More on forest power plays


Page 4


Todd Morgan, a Western timber analyst, says we should make more effort to keep the industry operating in the national forests ...

Montana, for instance, has roughly the same number of mills (about 200) as during the 1980s. But the number of big mills in Montana (at least 10 million board feet per year) has declined from 36 to 17, says Morgan, who's with the University of Montana's Bureau of Business and Economic Research. The small mills use smaller trees to make products like furniture, posts and poles -- instead of lumber.

The annual harvest on Montana's federal land is down 88 percent, while the total harvest on all types of Montana land is down 68 percent.

Environmental restrictions are a major factor forcing the declines, in Morgan's view. "It's not because of lack of inventory -- the amount of standing timber in the forest. We're only harvesting one-sixth of the annual growth, and only one-fourth of the annual mortality."

Morgan goes on: "A lot of people are worried that Montana might go the way of Arizona (where the timber industry has shrunk to nearly nothing). If we lose that part of our infrastructure, and the skilled professionals that understand forest operations, it would greatly diminish our capacity to manage the forests. … It's incredibly expensive now to get forestry work done anywhere we might need it for ecological or social needs (such as reducing wildfire danger around communities). There's less infrastructure to do it, so it costs more or it doesn't get done. It becomes a downward spiral."

About Ray

Ray has been a Western journalist since 1979. He's now High Country News senior editor, based in Bozeman, Montana. He's earned national recognition including a George Polk Award for political reporting, a Sidney Hillman Foundation Journalism Award for investigating oil-field accidents, and an Investigative Reporters & Editors scroll for going undercover as a prison inmate. He's had three novels published.