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Dysfunctional Forest Service needs an attitude adjustment

by By TOM HORELICK
| October 27, 2023 7:00 AM

I recently read the article published in your paper “Stimson Lumber Owner Expresses Criticism of U.S. Forest Service” (CEO Andrew Miller) with great interest.

After being in the logging/sawmill/forestry business for about 50 years I appreciated his comments.

It’s about time! Thank You.

At my age, I see no reason to worry about being tactful or “stepping on toes” so to speak. For the last few years I’ve been introducing myself when needed as “a washed up gypo logger, half retired and half working, and not doing either very well.”

It disgusts me how dysfunctional the USFS has become. I’ve always been a strong supporter of the timber industry and forest management.

I couldn’t agree with Mr. Miller more when he says we need more small scale thinning projects. I’ve been squealing for years on that exact thought, only to be howling at the moon with little success. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from do nothing Forest Service personnel, “It’s just as much work to put up 5 million board feet as it is 5 thousand.” Now you can substitute 50 million with the same result. Nothing.

Long story, but I had a small sawmill for about a dozen years in Libby that morphed into a very good business, but hit a major roadblock forcing me to give up and sell it. In the middle of 2.25 million acres of National Forest I couldn’t get logs!

We only needed about 1,000 to 1,500 board feet per day of good logs (1 truckload per week) and couldn’t live off my own projects (mostly small wood) and what I scrounged out of people’s back yards.

No more Forest Service small sales, deck sales, salvage projects, etc. while I watched about 40 million feet (roughly 8,000 truckloads) off the Kootenai blow right past my yard on their way to Idaho.

Nothing personal and not just Supervisor Benson, but when I begged and pleaded for years, Mr. Miller says Benson is “really not interested.”

Amen.

I am so tired of the worn out mantra by the Forest Service blaming litigation and the judge in Missoula for their inept timber sale program. Now I understand things are complicated and I’m not privileged to back room meetings and high level planning decisions, but common sense tells me when you throw out a 60 million BF sale (or about 12,000 loads), it’s got a huge bulls eye on it right from the get go that has “Friends to Stop This or That” drooling for some action, or inaction.

Libby has a critical need for wildfire protection and I think it’s mostly luck we haven’t become a Paradise, California.

The Kootenai Complex was given $19.3 million (yes, you read that right) for wildfire mitigation (circa Sept. 2022). Our county fiscal watchdogs published a slick magazine to enlighten residents with nice color photos and graphs, with creative “Mortality” statistics that aren’t worth the ink they’re printed with.

Then in another fiscally prudent move, they gave their blessing to our local paid resource consultant for a $10,000 plus junket to Washington D.C. to “Thank” the head of the Forest Service, Randy Moore, for HIS generosity (I’m not making this up). Who ever heard of such a thing? I wonder if a nickel actually came out of Mr. Moore’s own pocket?

How many acres would $10,000 treat?

So here we are in Lincoln County in the middle of probably the most productive forest in the Inland Northwest. No timber sales, Idaho Forest Group (our “local” mill in Moyie Springs,

Idaho) sweating bullets over log supply, Stimson reducing shifts, all while a wildfire threat looms in the actual Urban Interface which would generate useful wood fiber; all while not much gets done by our federal land managers other than spending their waking hours blaming the “enviros” and Judge Malloy, while their 3 eggs-in-one-basket projects go bust.

Maybe it’s time for the Forest Service to take a deep breath, look in the mirror, and start an attitude of what can we do, instead of accomplish nothing other than keep doing the same thing over and over.

Albert Einstein has a famous quote for that.

Mr. Miller hits in right on the head when he says, “We’ve said not to mix big forest projects with (Wildand Urban Interface) projects. These big, complicated projects, a judge is going to find something to stop a project.”

In the words of another famous philosopher, Larry the Cable Guy, “Git ‘er done.”

Tom Horelick lives in Libby.