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.
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.