How big is 'huge?'

Posted: Thursday, February 06, 2003

Aurah Landau's letter regarding Silver Bay Logging's Chapter 11 filing is typical SEACC rhetoric. Silver Bay Logging does have U.S. Forest Service timber sales under contract. Having timber sales under contract does not make them economical to harvest. Many of the sales SBL has under contract were purchased in 1997, just before the lumber market slide to 10-year lows. The timber sales that are profitable to harvest are being harvested in conjunction with some of the timber sales that are not in order to meet contractual obligations.

When environmentalists write letters and use descriptive language instead of facts you can be sure the facts are not nearly as interesting as the description. Take for example this statement from Landau's letter, "... and the Forest Service says that a huge portion of Silver Bays' timber is exported in the round." I wonder just how much "huge" is, don't you? The fact is last year Silver Bay exported 2 percent of the volume it harvested. If 2 percent is huge, I would hate to be the waiter serving at Landau's table when it came time for a "huge" tip.

Landau's letter also shows her upside down logic when it comes to timber sale economics. The fact is the average clearcut size is smaller today then ever, and to call the timber units clearcuts is even getting to be a stretch. The Forest Service has implemented alternatives to clearcutting and have aggressively pursued a policy of tree retention so the current land management guidelines can be met. Timber sales are generally more profitable the larger they are, with the least amount of road building, and with the lowest cost type of logging equipment used. When the pulp mills were operating, for every mile of road built more than 4 million board feet were harvested. Today with the small timber sale just over 1 million board feet is harvested. Last time I looked road building costs have not gone down either. Today more than 30 percent of all timber harvest is required to be harvested using a helicopter. Last time I checked, helicopters the size needed for logging cost over $3,500 per hour to fly. Traditional ground-based yarders cost less than $200 per hour to operate.

The real truth is Landau and her ilk are very happy the timber industry is struggling. Bankruptcy filings are evidence their environmentalist strategies to increase operating costs are succeeding. In the meanwhile, those Alaskans who do work in the timber industry like me might lose our jobs, our homes, and the traditional way of life that we treasure.

Kent Nicholson

Ward Cove

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