Logging adapts to beetle epidemic

By Quinn Lance

Everyone has been affected by the mountain pine beetle epidemic, regardless of whether he or she is aware of the issue. One of the main aspects of the epidemic that affects everyone is logging. It only takes a moment to realize how important and how entrenched the logging industry is within the culture of the United States.

Logging is an integral part of our infrastructure, our morning newspapers and trips to the bathroom, just to name a few. As the mountain pine beetle continues to repeatedly kill its tree hosts, concern about maintaining a sustainable and healthy forest is at the forefront of the minds of loggers in the Intermountain West and beyond.

For some, it might be a hard sell to instill a sense of empathy for the American logger, despite all of our reliance on their labor-intensive work. Even nearly 100 years ago, Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, recognized how devastating the logging industry could be when the desire for wealth outweighed the need for conservation.

Some dimensional lumber harvested from beetle-killed trees, like this tongue-and-groove paneling, has a blue stain in portions of the wood. (RUFFIN PREVOST/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

But some companies, like Neiman Enterprises, Inc., adopt a sustainable approach to logging in the West. A major reason this is possible is because the family-owned entity does not have to concern itself with watching the company’s livelihood flash across the New York Stock Exchange ticker.

Jim Neiman, the company’s vice-president and CEO, explained to me over coffee the company’s pluralist approach to logging, why he considers logging to be the most valuable industry for the Forest Service, and how the mountain pine beetle is hurting the logging industry.

Neiman said the company strictly adheres to the principles of sustainable forestry. For example, the second principle stipulates, Neiman Enterprises is obligated to leave the harvested site capable of regeneration and “to protect forests from economically or environmentally undesirable levels of wildfire, pests, diseases, invasive exotic plants and animals and other damaging agents and thus maintain and improve long-term forest health and productivity.” This demanding mandate might be interpreted as more of an economical than environmental reason for logging.

Nevertheless, a realist, Neiman said he understands that not all logging companies are as dedicated to the preservation of the forests and only see the forest environment as another way to make money.

“It is disappointing that certain companies and their unsustainable practices taint the way people perceive the logging industry,” Neiman said. “Having been on the ground and involved in the daily operations of this company for the past 50 years, I understand the dynamic structure of the forest and will not jeopardize the future of our national forests for the sake of profit.”

With powerful legislation now in effect, such as the National Environmental Protection Act, logging companies do not have the same free range they once had. However, just as global climate change affects more than only the citizens of the United States, unsustainable logging practices are a global issue. Neiman spoke of a logging operation in Russia that delivered felled trees to a pulp plant near the logging operation. This plant, in an effort to increase efficiency, pumped the waste it created into one of the largest lakes in Russia with no regard for the environment it relied on for its business.

When discussing the mountain pine beetle epidemic, you inevitably come across a person who sees the current epidemic as destroying our forests. Along the same line, the logging industry, at times, will also receive a “bad rap” for destroying the forest. Yet the pine beetles are an endemic species and intricate part of the forest.

Humans are as well. Years before the arrival of European colonists, Native Americans interacted with the forest with burns that parallel modern day controlled burns. Conceptualizing logging in a similar fashion, Neiman said his company adheres to the seventh tenet of the principles of sustainable forestry,  which “promotes among other forest landowners sustainable forestry practices that are both scientifically credible and economically, environmentally and socially responsible.”

The mountain pine beetle has significantly affected how Neiman does business. Due to the stigma of the mountain pine beetle, many large  lumber yards refuse to sell what he calls dimensional lumber that is derived from a tree that has been killed by the pine beetle. Neiman said this is frustrating for his company and for many other logging companies because the only difference between a tree killed by the pine beetle and a tree unaffected by the pine beetle is the blue stain that remains on the tree killed by the mountain pine beetle.

In response, logging companies utilize the trees not accepted by the lumber market as bio-fuels, which is why this year’s Environment and Natural Resources capstone class at the University of Wyoming is studying the mountain pine beetle.

Regardless of how you view the logging industry or the mountain pine beetle, our forests’ natural cycles will continue to be shaped by these two, and many other, influential entities for generations.

Quinn Lance is a student at the University of Wyoming.

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  1. The statement made that this MPB epidemic is very true – doesn’t matter where you live or even if you have never seen our dead forests. In addition to the USFS and state forest services paying for public education and tree removal (everyone’s tax dollars at work) in Urban Interface Areas, along trails, campgrounds and roadways, and soon along waterways in the first proactive moves to reduce the long term cost, there are many other costs associated with this devastation. Forests are the ‘lungs’ of our planet and they are dying everywhere – over 60 million acres in Western North America alone. And there are studies that indicate this loss will at least double in the next 10-20 years. It does not paint a pretty picture. Forest are inextricably linked to climate, water resources, carbon and oxygen, recreation and tourism, industry and building, and more. Approximately 2 billion megatons of carbon will be released by our current 60 million acres of dead forests – and to compound matters dead trees do not produce oxygen, nor hold soils from eroding into our waterways, nor prevent early snow melt and run-off, nor do they currently provide profitable yields in lumber processing. Simply put, the cycle of sustainability is broken and we must soon realize that we are being irresponsible to not utilize this dead timber to the maximum possible for lumber, as well as many biomass applications. Keep studying and reporting, for in order for changes to be made, the public must understand the massive implications and costs of simply doing nothing and waiting for the inevitable big fire that will result in billions in costs and protective measures. To learn more you can visit our ‘In the News’, ‘Educational Info’, and Info links’ sections on our site at http://www.beetlekillwood.com