Boise Cascade to blame for waning timber supplies

This is a classic case of ""cut and run"" exploitation of workers that previously wiped out the forests and jobs of the East.

Idaho Statesman
February 22, 2001

Boise Cascade to blame for waning timber supplies
Ron Mitchell


George Harad is correct that foolish federal forest management eliminated a "dependable" timber supply and forced closure of Boise Cascade's timber mills.

But my definition of "foolish management" is different from his. Instead of providing for sustained logging, federal policy allowed Boise Cascade to cynically overcut its timber base to maximize short-term profits. This was done knowing that the result would be exhaustion of timber supplies and the closing of mills.

Harad has blamed the Idaho Sporting Congress (ISC) and President Bill Clinton, but, in fact, it was the ISC that fought for long-term sustained logging for workers in the local economy, against Boise Cascade's short-term profit exploitation.

The mill closings are a classic case of a "Tragedy Of The Commons," in which a resource owned by all the citizens, or a "commons," is degraded by the excesses of one user. Boise Cascade has given a brusque backhand alibi to Idaho's people as it cashes in and absconds with Idaho's riches to more immediately profitable environs in Canada, Chile and Russia, while falsely claiming that timber supplies were suddenly cut off. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Boise Cascade decided in the 1980s as the Boise and Payette National Forest Plans were developed, that they would maximize short-term profits instead of long-term sustainability. It was a deliberate, corporate decision.

I sat across the table from corporate and union officials in negotiations in the 1980s as the Forest Service laid out maps and statistics showing exactly how much timber was available. The logging limits had been set by the National Forest Management Act of 1976, allowing logging until it began to damage fish and wildlife habitat. At that time, that restriction was already exceeded, but industry decided to ignore it.

We all knew that about 30 to 40 million board feet a year could be cut on both forests in conjunction with Boise Cascade and state lands and sustain a timber economy indefinitely. But Boise Cascade, Evergreen Forest Products, Potlatch and union leaders opted for logging to maximum mill capacity, at 70 to 90 million board feet a year of federal, public timber. I begged union leaders to consider their workers. They docily deferred to the corporations who gambled that no one would be able to enforce the NFMA logging limits.

They were wrong. Five years ago, they hit the wall of NFMA limits, and ISC sued to protect the public's fish and wildlife interest and won in federal court because they had simply cut too much. Boise Cascade had literally cut their workers out of house and home.

This is a classic case of "cut and run" exploitation of workers that previously wiped out the forests and jobs of the East. Even if we never sued and Clinton had never been born, and Boise Cascade was allowed to cut the public's last scraps of prime wildlife habitat in roadless areas, they'd have to shut down in five years.

Boise Cascade leaves enriched by a short-term timber gold rush and abandons a ravished landscape. Trout and salmon streams and wildlife are severely depleted. The famous South Fork Salmon and upper South Fork Boise River are devastated. The Washington Post, Seattle Times and New York Times visited Idaho to report the carnage.

The public is left to pay the price in five ways: we paid Boise Cascade to log the forests, since it was subsidized by federal tax dollars; we pay for flood damage; we pay for lost fisheries; we pay with a broken timber economy and jobs lost; and we will pay for restoration of the damaged fish and wildlife habitat.

And Boise Cascade has the gall to blame the victims, the public. It is the height of multi-national corporate arrogance.

Ron Mitchell is executive director of the Idaho Sporting Congress.

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