The Hardwood Federation is the voice of the hardwood industry in Washington, D.C. We represent the U.S. hardwood forest products industry before the U.S. Congress and the executive branch, focusing on federal level policies and legislation that impact the economic viability of our sector. The value of associations like the Hardwood Federation is that they foster coordination and focus on issues and initiatives of common concern. The Federation was founded in 2004 by industry leaders from various hardwood sectors that recognized the importance of speaking with a united voice on key issues in our nation’s capital.
The unique characteristic of the Hardwood Federation is that we coordinate on those top-level issues that cut across many hardwood industry sectors. The Federation team, all three of us, spend a lot of time working with Congress and their staff on issues that impact the industry most, including access to raw materials and regulations that can strangle business operations.
Access to raw materials is one issue that the entire hardwood value chain is concerned about. This is one of the main issues that we have been working on over the last few years and it will continue to be a priority in 2017 as we work with the incoming Congress and Trump Administration.
In particular, we are concerned about the management of our federal forest lands and how that management impacts U.S.-based timber supplies. Access to raw materials harvested from the national forest system has plummeted over the years, limiting supply, devastating local economies around the forests, and negatively impacting the health of our federal forests. Moreover, the devastation from wildfire on our federal forest holdings is a growing national crisis. What was once a threat confined largely to Western public forests is clearly not anymore, as evidenced by the tragic fires in the Great Smoky Mountains last fall.
More than 193 million acres of the National Forest System is managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), located within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Forty-six million acres of the Federal Forest System, or 24 percent, are designated as available for timber harvest. Less than half the timber designated for cutting on designated lands is being harvested.
From the mid-1950s through the mid-1990s, the average amount of timber harvest from the national forests averaged 10 to 12 billion board feet. During that same time period, the average annual amount of acres burned due to catastrophic wildfire was 3.6 million acres per year. Since 1996, the average amount of timber harvested annually was between 1.5 and 3.3 billion board feet. Since 1996, the average annual amount of acres burned due to catastrophic wildfire was over 6 million acres per year.
Wildfire suppression costs currently consume over 50 percent of the Forest Service’s budget, stealing dollars from other management programs, including federal forest timber sales.
The Hardwood Federation has been advocating enactment of legislation providing both management improvements and adequate fire suppression budget mechanisms. Our priority measures include:
- Utilizing the private sector and their resources to expedite timber sales at every opportunity including maintenance and expansion of Good Neighbor Authority and Stewardship Contracting Programs.
- Reasonable reforms to environmental protection programs, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA), which streamline permitting processes and legal challenges for forest management programs, including timber harvest programs, in ways that ensure certainty and reliable time frames for decision making.
- Prioritization implementation of streamlined permitting under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill, to projects that reduce a landscape’s susceptibility to insect infestations or disease.
- Additional authority for categorical exclusions in three key areas: Critical response actions, salvage operations, and for meeting forest plan goals for early successional forests.
- Separating fire suppression dollars from proactive forest management programs and eliminating “borrowing” of funds from management programs to pay for underfunded fire suppression activities.
We have come close the last couple of years at getting federal forest reform legislation through Congress. In 2016, very favorable legislation passed the House and strong provisions were included as part of an energy bill conference committee negotiation. Significant progress is being made; we just need to close the deal. As we work our way into 2017, we will collaborate with returning and incoming members of Congress and new Administration officials to push hard for action that addresses all of the above. This includes legislation that must work its way through Congress and the White House as well as regulatory change and implementation that can move through federal agencies like the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior.
Of course, we cannot do this alone…we depend on the thousands of hardwood companies, their executives and their employees to help us with reach out and communications. Please join us in our efforts! The more voices in the choir, the louder the sound!
Dana Cole is Executive Director at the Hardwood Federation, a Washington D.C.-based hardwood industry trade association that represents thousands of hardwood businesses in every state in the U.S. and acts as the industry’s advocacy voice on Capitol Hill. She can be reached at Dana.Cole@hardwoodfederation.com.