REGIONAL— Timber harvest levels will rise slightly over previous state goals in Minnesota following more than a year of analysis and stakeholder discussions by the Department of Natural Resources. …
REGIONAL— Timber harvest levels will rise slightly over previous state goals in Minnesota following more than a year of analysis and stakeholder discussions by the Department of Natural Resources. The decision, announced last Thursday by DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, would set the new annual timber harvest goal at 870,000 cords. That’s equal to about 87,000 semi-trailer loads, according to Landwehr.
The new goal represents a modest increase from the current DNR goal of 800,000 cords per year, but it falls well short of the wishes of the state’s wood products industry, which had pushed to increase the level of logging to one million cords per year. Gov. Dayton had asked the DNR to study harvest levels to see if one million cords was sustainable.
A consultant hired by the DNR concluded that the forest could sustain a harvest level of one million cords per year, but not without some negative consequences for wildlife habitat and other uses and values of the forest. The DNR set up a stakeholders group to weigh in on the subject and Landwehr said the new goal represents an attempt to balance the differing views expressed.
“It’s really not what we expected,” said Wayne Brandt, executive director of Minnesota Forest Industries, a wood products lobbying organization based in Duluth. “The DNR has ignored most of the work of their consultants and has come up with a highly political number,” Brandt said.
Brandt said the number actually represents a decline from the DNR’s harvest levels of recent years, which he said have averaged closer to 900,000 cords. Brandt took particular umbrage at the DNR’s proposal to slightly decrease the aspen harvest over the next several years. DNR officials say that aspen harvests have been elevated for the past couple decades, as the agency has sought to reduce an oversupply of older-aged aspen on DNR-managed lands. DNR officials say that oversupply has been largely eliminated and that future aspen harvest levels will gradually decrease from 400,000 cords annually to 360,000 cords. However, they note, harvest of some other species will increase.
Brandt argued that the state’s aspen forests could generate more cordage if they were managed closer to a 40-year rotation age. He said the modeling done by the state’s consultant was too conservative on the amount of annual growth in the timber stock.
But Don Arnosti, conservation director with the Minnesota Izaak Walton League, sees it differently. “We feel the analysis fell short due to failure to analyze impact of climate change,” said Arnosti. “As a result, we feel it has actually overstated the forest growth.”
Arnosti said climate change may not only impact the rate of tree growth, but will likely limit the acres of forest that will be economically accessible in the future. He said warmer winters and a shorter frost season will make it increasingly difficult to access timber in or near wetland areas, which is likely to increase the pressure on other lands. “What they have done is certainly defensible, but it’s not as conservative as I would have gone,” he said. “Eight hundred thousand was a better number.”
Whether the new plan increases timber harvests substantially or not remains to be seen, but Arnosti says that likely wasn’t the primary goal. “This is all about price manipulation in my opinion,” he said. Increasing the supply of timber, said Arnosti, is likely to reduce the average stumpage price, at least barring an increase in demand. “I’m not dismissive of the need for the industry to be competitive,” Arnosti added, “but it’s a way to subsidize the industry without writing them a check.”
In addition to the goal of 870,000 cords, the DNR will also launch a special five-year initiative that could offer up to 30,000 additional cords of ash and tamarack in response to the threat posed by emerald ash borer and eastern larch beetle, two invasive species that kill ash and tamarack trees. That could push the total state harvest up to 900,000 cords, said Landwehr.
The DNR manages 5 million acres of forest lands – 29 percent of the state’s total forest lands. Timber harvesting occurs on 2.75 million acres of DNR-managed lands that are in state forests, wildlife management areas, and school and university trust lands. These lands provide about 30 percent of the state’s wood supply for a forest products industry that employs 64,000 people and has a $17.1 billion annual economic impact.