Economics will tell us, that at a certain price point, some timber companies will not be able to operate, obviously, in Saskeptic's opinion, (He's seen consistent truck traffic) this point has not been reached yet.
Too bad economics isn't the only factor dictating whether or not logging will occur. If you don't own the land and trees, you won't log. And while there are lots of private lands east of the Mississippi commercially logged, most of the west is owned by government.
Even if you do own the land and trees, you'll log in accordance with environmental rules and regs.
The plain fact is that the timber industry in the United States has been politically decimated beginning with the first Earth Day in 1970 and the passage of The National Environmental Policy Act. The timber industry in the west has been declining ever since. It's a matter of fact. Researchable. Quantifiable.
Not "opinion".The industry in Alaska is virtually gone:
As intended, the Tongass timber sales sustained thousands of year round jobs and a
strong economic base in an otherwise economically depressed region. Sadly, in 1990
Congress passed more legislation - the Tongass Timber Reform Act (TTRA) - that
established additional Wilderness and roadless areas that were allegedly important for
subsistence users but were “missed” in the 1980 package of land withdrawals. The
politicians at that time promised that no jobs would be lost as a result of the legislation,
despite the elimination of the guaranteed annual timber supply mandate that ANILCA
had established as a compromise when the first round of Wilderness, Monument and
Roadless Area set-asides were established (the guaranteed timber supply level was 450
million board feet - net scribner -annually).
After 1990, the industry struggled to maintain operations despite the shrinking timber
supply and as a result, the volume of timber-under-contract was not replenished with new
timber sales and quickly plummeted from over 2,000 million board feet in 1990 to about
100 million board feet in 2007. Most of the initial decline in timber-under-contract was
from long-term timber sale volume; but, the industry had been fully integrated and the
long-term timber sale saw logs were commonly traded for pulp logs and chips or simply
sold to the other sawmills in Southeast Alaska. Consequently, all of the mills were
affected by the loss of the long-term timber sale volume.
TTRA also gave the Forest Service authority to make unilateral contract modifications to
the two long-term timber sales. The changes that the agency ultimately imposed on these
contracts eliminated nearly all potential for profit.
In 1994, the purchaser of the Sitka long-term timber sale closed its pulp mill and
announced plans to construct a medium density fiberboard plant in its place. The
purchaser was negotiating its contract terms with the Forest Service when the agency
abruptly and illegally cancelled its contract.
The market price for dissolving pulp reached an all time high in 1995 and Canadian mills
began bidding more aggressively for native pulp logs from Southeast Alaska, thus driving
the price of pulp logs from about $180/MBF to over $350/MBF. KPC, with the sole
remaining pulp mill in Southeast Alaska, had been denied access to its full contract
volume in the years leading up to this market event and thus was compelled to chip
sawlogs plus pay the unprecedented high pulp log cost in order to keep its pulp mill
operating in 1995. The combined cost of diverting sawlogs to its pulp mill and
purchasing high-priced pulp logs to replace the shortfall in fiber from its long-term
timber sale mooted any benefit from the all-time high market prices. In 1996, after the
pulp market had already declined, the Forest Service appraisal system picked up the high
pulp prices from 1995; and, based on procedures developed pursuant to the unilateral
contract changes that the agency had imposed in 1990, increased the stumpage rate for
KPC from $54/MBF to $144/MBF. This additional stumpage caused an enormous loss
for KPC. The lack of adequate pulp fiber combined with the staggering stumpage
increases made it clear that there was no longer any opportunity for KPC to be successful
in the future.
In late 1996, Ketchikan Pulp Company completed the last of the pollution control
improvements for its pulp mill and then negotiated an early end to its contract. The pulp
mill permanently closed in March 1997; but, KPC attempted to facilitate a future for its
logging and sawmill employees by installing a veneer plant that could utilize the small
low-grade logs that had previously been converted to pulp mill chips. In the months
leading up to this final long-term sale termination, the Department of Agriculture agreed
to a three-year continuation of the long-term timber sale in order to provide adequate
timber for a seamless transition into a future without the long-term commitments.
Unfortunately for the industry and most of the communities in Southeast Alaska, the
seamless transition never happened.
In 1997, the Forest Service adopted a new land management plan for the Tongass and the
agency announced that it intended to switch to “ecosystem management”. Under this new
philosophy, timber sales became a by-product of ecosystem management and attention to
timber sale economics was abandoned. The new land management plan included
extremely costly timber sale design constraints that raised the cost of harvesting timber
enormously. These constraints included mandating that 30-50% of the timber be left
standing in most previously developed areas. The harvesting costs in these areas should
have been very low because the roads were already in place; but, the partial-cutting
requirement instead made these some of the highest cost areas to operate. The partial
cutting requirement also raised grave concerns about worker safety. Other costly
constraints included oversize buffers on non-fish streams, a greatly expanded beach
fringe no-cut buffer and a system of old-growth reserves that set-aside over a million
acres of the highest value, lowest cost timberlands.
As the pre-1997 timber sales were harvested and the newly designed timber sales were
advertised, the economic impact of the 1997 land management plan became apparent and
despite good markets for hemlock, spruce and cedar lumber many of the timber sales that
were advertised during this period appraised enormously deficit due to the high cost
impact of the 1997 land management plan. The region’s sawmills initially purchased only
the economic timber sales, but as the mills depleted their volume of timber-undercontract,
they began worrying about mill closures and losing their customers. In
desperation the mills began purchasing marginal and deficit timber sales and by 2001 the
bulk of the timber-under-contract was comprised mostly of deficit timber sales and the
mills were losing money. About this time, Congress began prohibiting the agency from
offering timber sales that did not appraise with a full profit and risk allowance. In 2003
and 2004 many of the deficit timber sales that had been purchased were mutually
terminated when the purchasers, the agency and Congress all recognized that those highcost
timber sales could never be economic. This legislation eliminated most of the deficit
timber sales, but the agency planners did not have an economic mandate and they
continued to prepare NEPA documents (Environmental Impact Statements) for timber
sales without regard to economic common sense. Consequently, only a small percentage
of the post 1997 NEPA-approved timber sales were actually ever offered. Environmental
activists recognized a new opportunity to obstruct timber sales - they began dividing the
cost of the Environmental Impact Statements by the small volume of timber that was
actually sold and then urged Congress to stop funding timber sales in Alaska arguing
fiscal prudence. Others more rationally argued that it made more sense to fix the
economic problems than to end the timber sales.
As a result of the changes in management of the national forest, the federal timber sale
program has shrunk by about 90%; and, since the Tongass National Forest encompasses
about 93% of the timberlands in Southeast Alaska, the timber industry has similarly
declined. Manufacturing integration, the economy of scale and a supply of timber
adequate for normal sawmill operations were all eliminated as the timber supply
The most recent TLMP Amendment, announced in early 2008, must eliminate these
unworkable prescriptions if there is to be a timber industry in Southeast Alaska. The
Forest Service vows this new plan will support an efficient and sustainable industry. With
minimal timber remaining under contract and with a land management plan that looks a
lot like the failed 1997 plan, the future of the timber industry is uncertain.
I know of not a single mill in Southeast Alaska still operating.