Foresters from around world studying Montana timber management

Posted: July 27, 2011

Source –  Missoulian

Gallatin National Forest MontanaForesters from around the world came to western Montana this week to learn how to simplify their timbermanagement.

“Other states have very restrictive rules, while Montana adopted a voluntary system that takes advantage of stakeholder interest,” said Andy White of the Rights and Resources Initiative, which organized the conference. “It more than seems to work. It actually does work.”

On Monday, the gathering of timber managers from Peru, Indonesia, Liberia, Great Britain, Mexico, Brazil and Papua New Guinea heard Montana State Forester Bob Harrington explain how that voluntary compliance rose from 60 percent in the 1990s to nearly 90 percent today.

A set of about 50 “best management practices” guide state and private forest users in things like stream protection, harvest schedules, cleanup ethics and community relations.

Participants at the weeklong conference will see how a timber sale would be handled on the Lubrecht, and discuss how Montana has developed niche timber markets, state land trusts that support schools and stewardship contracting projects. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials will explain how wildlife management builds community support.

As state forester, Harrington directly oversees just 4 percent of Montana’s forestland. That seems insignificant compared to the U.S. Forest Service’s 59 percent share. But the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has a big influence with the state’s private forest owners, who manage one-fifth of the timber. It also works closely with industrial timber owners like Plum Creek Inc. (5 percent of the total) and Native American tribes (another 5 percent).

“For DNRC, keeping those groups interested in keeping forests is a big objective,” White said. “One way is not to overburden them with regulations.”

That’s becoming a more serious issue elsewhere in the United States. White said in the past decade, U.S. forests disappeared faster than Brazil’s, where Amazon deforestation has been the poster child for ecological change. Only here, White said, the timberland is giving way to residential development, especially in the Southeast.

Indonesian Ministry of Forestry principal researcher Ahmad Masud said Montana is becoming well known for its best management practices. His country has about 300 million acres of forest under government management, but a growing sector of private forest plantations. It ranks fifth in the world for pulp and paper production, much of which comes from those plantations, he said.

“Our big challenge is how to manage those private-planting forests – what incentives we can use,” Masud said. “The second hot issue is climate change. Are forests a net sink (absorber) or emitter of carbon? At home, opinions are split.”

Indonesia plans to stop harvesting much of its tropical forest by 2014 and move production to the private forestlands, Masud said. That process is going slowly, with about 12 million of the needed 22 million acres now in private production.

The country has also helped reduce illegal logging by creating a “chain of custody” permit system that log dealers must maintain, proving they had the rights to cut, finish and ship the lumber in question.

Peru’s forests have been marked by frequent booms in special products, like natural rubber and mahogany. Amazonian Interregional Council adviser Gustavo Saurez added that most of the population lives along the Pacific Coast, where there’s little forest cover. The result has been governmental indifference to forest policy, even though the central government owns all the timber.

“We import three or four times more timber than we export,” Saurez said. “We don’t have plantations or industrial forests, and it’s hard to manage tropical forests for industrial purposes.”

In Mexico, local communities have official control of 80 percent of the nation’s forests, according to Ricardo Garcia Garcia. But the right to cut timber is controlled by two different sets of federal laws, and the local communities must come to agreement before projects can legally go forward. Without all those pieces in place, it’s almost impossible to legally sell wood.

China State Forestry Administration policy division chief Li Shuxin said her country is moving more control of forest land to local farmers instead of community leaders. Land in China is communally owned, she said, but farmers can get the rights to buy and sell timber from them. That should be an improvement over a previous system, where village leaders negotiated with timber buyers, and farmers had no say in the deals.

But China has only 20.36 percent of its territory under forest cover, and can’t produce enough timber for its internal needs. That’s put it on the international market for timber imports.

“We face a lot of pressure from the outside world to protect our own resources,” Li said. The nation is trying to increase its forest land, but must also find reliable sellers for the wood it needs.

Russia has been a longtime supplier of timber, but Li said that country is trying to boost its economy by restricting sales to finished lumber instead of raw logs. The result has been more Chinese business going to Canada and the United States, she said.

The U.S. Forest Service has also been paying attention to Montana’s model, according to Forest Service Region 1 Forester Leslie Weldon.

“We’re trying to do more collaboration, getting more voices around the table,” Weldon said. “It’s better than the agency saying here’s what we’re doing – what do you think about it?”

The Rights and Resources Initiative is a non-governmental organization that combines forest researchers from around the globe to help developing nations manage their timberland. White said Montana’s example of voluntary regulation is appealing because of its low cost, respect for private property rights and success at keeping the local forest industry alive.

“You also have all these different types of management that have evolved together,” he said. “Tribes, the feds, the state, private landowners – it’s been a great laboratory for cooperation among different ownerships.”