority, yet it is destroying the timber industry and devastating entire communities of people who depend on this business for their livelihood.”
There are no valid reasons, environmental or not, as to why the government is wiping out this industry. If only Paul Bunyan and his giant ax were real.
Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to the Americans for Limited Government (ALG) News Bureau.