Thursday, June 18, 2009

Figures Lie and Liars Figure

In an earlier post (Fun With Numbers: I decried the fear mongering associated with the idea that nearly all of our original forests (virgin forests in the vernacular) were gone. One of the most cited examples of that “problem” is this one: “…only 16% of the original 800 to 850 million original acres of “well-formed, commercial forests” were left by 1920.” I have never been able to get to the root of that particular deception.

Well I have finally done it! Recently, while reviewing some papers for further subjects in this series, I ran across a Forest Service Report from 1920. In February 1920 the 66th Congress of the United States passed a resolution (Resolution 311) directing the Forest Service to prepare a report, “…detailing the facts as to the depletion of timber, pulp wood and other Forest Resources of the United States,” and to discover whether that was responsible for the high cost of materials.

The Forest Service dutifully went off and in the following three and a half months, put together the requested report[1]. There, under a section entitled Present Forest Area, is a table (Table 3, below) that displays the original and present forest areas in the United States by regions. The table lists original forest, present total and present virgin forests. They estimate the original forest at 822,238,000 acres and the present virgin component at 137,396,000 acres and that virgin component is indeed a little over 16% of the original. However, the section also informs us that along with this “virgin” component there were also 112 million acres of second-growth sawtimber and 133 million acres of second-growth below sawtimber size. Also, the authors say they exclude “…100 to 150 million acres of low grade woodland and scrub…” from both cases (presumably, both the present forest and the original forest). Another 81 million acres was non-restocking.[2] Therefore, there were in 1920 463 million acres of forest compared to 922 million acres originally, or 50% of the original remained not 16%.

Virgin timber is defined in the report as “…Compris[ing] stands in which there is no net growth, such growth as takes place being lost from decay and other causes.” In other parts of the report, however, ‘virgin’ seems to refer to stands or areas which have not been logged. The transmittal letter conveying the report to Congress states that “The virgin forests of the United States covered more than 822 million acres”, a number corresponding with the total ‘original’ forest in Table 3.

The Rocky Mountain figures, being that those forests are still nearly intact in 1920, may be a good place to try to get a toehold on what the Forest Service considered a 'virgin' forest to be. Given the fact that the report states that in the Rocky Mountain region, 95% of the original forest remains but only 59% of it is 'virgin', that designation apparently does not refer to just uncut forest. If we add the 3 million acres of removals in the Rocky Mountain region back in and assume all of it was from the 'virgin' component, we see that, at best, the 'virgin' forest in the Rocky Mountains was never considered to be more than 64% of the total. It would seem that these 'virgin' forests may or may not have been logged, but at present (in 1920) are showing " net growth because losses from various consequences equal or exceed gains from growth." This is essentially a description of what is today called “old growth” and likely refers to fully-stocked forests over 150 years or more in age. It may or may not include logged forests, especially those logged 100+ years previously which would retain little or no evidence of that activity. Given the natural disturbance regimes of temperate forests, I would doubt if any regional level forest area truly had “virgin” forest over a third of its total acreage.

A map in the report noted as figure 1 shows the ‘principal sawtimber’ sections and refers those to a table of acreages. Those acreage totals correspond to the totals for “present” forests in table 3. As those ‘principal’ areas do not correspond to the total area of each region (i.e. all of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and the southern half of New York are left out). They instead seem to signify core areas of relatively high timber production that can be recognized to this day. One could therefore assume that the ‘present’ forest in table 3 represents a substantial undercount of total forest in the United States.

Figure 1

A map series produced by the Forest Service in 1925 (Figure 2) follows this same depletion theme and indicates substantial reductions by agglomerating a series of dots, each representing 25,000 acres of forest. This would suggest that areas smaller than that were not counted as the areas in the west that were reported as being 95% intact show the same reduction as the eastern forests. One can see, also, by the way that the forests missing in Figure 1 now show as forest in Figure 2 (the 1850 map)! Best intents, perhaps, but difficult to align all of the numbers, definitions and maps in a way to make sense.

Figure 2

A final note about this idea about the extent of the original and subsequent forests is contained in a section of the report titled, “Basis For Data”. It begins thusly:

Before taking up the various timber regions the basis for the data used should be given. It should be recognized that thoroughly reliable data on such subjects as the remaining stand of timber, its quality, rate of growth, and extent of depletion, and on the forest areas of different classes, can be obtained only by a thoroughgoing timber survey requiring two or more years. Nothing of this character has ever been attempted in the United States.”[3]


“For hardwood stands in particular the available estimates are not satisfactory. The Bureau of Corporations study covered only the hardwoods of the southern Mississippi Valley, which were at that time regarded as having comparatively little value, and satisfactory estimates could not be secured…”[4]


“The data on forest areas have been compiled from a great variety of sources secured for different purposes by different organizations with varying degrees of accuracy. For several of the classifications such as productive and unproductive areas, the data are fragmentary”[5]

The Service was tasked to produce a far-reaching, very detailed report on subjects never before studied in any systematic fashion, and do it in three and a half months. The result was a valiant effort and probably adequate to the task for which it was undertaken, but is useful in our age principally for historic curiosity. In the end it is much more likely that the current estimates of a billion acres of original forestland being reduced by 300 million acres are closer to the truth, and that in 1920 there still remained something substantially north of 50% of the original forested estate left.

It is a particular tactic of the environmental media effort to take a basic obscure statement from a research paper or historical record and use it unanalyzed and out of context to support a theme de jour. This gives their point the apparent imprimatur of legitimacy when in reality it is the basest form of sophistry. We will find this technique repeatedly in environmentalist literature and will likely make note of it again as I work through this series.

[1] Greely, William B., Timber Depletion, Lumber Prices, Lumber Exports, and Concentration of Timber Ownership – Report on Senate Resolution 311, USDA-FS, June 1, 1920, GPO
[2] Sawtimber stands or areas contain trees that are of “…sufficient size for manufacture into timber.” Elsewhere, they are “…stands of sawtimber size in accordance with the prevailing logging and milling practice of the region concerned.” Cordwood areas simply have no sawtimber. Growing areas have stands of all sizes and a positive net growth. Nonrestocking areas “…once supported a stand of timber, which is now gone, and which is not being renewed.”
[3] [3] Greely, William B., Timber Depletion, Lumber Prices, Lumber Exports, and Concentration of Timber Ownership – Report on Senate Resolution 311, USDA-FS, June 1, 1920, GPO
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Land Sakes I

To properly understand the current issues facing the Forest Service one needs the context that comes with a knowledge of it’s history. I will attempt in the next few posts to outline those antecedents in terms of U.S. land policy, governmental and economic philosophy and cultural change. As you might imagine, this is a complex undertaking and I will only be able to skim those subjects sufficiently to develop my theses on how we got to the current state of affairs in the Service. I welcome comments, corrections and discussion if kept on a civil level.

For a hundred years, foresters-in-training across the United States have been regaled with the story of intemperate robber-barons of the 19th century destroying vast expanses of old-growth forest across the eastern United States. This led, so the story goes, to a fierce public backlash and the demand for action by the federal government to “do something.” On cue, two heroes step forth (in the form of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot) and rescue the threatened woodlands from the scalawags and put them (the woods) on the road to salvation through the application of enlightened science and hard-nosed regulation. Protection thus assured and the public protected our heroes, the Foresters, ride off into the woods on their white horses to continue their crusade to this very day.

A story to fit a Hollywood dream to be sure, but are there cracks in this ivory exterior? In a society oriented around and built upon the idea of rugged individualism and control over government excess, how is it that 230 years after its founding, the government is in the business of restricting access to and use of public land? If scientific management oriented to a flow of resources was the basis of scientific management of these “National Forests” in 1905, why the raucous debate about just that now, 100+ years later? Why, for that matter, is raw politics now substituted for science in the management of the forests? What has changed and are the forests the better or the worst for it?

Land Policy: First Settlement to the Founding

We have learned in previous posts that the Federal government owns 650 million acres of land. That is a staggeringly high percentage of government ownership of land and resources in a free society supposedly based on the beliefs of the founding fathers that the cornerstone of our freedom depends upon the widest possible distribution of land securely protected under a system of private ownership of property.

Why is it that, in a country that nearly from its very start valued private land above all other things, and distained governmental imposition into private areas, eventually got into the land ownership and production business? To answer that, requires some background in the American conception of land, its use and ownership and the antecedents of those ideas.

The founders as a group were very well-read men and well aware of English and European history, philosophy and economics and they picked and chose from this knowledge to form the concepts from which the new government arose.

They knew that in Plato’s conception, private property would be eliminated and all affairs would be run by elites. They were also well aware of their own antecedents in America and that those experiences were antithetical to Plato’s assertions. They knew, for instance, of the effects of communal ownership on the Plymouth Colony in 1620.

That colony was a business venture run by investors in London and was set up for a profit. The venture capitalists that loaned the money set such rules as would guarantee, to the extent possible, that the activities of the settlers in the New World would be oriented towards that profit. The fact that they would be beyond reach presented very real risk that, once removed from the investor’s immediate control, the settlers would become independent of and break away from their agreements. To avoid these risks the company insisted that “…all accumulated wealth was to be ‘common wealth’, or placed in a common pool, (so the investers could feel reassured) that the colonists would be working to benefit everyone, including themselves.”[1] For seven years, the settlers would work the land, sending 50% of their production home to England and dividing the rest equally among themselves. After 7 years, the debt would be paid off and the Pilgrims could continue the settlement as they saw fit.

In practice, however, production was abysmally low, so low in fact that starvation was a very real condition, and newcomers found those in the original complement with “…no bread at all, only fish or a piece of lobster and water.”[2] Older men complained of having to work the same as younger men; the younger that they worked much harder. Single men complained of working “…for other men’s wives and children, without any recompense.”[3] Men’s wives in their turn were “…commanded to do service for other men, dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands brook it.”[4] Other more or less egregious examples of problems presented themselves until, at last, as regarding the problems of attempting the “common course and condition” – or communal management of the land as agreed to in the articles of incorporation, Bradford reports, “…that the community was afflicted by an unwillingness to work, by confusion and discontent, by a loss of mutual respect, and by a prevailing sense of slavery and injustice.”[5]

The colony had been struck by the “free rider” problem. That is those who don’t contribute in equal measure are still able to receive in equal measure. In this case the lack of contribution could, and nearly did, result in the failure of the colony. Bradford then converted the land into private property, “…which brought ‘very good success’”[6]

The Framers of the Constitution understood property to be the foundational right that made all other liberties secure. They also saw private property as essential to the prosperity of the community.[7]

James Madison stated,"In civilized communities, property as well as personal rights is an essential object of the laws, which encourage industry by securing the enjoyment of its fruits."

Of the founding fathers, Jefferson is probably among the most quoted because of the large amount of his writings that still exist. In terms of land owned by the government, Jefferson wanted to get rid of all of it. He just wanted to give it away because he believed that a society of small farmers would be the most agreeable form of society for the new country. Hamilton, for his part, wanted to sell it all off to pay for the national debt remaining from the Revolutionary War.

Jefferson, a dedicated student of Anglo-Saxon history, advocated the ancient notion of land ownership practiced by the Anglo-Saxons before the Norman invasion of England:

“…Our Saxon ancestors held their lands, as they did their personal property, in absolute dominion, disencumbered with any superior, answering nearly to the nature of these possessions which the Feudalists term Allodial.”8]
In a letter to Edmund Pendleton in 1776 Jefferson spoke to his conception of the disposal or use of unclaimed American lands.

The opinion that our lands were allodial[9] possessions is one which I have very long held, and had in my eye during a pretty considerable part of my law reading which I found always strengthened it”[10]
There was some question as to the efficacy of using the lands to bring a revenue stream to the public treasury or to manage them as tenure where tenants would have only the use of the land in exchange for services to the government. In the first instance he was distrustful of setting up a system whereby the government would be “…independent of its revenue” That is, could a government that didn’t have to depend on its governed citizens for the means by which to govern be trusted to maintain the protection of those same citizens as its main purpose. In the second instance, the system of tenures is, specifically, feudalism[11]. To that he said:

“Is not it's history well known, & the purposes for which it (i.e.Feudalism) was introduced, to wit, the establishment of a military system of defence?

Was it not afterwards made an engine of immense oppression? Is it wanting with us for the purpose of military defence? May not it's other legal effects (such as them at least as are valuable) be performed in other more simple ways? Has it not been the practice of all other nations to hold their lands as their personal estate in absolute dominion? Are we not the better for what we have hitherto abolished of the feudal system?”[12]
Jefferson also disagreed with Hamilton on the idea of the government selling the unclaimed lands to pay off Revolutionary war debts but, rather, advocated either to let the land be claimed by those who would use it (though he was clear that he thought they should appropriated in “small” quantities of 100 to 200 acres). He thought the country would eventually make more in economic activity than would ever be gained from outright sales that the country was in no position to monitor, saying “…They will settle the lands in spite of everybody.”[13] In this he failed as one of the first actions taken by the Congress under Washington’s administration was the passage of the “…Public Debt Act of August 4, 1790, which declared that the proceeds from the sale of public lands are ’hereby appropriated toward sinking and discharging the [national] debts’”[14]

What all of the founders did agree on was that they had land in gracious plenty and a largely subsistence economy combined with a small population. Despite the tendency of modern environmental thought to the contrary, the early land disposal methods were not short-sighted or foolish. Land and resources without the workforce to use it has little economic value. The problem for them was to increase the value of that land and, hence the national economy, by populating it with families that would use it to help the country to grow and prosper.

"Unhampered by the dying vestiges of a feudal order, America could create a mobile, industrial society without having to destroy and ancient anti-industrial heritage. America, however, had to overcome economic deficiencies, primarily insufficient population and capital.” [15]
This period of American history established that freedom is inextricably intertwined with private property, that land is the major property that can create wealth for the individual and that, in the interest of economic well-being of the country, all public land should be transferred to individuals as quickly as possible.

[1] Bethel, Tom, Http://www.,/publications/digest /3242801
[2] Ibid
[3] North, Gary, Puritan Economic Experiments, Institute for Christian Economics, Tyler, Texas
[4] Ibid
[5] Bethel, Tom, Http://www.,/publications/digest /3242801
[6] Ibid.
[7] James L. Huffman, J.D., Dean and Professor at Lewis & Clark Law School (I have lost the specific citation)
[8] John P. Foley, The Jefferson Cyclopedia-A Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson, The Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1900
[9] Allodial land was land which was so unquestionably held to belong to one particular family, free of any outside claims, that further justification for the family's exploitation of it (i.e. a written deed) or its devolving on the family's sons upon the death of the patriarch (i.e. a written will), were deemed unnecessary by the community who were familiar with the circumstances of the family's tenure. Further, the disposition of allodial land was strictly governed by the custom of partible inheritance, and alienation outside the paternal family was strongly discouraged by the common custom

[10] The Jefferson Cyclopedia, Edited by John P. Foley, The Funk and Wagnells Co., New York and London, 1900
[11] Feudalism was brought into England by William the Conquerer. When William asserted sovereignty over England in 1066, he confiscated the property of the recalcitrant English landowners. Over the next dozen years, he granted land to his lords and to the dispossessed Englishmen, or affirmed their existing land holdings, in exchange for fealty and promises of military and other services. At the time of the Domesday Book, all land in England was held by someone, and from that time there has been no allodial land in England. In order to legitimise the notion of the Crown's paramount lordship, a legal fiction - that all land titles were held by the King's subjects as a result of a royal grant - was adopted.
Under the system of feudalism, the lords who received land directly from the Crown were called tenants in chief. They doled out portions of their land to lesser tenants in exchange for services, who in turn divided it among even lesser tenants. This process--that of granting subordinate tenancies--is known as subinfeudation. In this way, all individuals except the monarch were said to hold the land "of" someone else.Historically, it was usual for there to be reciprocal duties between lord and tenant. There were different kinds of tenure to fit various kinds of duties that a tenant might owe to a lord. For instance, a military tenure might require the tenant to supply the lord with a number of armed knights.
[12]The Jefferson Cyclopedia, Edited by John P. Foley, The Funk and Wagnells Co., New York and London, 1900
[13] Ibid.
[14] Anderson, Gary M. and Dolores T. Martin, The Public Domain and Nineteenth Century Transfer Policy, Cato Journal, Vol. 6, No.3 (Winter 1987). Copyright Cato Institute, All Rights Reserved.
[15] Dubofsky, Melvyn, Daniel Webster and the Whig Theory of Economic Growth: 1828-1848, The New England Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Dec., 1969), pp. 551-572 (article consists of 22 pages)

Friday, June 5, 2009

For My Dad On D-Day

65th Infantry Division Shoulder Patch

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The Next day, America declared war on that country. Germany declared war on America the following week (December 11). World War II had started.

My father was drafted into the Army on November 4, 1943, in Northern New York and sent to the processing center at Camp Upton, New York (midway out on Long Island) on November 27.

At this time the 2nd Marine Division had landed on the bloody Gilbert Island atoll of Tarawa the week before and within the space of a week would lose 1500 men, dead.

Camp Upton was a replacement depot where the men were tested and given physicals, etc. and categorized for further training. Dad had been working at a company that made brakes for railroad cars as an apprentice machinist and apparently was able to convince the powers that be that he would be best used in that capacity in the Army.

Thus convinced, the Army sent him to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Aberdeen, Maryland, to be trained as a small arms repairman and where he also went through basic training. It was a lonesome time for a young man from a podunk town in Northern New York. People of normal means didn’t travel very widely in those days or meet very many people outside of their own circle and cultural background. To be 500 miles from home, amongst strangers, some of whom (ie. Sergeants and other non-coms in the regular army) treated you abruptly and poorly, would have been quite a shock (as it was for me 23 years later in Parris Island). He had been married to my mother 30 months prior to this and had an 18 month old baby (my brother) at home and the forced estrangement added immeasurably to his misery.

He left Camp Upton between December 6 and December 13 as his next letter of that date was from Aberdeen where he was to be stationed until May of 1944. He still didn't like the Army; still homesick, but he has realized that, being in an Ordnance Company, he will be at least somewhat behind the front lines (as it turned out it was only 3 to 10 miles behind much of the time). By mid-March, he was well along in his training and contemplating his next move. Rumors abounded about the outfit going to the Pacific (China and the Far East) and he seemed to look forward to that. He was aware of the imminent invasion of Europe and felt that if they didn’t lose too many men there, his outfit would follow the previous company to California and the Pacific.

About this time American forces had begun daylight bombing raids into Germany straight to Berlin. 69 heavy bombers and 11 escort fighters failed to return from that first raid.

He left basic and his military occupational training by the end of April and, after a 30 day furlough, went to another reppo-depot (replacement depot) in Greenville (Camp Reynolds), Pa. to await further orders. He estimated that he wouldn’t be back from overseas until spring of 1946 and told my Grandmother to remember that and see how good a guess it is. Once more he slipped back into a routine Army existence which gave him time to remember how homesick he was and a number of his letters were full of that.

By July he was in Camp Shelby, Mississippi where the Army was putting together and training the 65th Infantry Division.

The Allies had started the European Offensive in June, going ashore in Normandy in one of the most heroic battles of any war, before or since.

Dad would become an ordnanceman in the 765th Light Ordnance Company attached to the 65th. Camp Shelby would be his home for the next 6 months. This place impressed him for size (69 blocks long and 40 wide and they describe the non-built up area by square miles! …There are 67 PX’s and 20 or 22 service clubs. And about 180,000 men, “With no place to go.” He didn’t care for the oppressive wet heat of the south. It is a big job to reconstitute an infantry division and get all its disparate parts working smoothly together and that was nature of the job at Camp Shelby. He was finally in his permanent outfit and going through all of the drills and training required to be able to work efficiently under combat conditions. He had acquired a new son by now--------me.

By early October, they knew they were shipping out to France or England in mid-January.

The ill-fated Market-Garden offensive had by then failed in crossing the Rhine through Holland and the future for the Allied advance looked grim as they entered the brutal winter of 1944-45.

After the usual two-steps-forward-one-step-back routine of the military, the Division was ready to leave Camp Shelby by the end of the year. Dad had gradually been promoted from Private to Corporal during this time.

In January, 1945, the 765th Ordnance Company and the whole 65th Infantry Division took ship for Le Havre, France, reaching there on January 21 and debarking at the cold desolate rubble of the city that remained there on January 22. Ocean travel didn’t impress him much (of course being crowded into a packed troop ship and crossing the North Atlantic in January probably wouldn't impress many even now). They moved up the coast to Camp Lucky Strike to get organized. The camp was unfinished and stark as the Engineers that were building it had been rushed to Bastogne to shore up defenses there and were trapped in the Battle of the Bulge. That battle was just finishing up as the 65th got settled in France.

The Bastogne fight was about the last determined offensive for the Germans and they began to collapse into Germany under pressure from the Allies. The 65th entered its first action in early March taking Saarlautern, breached the vaunted Seigfreid Line in the middle of March and, on March 31, they crossed the Rhine at Kloppenheim. In the first part of April the Division was moving so fast, the Post Office couldn’t keep up and Dad’s first letter since leaving Camp Lucky Strike was written on the 9th of April from Grossensee, Germany. He had been promoted to Sergeant the first of the month. The company was awarded a service plaque for their work in maintaining vehicles, weapons, etc. which allowed all members to wear a gold wreath patch on their right sleeve. They crossed the Danube at the end of April and, on the 7th of May, at the city of Linz, Austria, they learned of the unconditional surrender of all German forces. The war was over.

Dad wrote a letter to my Grandmother on VE day and said they were all wondering if they would now be headed for Japan. He allowed as how he didn’t dread the war over there as much as the boat ride over. After a two-month chase of 750 miles across France and Germany, his war was over and he used to talk of the sad spectacle of the thousands of German prisoners coming through their lines in the days after VE day.

The Army now settled into the routine of an occupying force. Dad was in charge of a section that took in, cleaned, repaired and prepared for storage all manner of military and civilian weapons from .22 rifles to cannons. It was a vast job and he finally got a number of German POW’s to assist in the task. One of them, a metal engraver as a civilian, decorated a German canteen for him (that we now have) using a broken jack-knife blade as a graver. The war with Japan ended in August, the result of two atom bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Dad stayed in Linz until mid-September when he was shipped north, bounced around through various camps in France, Germany and Holland, to eventually land in Brussels, Belgium.

All the talk was of points. The war was over, but in order to go home a man had to have accumulated 85 points. There were millions of men in Europe by then and limited transportation (a boat to America would take a month to make the round trip). A large number had to stay on the war-torn continent to help administer and repair it. Like a forest fire, the mopping up phase is the worst. You got points for your number of active duty months, for campaigns (ie. Central Europe Campaign, Rhineland Campaign----both of which Dad had), for medals, for being married.

By early November, 2 years after leaving home and family, he was in dreary, rainy, Camp Lucky Strike again, and living in tents. They weren’t allowed even to go into Le Havre, as the French didn’t like Americans (typical French). No one was left that he had come to Europe with. The 65th had been disbanded in August and the 765th in October. All of the high-point and married men had gone home and the rest were scattered all over Europe in various repair depots. Another lonesome and trying time.

Dad was finally discharged in Early January 1946 and home in his beloved Northern New York, only missing his 1944 estimate by a couple of months. A remarkable 26 month odyssey for a young man from that podunk town in Northern New York.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Fun With Numbers II

Wood is the only natural resource on earth that is at the same time renewable, recyclable, bio-degradable, and re-usable

In the first installment of this series, we explored the environmentalist idea that somehow, since the first settlement of America in 1607, our native forests have been almost totally decimated. We (or at least I) determined that that is far from the truth. The real truth is that despite a total population that has reached over 300 million souls in the intervening 402 years since the Jamestown Plantation, we still have a forested landscape that occupies 2/3 of what it was when Europeans first stepped foot on the continent.

Think of that: despite the incredible increase in wealth and prosperity this country has enjoyed over 400 years, it only required 1 acre per capita (in today’s population) of the original forest to achieve.

What of the 749 million acres of forestland? What is it, who owns it and what is its condition? Public Law 93-378, 88 Stat. 4765 as amended (the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974) requires the U.S. Forest Service to update statistical information on the Nation’s forest at periodic intervals. The last of these updates was published in 2004[1]. We’ll look at some of what’s contained in this useful document. (You can get your own copy of this publication from the North Central Research Station, USDA-FS). Note: I have not been able to find the tables on the Forest Inventory site that are in board feet, the volume measurement form I am most familiar with. To get that, I made the simple conversion of 1 ft3=12 board feet. Cubic foot is a measure of all the wood fiber inside the bark of a log. Board foot is a measure of the volume of the boards that can be recovered from a log and varies by the amount of taper and diameter in the log. More taper and less diameter results in more waste.

The 749 million acres of forestland is divided about 57% private (including industrial private) and 43% public. The total public land, both forest and non-forest comprises about 650 million acres (29% of the total U.S. land base of 2.3 billion acres). Of this, Federal land is broken down as follows:

Bureau of Land Management – 266 million acres
National Park Service – 78 million acres
National Fish and Wildlife Service – 87 million acres
U.S. Forest Service – 192 million acres

Of the Federal forestland ownership:

Bureau of Land Management – 44 million acres
U.S. Forest Service – 148 million acres
All other – 54 million acres

Federal timberland (2002) is comprised of:

Bureau of Land Management – 18 million acres
U.S. Forest Service – 95 million acres

So, 49% of the Forest Service land base is potentially capable of producing commercial crops of wood products and that represents less than 30% of the total forested public land base.

That, however, doesn’t tell the full story. Just because forest land meets the potential growth and stocking criteria to be considered timberland doesn’t mean that it will be used for that purpose.

For instance under the forest plans completed in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Region I of the Forest Service[2] listed only 42% of its timberland (35% of the total land base) as “suitable” for timber management. To be suitable for timber management, forest land must meet the following criteria: 1) technology must be available that will insure timber production without irreversible resource damage to soils, productivity or watershed conditions, 2) there is reasonable assurance that such lands can be adequately restocked, and 3) for which there is management direction that indicates that timber production is an appropriate use of that area. On one of the Forests in Region I that the environmentalists loved to hate in the battles over the forest plans, the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho, 55% of the timberlands were considered suitable for timber management. In this determination, it was not just the poorer lands that were excluded. Fully 90% of the un-suitable lands were capable of over 50 ft3/acre/yr of growth. A last point in these designations is that project-level plans (i.e. analyses for individual timber sales) can, and typically do, eliminate yet more land from consideration.

There appear to be no national tables to determine these “suitable” lands separate from the more general timberland but it seems likely that a heavily timbered Forest like the Clearwater being only 55% dedicated to timber management would provide a good indication as to what the “timber bias” in the Forest Service looks like. I would estimate that no more than 65 million acres of Forest Service lands are dedicated to timber management under the various forest plans. It is, therefore, likely that less than 1/3 of Forest Service representing 10% of the total federal land estate will ever be designated for harvest.

I have heard the argument that the Forest Service ended up with land no one else wanted and that its productivity is so low that it’s not worth bothering with. That’s a charge worth looking at. As I’ve mentioned before, timberland is any land that that is at least 10% covered in trees and that will produce 20 ft3/acre/year at maturity[3]. That is really not very high production potential and is generally not economical to manage. I believe the lower limit for productivity is probably about 50 ft3/acre/yr.

To put some perspective on this growth figure, you should know that there are 5 “productivity classes” in forest management:

Productivity Class I - 120+ ft3/ac/yr
Productivity Class II - 85-119 ft3/a/yr
Productivity Class III - 50-84 ft3/a/yr
Productivity Class IV - 20-49 ft3/a/yr
Productivity Class V - 0-19 ft3/a/yr

The weighted average growth potential for the entire Forest Service ownership is 71.9 ft3/a/yr. That average is 69.7 ft3/a/yr for non-industrial private timberland and 82.5 ft3/a/yr for industrial timberland. Therefore, the statement is correct on it’s face but not significant in its import. All three of the major ownerships average productivity fall within Productivity Class III. If, as I would propose, the Forest Service concentrates on Class III and above lands for its timber management, it would still have 62 million acres for that purpose (and those lands would average Prod. Class II). That’s close enough to my estimate of where the forest plans came out to suggest that those plans hit the right mark in terms of an efficient timber management base.

Growing stock is defined as “…live trees of commercial species meeting specified standards of quality and vigor. Cull[4] trees are excluded. When associated with volume, includes only tree 5” (in diameter[5]) or larger.” Growing stock is most of the trees you see in the woods. Net growing stock on Forest Service lands (2001) is 3.1 trillion board feet. Forest industry net growing stock is 1.1 trillion board feet and non-industrial private net growing stock is 4.9 trillion board feet.

We in the United States, however, consume 157 billion board feet of softwood products of all types (lumber, plywood and veneer, fuel wood, pulp, etc.) per year[6], 815 bf for each man, woman and child in the country. At that rate, we could exhaust our timber supply in 60 years. Well goodness, how’s that going to work out? Fortunately, we are adding volume to that growing stock at a rate of 284 billion bf per year (2001). Of this net annual growth (again on the three major ownerships) we are harvesting about 115 billion board feet (these are 2001 figures). Along with this we import 33 billion bf of these products per year, mostly from Canada[7], and the remainder of our needs come from other domestic public lands such as states and Indian ownerships. The problem is that, of this total, 29% of this harvest is coming from industrial lands even though they represent only 13% of the timberland base, and another 63% comes from non-industrial lands which represent 57% of the land base. The 19% of timberlands represented by the Forest Service only totaled 2% of the national harvest in 2001, down 84% since 1986.

Think of that: Forest Service timberland, which is growing (net) 48 billion bf of industrial wood annually on its 95 million acres (and losing 23 billion bf in mortality (2001)) can only provide a harvest of 4 billion bf. Per year. Even cutting half of the trees that die could more than double that harvest. Even better, the best Forest Service timberlands can grow nearly the same amount of commercial timber as it does now on all of its timberland, and it can produce upwards of 10 billion bf per year on extended (150+) year rotations. At an average stumpage[8] rate of $240/mbf[9], that would bring nearly $2.5 billion into the national coffers every year forever. All for using 10% of our public lands for timber management and with little or no serious consequences to the “ecosystem”.

So, we’ve got a lot of forestland in the United States and tens of billions of trees on that land and a lot of it is owned by you and me. Along with being a place to play, a wonder to see and a comfort to just know its there, the public forest lands are valuable economic assets. Now I’m not saying that collecting that money is the end-all and be-all of public forest management but I am saying that any time we can have our cake and eat it, too, we owe it to ourselves to take a serious look at it.

Before I close the post today I find it interesting to note that, according to my local paper, the push is on again for more wilderness designations – led, of course, by a New York politician. To put our current Wilderness “legacy” into perspective:

  1. About 16% of the federal estate is designated wilderness and 35 million acres of that is Forest Service land comprised of 400 separate wilderness areas (Another 54 million acres of Forest Service land is inventoried roadless, a designation not identified for the other agencies).
  2. The total designated wilderness acreage in the United States is 105 million acres or 47 million acres excluding Alaska.
  3. This total is:
    1) about the size of California or Japan,
    2) bigger than all of New England including all of New York State,
    3) Three-quarters the size of France,
    4) twenty-five percent larger than Germany.

Further, six percent of Forest Service land (12 million acres) is contained in National Monuments, National Historic Trails, Wild and Scenic Rivers and other like designations.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem like 62,000,000 acres is really that much to dedicate to timber management

[1] Smith, W. Brad, Patrick D. Miles, John S. Vissage, and Scott A Pugh, Forest Resources of the United States, 2002, North Central Research Station, FS-USDA, 2004.
[2] N. Idaho, Montana, part of W. North Dakota
[3] That’s 12 board feet (bf), the traditional timber measurement in the U.S. A board foot is 1” thick and 12”x12” square and there are 12 board feet in a cubic foot. For reference, a typical 8’ 2x4 contains 5.28 board feet. Large quantities of timber are typically reported in 1000’s of board feet or MBF
[4] Cull – a tree or a log that is not at least 1/3 sound
[5] Diameter is measured at breast height which is assumed to 4.5’ above the ground on the high side of the tree.
[6] Ca. 2001 as per Howard, James L., U.S. Timber Production, Trade, Consumption, and Price Statistics 1965 to 2005, USDA-FS, Forest Products Laboratory, Research Paper FPL-RP-637
[7] U.S. Census Data; Howard, James. 2007; and calculations by Gus Raeker
[8] Stumpage – the amount of money paid by harvest contractors for uncut timber: i.e. timber “on the stump”
[9] U.S. Census Data; Howard, James. 2007; and calculations by Gus Raeker