Local residents attend Congressional Hearing on Forestry Issues
By Mike Monte
Sunday and Monday were busy days for some of our local people who are involved with forest products and with ruffed grouse habitat. A contingent of people from Forest County attended a field congressional hearing in Appleton, at the Paper Valley Inn. The hearing was organized by 8th District Congressman Kagen.
This was an interesting couple of days for all concerned. The hearing was officially held by the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition, and Forestry. Joe Baca, a congressman from southern California officially called and chaired the hearing, which opened at 9:00am on Monday morning.
People who gave oral testimony included Henry Schienebeck, the Executive Director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals; Gary Zimmer, Regional Biologist for the Ruffed Grouse Society; Bill Johnson, from the Hayward based Johnson Timber and Flambeau River Papers at Park Falls; Jeanne Higgins, Forest Supervisor of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, Park Falls; Matt Frank, Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, Madison; and Kathrine Dixon, staff attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, Chicago.
Written testimony can be supplied by any interested party through July 30.
While the only local resident to provide oral testimony was Gary Zimmer, one of the most important parts of this two-day affair was the dinner thrown by Congressman Kagen for people in the timber industry, plus Mr. Zimmer and Tom Tallier from the Forest County Board of Supervisors, and Dick Krawze, Laona; Gordon Connor, Laona and owner of Nicolet Hardwoods and Pine River Hardwoods; Gary Ort, New London, with Wolf River Hardwoods, plus myself and wife Linda. The dinner was held on Sunday, the evening before the official hearing. It was a way for Representative Kagen to educate himself on the timber industry and meet some of the people involved, listen to their viewpoints and establish contacts for future issues.
Besides being quite enjoyable, the meeting brought many of the issues and statistics out on the table and they were discussed thoroughly. Dick Krawze was able to paint a fairly bleak picture of how the current economy was affecting the timber industry, and added in problems that are no the cause of a bad economy, such as litigation of timber sales by radical environmental groups. Gary Zimmer filled in with talk of the need for young forests, not only for his favorite species, ruffed grouse, but for the big variety of birds and mammals that proliferate in young forests. Tom Tallier talked of Forest County’s small land base, with 52% of the county in national forest. But in spite of the gloom, there was optimism that things could and would get better.
Kagen is a quick study. This isn’t the first time our elected representative to Congress has taken the time to educate himself about forest issues, and he was made well aware of the loss of resource we face when not enough sales are let out for bid in the Nicolet side of the forest and then, when sales are let out for bid, held up in court when environmental groups decide to litigate. He is also aware of how this loss of resources affects his hometown of Appleton.
Henry Schienebeck laid out some statistics on the timber industry that were disturbing, to say the least. Jeanne Higgins, answering a question from Rep. Kagen, replied that litigation by the environmental community had prevented the Forest Service from reaching its cutting goals.
Gary Zimmer did a great job talking about the need for a certain amount of young forest edge on our national forests, and pointed out that young aspen forests not only provided habitat for deer, grouse, and woodcock, but for a large variety of songbirds, and those species that feed predators, like mice and rabbits.
Ms. Dixon, with the Environmental Law and Policy Center expressed the concerns of the people she represents. There is a worry that the pine marten is not doing as well as it should in certain areas and that trout streams are warming up due to logging practices. The red-shouldered hawk is also a species that is worrisome to this group.
Ms. Dixon says that they are not against loggers, it is just where and how fast they log. The thought occurred to me that their favorite loggers were those who didn’t log!
Questions and answers, facts and statistics, all of these make up a hearing on any subject. While the answers, facts and statistics don’t sound good now, there may be a brighter day ahead for the forest products industry, and that will likely be in the field of bio-mass for fuel.
Another issue that was discussed was the future use of low-grade wood and wood residue for bio-mass based fuels. This was a hot topic at the hearing as well.
Legal hearings, as many of you know, can be long and tedious affairs. Due to scheduling constraints and a many hot topics on the floor of Congress, this hearing lasted a little over two hours.
Currently, Bill Johnson and his Park Falls mill, Flambeau River Papers, is working to make ‘green diesel’ from wood residue. This liquid will be taken to a refinery and turned into diesel fuel. They are also weaning the mill off of coal, and the last of it should be burned in August.
There are hurdles in the way of obtaining bio-mass from national forest sales, and that is one of the issues that Rep. Kagen will be working on, as is stopping any efforts to put renewable bio-fuels in the same class as fossil fuels, requiring the purchase of carbon credits before they can be burned. For many of us at the dinner and hearing, the access to an increased amount of federal timber was the important issue, and hopefully, the system can bee changed to stop the easy litigation process.
Congressman Kagen ended the hearing by saying, “We cannot afford to waste our resources.” We all agreed.