Your article on massive tree thinning to make room for the return of ponderosa pine forests (Northern Arizona U. looks back, moves forward, 11/13/95) offers valuable insights to conservationists. The article's claim that thinning is economically viable raises an interesting question, namely, viable for whom?
Big mills have retooled to process the smaller logs, automating operations and reducing the number of employees. The smaller and often family-owned milled are generally equipped to process large logs only. Confronted by competitors with deep pockets who can afford to retool, the small mills often go out of business.
Big mills also create mill-dependent communities and require logging projects dependent on below-cost timber sales doled out by the Forest Service. Small mills, with capacities of 10 million board-feet per year or less, tend to be part of a more diversified local economy and can also be more environmentally and economically friendly.
A move away from corporate welfare and a return to small mills, retooled to handle the small logs through low-interest and publicly financed loans, may be one answer.
Don Smith is an Idaho field representative with Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
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