How wood products could reduce the cost of forest management

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In spring 2021, PPIC organized seven focus groups to explore how to pay for the management of upstream forests. This work was led by PPIC in collaboration with Van Butsic, Heidi Huber-Stearns, Erin Kelly and Ryan Tompkins. This is the second article in a series of four.

In August 2020, the State of California and the US Forest Service (USFS) agreed to significantly increase the number of wooded acres they treat each year through mechanical thinning and prescribed burning. The agreement aims to reduce the risk of wildfires and improve forest health, and it came as California faced a record year of wildfires, exacerbated by drought and a dangerous build-up of forest fires. fuel in state forests. The new goal represents a doubling of USFS efforts and a five-fold increase in publicly funded management work by 2025.

One of the barriers to achieving this goal is cost. The net cost of mechanical thinning in the Sierra Nevada – removing small diameter trees that increase the risk of forest fires – varies widely, between $ 500 and $ 1,900 an acre. The role of wood products as a potential source of income was mentioned several times during our group discussions.

Wood products could diversify the funding portfolio for mechanical thinning, stretch government dollars and process more acres. Stimulating wood products industries could also boost economically struggling rural communities by generating income for local businesses and creating additional opportunities for labor training, employment and income in the forestry sector. .

Processing costs depend in part on the ability to add value to the wood products. Our previous estimates suggest that thinning could even generate a net income if operators were allowed to harvest more high-value and medium-sized trees.

As policymakers assess next steps in this area, it is important to consider these takeaways and some key recommendations:

  • Find ways to conduct ecological restoration that generates income. Policymakers have focused on stimulating new markets for small diameter trees, which is promising but several years away from being viable. In the meantime, ecological thinning efforts could adapt concepts of timber harvesting, which uses similar equipment and techniques, to achieve ecological goals. Some forms of timber harvesting reproduce the mosaic of variation in tree size, age and species that improves the resilience of forests. Cal Fire is expected to allocate a portion of the state’s forest health funding to test this concept.
  • Invest in workforce training and infrastructure in the wood products sector. Many rural communities currently lack the infrastructure (sawmills, biomass energy facilities) and labor to support a growing wood products industry. The state is starting to tackle this problem, taking $ 25 million in initial spending from the General Manpower Development Fund and loans to companies that use harvested timber for construction work. Management. Public bodies should make a concerted effort to ensure that these investments translate into measurable economic benefits. A multi-year funding commitment to stimulate the forest economy, rather than one-off expenditures from the General Fund, would help achieve the expected results.
  • Buffer against volatility in wood products markets. Expanding the role of wood products use and markets in forest health has benefits, but also risks. As the state explores more opportunities in the wood products market, the Office of Planning and Research should work with representatives of the wood industry to develop options to protect against volatile market dynamics. . For example, direct subsidies to landowners for mechanical thinning could maintain the flow of materials to end-use facilities even when national or world lumber prices fluctuate.

Proactive management of upstream forests aims to develop healthy and resilient forests that reduce the intensity of wildfires and air pollution, and support wildlife and clean water. While the state has dramatically increased funding for this purpose, public money will only go so far and it will not last forever. The use of forest products must be part of sustainable forest management. The use of wood products from mechanical thinning is a promising way to pay for the work to be done. The approach will be more effective when stakeholders find common ground on ecological issues; the state can help by providing initial investments to catalyze new markets. When these elements align, the outcome will help rural communities rebuild around a green economy.


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