U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, presented numbers that appeared astounding as he made the case that state forestry is better.
Bishop, speaking at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation last week, said that the Idaho Department of Lands has 52 times the volume of timber harvested per acre on its 971,678 acres of forests than the U.S. Forest Service has on 20 million acres. That's 239.4 million board feet per acre to 4.6.
Chairman Bishop said the annual revenue per acre is even more astounding - 917 times more for the state than the federal forests. That's $55 per acre for the state to 6 cents per acre for the national forests.
What Bishop's dinner-napkin math doesn't say is that not all of those 20 million acres are forests. There are only 17.2 million acres of federal forests in Idaho, and a small part of that number is under the Bureau of Land Management.
Of that, more than half - 9 million acres - is roadless, and another 3.8 million is wilderness. Much of the roadless forest is technically open to logging. But, in reality, much of it is either too prone to erosion, too steep or covered in trees that are so low in value that they would not support road-building or the kind of active management practiced on state lands.
That's why in 100 years of management, the Forest Service never built roads to get to the trees in most of those areas.
The Forest Service and the BLM say the total volume of harvestable timber on federal forests in Idaho is 167.6 billion board feet, Gov. Butch Otter said in his testimony before Bishop's subcommittee. But some of that timber isn't worth the cost of gasoline for the chain saws.
Because the Forest Service is the largest forest land manager in Idaho, you can understand why, as Otter said, "it appears to folks in Idaho the federal government would rather see a valuable resource go up in smoke than be harvested."
But there are reasons state and private forests provide more than 90 percent of the wood milled in our state.
First, there's the difference in mission. The Idaho Constitution requires the state to "maximize" revenue from its endowment lands, not think about campers, hikers, ATVers, hunters, watersheds, open space or fish and wildlife habitat - all things the Forest Service has to consider.
Even in the 1980s, when the Forest Service was cutting lots of timber in Idaho, the production was higher from private and state lands because they are managed to produce maximum revenue.
In the days when the Forest Service did try to emphasize making money from logging, it lost support across the West because it was clear-cutting.
No matter how many times the timber industry tried to put a good face on that accepted forest practice, the public just didn't like looking at clear-cuts. Much of the federal forest timber program was shut down by litigation and lack of money for roads, along with water-quality problems and endangered species issues.
Otter noted that timber harvests on federal lands in Idaho are the lowest they have been since 1952. They are actually beginning to rise, however, in part due to the collaborative efforts of timber executives, environmentalists and others to identify timber that can be sold.
Private forests and state forests are, by definition, high-value forests. If they weren't, the owners would have disposed of or traded them in years ago.
But the Forest Service doesn't manage forests for a profit. You don't hear the conservation groups that are supporting new mills and increased timber harvests and jobs complaining about timber sales that lose money.
That's because they know the restoration value for wildlife and fish habitat that comes with timber sales are a part of the cost of managing forests for multiple uses.
Private and state forests are managed for maximum timber harvest. The recreation, habitat and other values that come from those lands are secondary. That's why you can go to some state forests in Idaho and clearly see the difference between them and the federal forests next door.
It's the state forests that are still being clear-cut.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484