Healthy, thriving forests also drives tourism dollars
We recently revisited an article from the Flathead Beacon (“The Yaak Valley Is Ground Zero for Montana’s Environmental Future,” Nov. 1, 2023), because a certain memorable statement struck us as worth looking into: “Montana’s forest industry is one of the state’s most powerful economic engines—producing 483 million board feet of lumber in 2018, generating $553 million in sales, and employing nearly 8,000 people.” Sounds impressive, but in fact those figures are meaningless without comparison. The annual GDP of the state of Montana in 2018 was just more than $241 billion. Divided out, that $553 million brought in by that “powerful economic engine,” logging, comes to 0.23% of the state’s economic output. That’s 58 cents out of each $1,000. Recreational fishing contributed just short of $700 million to the state’s economy in 2018, and outdoor recreation in general, $2.2 billion. Both, by the way, benefit from intact forests.
Plainly, the numbers do not support the claim that logging is a main driver of Montana’s economy. However, it is indisputable that deforestation is a main driver of climate change. The United States Forest Service would quibble with our use of the word “deforestation” to describe their projects, because technically it denotes the permanent conversion of forest land to, say, a soybean field. But the clearcuts the USFS is increasingly prescribing for our public forest, though they will regenerate—or not, depending on the degree of warming—will not do so fast enough in the brief window of opportunity we have to turn this warming around. They will be effectively deforested until the trees are big enough to capture the same amount of carbon as the forest that they replaced.
Unfortunately, both the USFS and the logging industry have discovered an all-too-effective tactic for rallying support for clearcutting the public forest — fear of wildfire.
No rational person argues against protecting rural American towns and villages from wildfire. It is well documented that protecting the public from wildland fire is best done at the level of the home itself, through adherence to the Firewise Program’s principles of home hardening. The problem lies in the Forest Service’s use of the threat of fire to promote logging of intact, mature forests far from the city limits. Fuels treatments–thinning, not clearcutting–should take place within the federally designated Wildland Urban Interface. We can have safe communities and healthy forests without sending old growth to the mill.
No one needs a reprisal of the timber wars that serve only to widen the cultural divide. Nor is it helpful to use labels, such as “anti-forestry.” There is nothing anti-forestry about preserving and increasing our old and mature forests. Forest management does not have to equal logging; it can also embrace a direction that does not destroy ecosystems that are working in our favor by absorbing and storing carbon.
We need them now more than ever.
Campbell and Fuqua are residents of Yaak, Montana.