The 50-million board-foot timber sale in the Sula State Forest now being prepared by the state of Montana has received about 70 comments, including one from the environmental group Friends of the Bitterroot.
The sale and restoration project covers 8,000 acres of the 23,000-acre Sula State Forest land that burned in the Valley Complex wildfire south of Darby last month. The Friends believe there is no ecological benefit to logging burned areas, and they’re doubtful about the economic benefits as well.
Jim Olsen, FOB president and candidate for Montana House of Representatives, called the Sula offering “gigantic.” Compared with the 2.4 million board feet of timber offered and sold by the Bitterroot National Forest in fiscal year 1999, “gigantic” may well be an understatement.
Olsen believes the state is trying to be first out the door with a timber sale to beat federal and private landowners to the over-supplied timber market.
“We haven’t seen any proposals at all from the Forest Service,” Olsen says. “The big issue is the state. The state’s trying to get out there first.”
He believes the state may be working to get its supply of charred timber to market ahead of both the federal government and private landowners because the lumber market is currently flooded with subsidized timber from foreign countries, notably Canada.
Subsidized foreign timber, combined with more efficient harvesting methods, has put the American timber market in a slump, he said. But timber company bosses, he said, have fed their workers the idea that environmental laws alone are to blame for the economic downturn in their industry.
“Supply isn’t the problem, despite what [the timber industry] says. Darby Lumber went belly-up with a yard full of timber. I think whoever’s out the door first is going to get bidders. But I wonder when you’re truly going to saturate the market.”
As president of Ravalli County’s only environmental group, Olsen believes that there is little, if any, ecological benefit to logging standing dead trees—trees that he notes will store water and provide habitat to a host of forest-dwelling creatures. Logging standing dead timber is an environmental risk that requires rigorous site- and method-specific analysis, he adds.
As candidate for House District 60, which includes the Hamilton and Corvallis areas, Olsen is equally concerned that if the sale does, in fact, attract bidders, the jobs go to local people.
“I’m not anti-logging,” he said. “My comment is that if we do timber sales, nobody knows what the payroll is. There is no guarantee that there will be local workers to cut local wood. If they do cut wood, they ought to hire local people who live in the Bitterroot Valley.”