Economic Problems With Sustained Yield Forestry

Of course, protecting biodiversity and forest health is the primary reason to evolve past sustained yield to a forestry that doesn't redesign forests for timber, but there are also good economic reasons. Liquidating old growth forests in favor of plantations of second growth crops can also liquidate comparative advantage and employment opportunities in the future. Regional economies can also be robbed of their opportunity to move up the economic ladder as capital from outside creams the value stored over centuries in mature forests.

Healthy forests provide a full range of opportunities for wealth creation. They also provide a wide range of natural services such as water and carbon-oxygen regulation that are not often quantified (See JUST WHAT VALUE DO WE PLACE ON OUR FORESTS Column about Costanza et.el. attempts to quantify nature's services and the comparison of services provided from old growth forests and plantations). This section will look at just the conventional economic benefits and debits associated with sustained yield management.

Sustained yield was an evolution in forestry concerned with providing a sustained volume of timber and fiber. A rational, stable, predictable equilibrium was the goal replacing wasteful, resource destroying, unregulated mining of forests. The development of professional forestry in North America was strongly influenced by a corrosive boom and bust capitalism. Pinchot and Fermow and later foresters such as David T. Mason imported SY as much to protect the forest industry from themselves as to protect forests. Fiercely independent, self-reliant and greedy, the loggers and lumber barons gave lip service to SY government regulation and it is questionable that true SY (controlled cutting schedules and complete replanting) has ever been truly implemented.

R.W. Behan is much closer to reality when he points out (in his chapter in CREATING A FORESTRY FOR THE 21st CENTURY) that given the discount rate and economic time frames, second growth crops are about as renewable a resource as fossil fuels. The forest industry has used the rationale of SY but very few companies have ever matched their words with investment in crops in the far away future.

From the beginning implementing SY redesign of forests negatively affected other forest users. As A.D. Crerar points out in his FOREST PLANNING CANADA article on the difficulties associated with Integrated Resource Management (IRM), SY forestry is incompatible with almost every other forest use. Clearcutting, for example, alters water and sediment flow affecting salmon fisherman and farmer and everyone else downstream.

Changing age classes changes habitat for ungulates, hunters and cattle ranchers. Tourists and recreationalists, while drawn by new roading into wilderness areas, are repulsed by both clearcuts and sterile plantations.

Multiple use and IRM evolved as constraints on timber planning by other economic stakeholders. Unfortunately, instead of insisting on a forestry that left intact forests for all values for all future generations, both multiple use and IRM were marginalized into net down constraints of the dominant economic interest, timber, and then only where the other economic stakeholder had clout enough to enforce this constraint.

"...the acknowledgment of a timber supply falldown and the adoption of multiple use and public involvement following the 1975 Royal Commission did not really alter the sustained yield policy in any substantial way. The central goal of sustained yield, and multiple use, was the maximum production of timber, .... The AAC did not need to be reduced, in fact, just the opposite was true - there were opportunities for increased production. Despite environmental concerns and the warning of future scarcity, the annual timber harvest on crown lands actually increased by forty to fifty per cent in the period following the 1975 Royal Commission."

Lois Dellert

SY aimed at the C+ of timber sustainability instead of the A of fully functioning forests for all future opportunities and instead has achieved an F in both ecological and economic sustainability. First of all, SY was always just an excuse to access timber and little investment was ever put back into providing for a new crop. Secondly, the wealth stored up over centuries was a one shot bonanza and the promise of large volumes of second growth, once the "decadent and over-mature" old growth was liquidated, was an illusion.

There is a big difference between the economic value of tight-grained old growth and equivalent volumes of second growth. Tight-grained, high quality, three or four hundred year old logs have a wide range of value-added potential.

The break-even point for a traditional lumber plant versus an added-value plant.
(Diagram from Clive Whittenbury's excellent CHANGES IN WOOD PRODUCTS MANUFACTURING in Creating a Forestry For 21st Century)

Furthermore, as William Dietrich (THE FINAL FOREST) points out in describing the change from utilizing old growth to second growth in Weyerhaeuser plantations in Washington State (a rare example of successful plantation re-investment), plantation logging and sawmilling is much easier to mechanize, greatly reducing both employment and economic multipliers in regions dependent upon the forest industry.

In B.C. the SY liquidation - conversion project has taken the comparative advantage of endless forests of high grade fir and cedar and, converting diamonds to drill bits, sold raw commodity two by fours and pulp for peanuts. Minimal stumpage or other taxes were paid to the people of B.C. and re-investment was primarily in reducing man hours instead of moving up the economic ladder.

"It is time that we moved beyond the divisive debates over specific wilderness valleys and how they affect various mills, to an honest discussion of our goals and how they clash with today's economy. In B.C., the changes that we confront are specific to our forest-dependent economy; nevertheless the problem is widely shared by an industrialized world overshooting it's ecological and economic base."

Michael M'Gonigle and Ben Parfitt FORESTOPIA

The rationale of endless inflated AACs has lured many British Columbian citizens and communities into a musical chairs economy with falldown from old growth depletion and capital flight threatening their tenuous futures.

Blaming environmentalists instead of the preceding SY generations for their plight, British Columbians, in small resource towns and in Lower Mainland metropolitan areas, continue to buy fleets of trucks and cars, boats and barbecues, speculative stocks and trips to Hawaii - mostly on credit while living cheque to cheque. Prisoners of a consumer economy, ignorant of their bloated ecological footprint, and blinded by the propaganda of a reactionary populism, the average British Columbian myopically supports the completion of the liquidation - conversion project, further reducing the healthy forest basis for a forest industry for their children.

And, to add another F for failure, when the SY era second growth crops, with their low potential for anything but fibre and dimension lumber, come on stream they face ruthless global competition from plantations of much faster growing eucalyptus and pine grown at a fraction of the silviculture and harvesting cost in warmer (and more economically impoverished) climates.

Contrast this economic future with a B.C. and Pacific North-West where ecosystem-based forestry had conserved not volumes of wood but intact healthy forests with abundant supplies of tight-grained old growth. Even as recently in B.C. as the Pearse Royal Commission in 1975, if protecting the comparative advantage of high quality wood had been the goal, and re-investment channeled into moving up the value-added ladder, there would be no shortage of wood, jobs and wealth creation today.

SY has become a social trap where the interests of a few today: those with capital invested in the present raw commodity industry, those employed in this industry and in retail economies dependent on timber generated dollars, and governments electorally dependent both on temporal economies and resource dollars, the celebrated "iron triangle" of forest policy, rob many future generations of wealth creation opportunities from healthy forests.

A short, B.C. focused, SY economic bibliography includes

LOGGING THE GLOBE Patricia Marchak examines the global forest economy with special emphasis on the B.C. forest industry.

FORESTOPIA Michael M'Gonigle and Ben Parfitt's vision of a transition from SY industrial forestry to a ecosystem-based, value-added based regional economy

SEEING THE FOREST FOR THE TREES Herb Hammond's holistic view of forestry and a future forest economy details how industrial forestry is impoverishing B.C. and how an ecosystem-based approach could sustain healthy regional economies.

A more comprehensive bibliography would include ecological economics, imperialism and global economics influence in resource depletion, bioregionalism, and the relationship between cities and resource supplying hinterlands.


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