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Happy Economy: Consumers & Local Banks vs. The World

The US economy is strong, and it has been strong since a flood of consumer confidence swept in behind a new president who ushered in to a miserable bipartisan vacuum a refreshing cleansing confidence.

Added to that confidence was –and very much is– a renewed pride in America, in being American, and in American-made products. By mid-2017 a sense of 1950s community once lost and now found again birthed a strong antidote to Obama’s “new normal” of slow American decline.

And we can’t just blame Obama. Yes, Obama hates America and did everything he could to destroy our nation from inside and outside. But he was helped significantly by ye olde typical career Republicans who saw money to be made in America’s decline, just as there was money to be made in its growth. But growth is harder, and why work hard if you don’t really have to, they reasoned. Either way, growth or defeat, the big money Republicans bought their many pet congressmen to safeguard their investments and stood by watching as they hit big on a global economy shifting from their American home turf to China, India, the EU, and other undeserving recipients of America’s health.

In fact, America’s veins were opened up and flowing out. Our life force was draining away, and a host of hungry nations were perched around us, like vultures, picking away at the juicy scraps that fell from our Rust Belt homes and boarded up churches. Both Democrats and Republicans were pumping away, pushing our citizens’ energy force, our very national being, into the waiting mouths of so many other nations. And so our American economy had sputtered, dying

That is, until Trump inspired US consumers, and the local banks they work with and rely upon to take what are big steps in their quality of life.

And so like a thing alive, the American economy has powered forward like it has not moved in decades. And why would the economy not be alive? Our collective economy is us, of us, an organic part of us and an extension of us. America has a sense of good health again, and so it follows that our economy is healthy again, too. And it is getting stronger, despite transparent and treasonous attempts to destroy our economy by the Democrat Party and everyone else allied with them, including the governments and industries of China and Russia.

It is sickening that an entire American political party will do everything it can to damage or destroy America’s economy in order to artificially malign a president they oppose. Then again, this is the same political party that advocates for illegal invaders over American citizens, for law-breakers and against law-followers, that claims Social Security will be tossed overboard by the other political party and then does everything in its power to give all of our Social Security money to their new chums, the illegal invaders.

So yes, I guess destroying America’s economy and hurting the American citizens standing in the way is to be expected from the Democrat Party and their communications arm, the Mainstream Media.

One discrete sector of the national economy that is changing is the timber industry. When four hundred million (400,000,000 !) middle-income Chinese aspire to own the nice kitchens and hardwood floors that define comfortable life in America, a huge sucking sound can be heard ’round the world as unquantifiable amounts of natural resources are pulled in to that huge nation. And when the Chinese economy began to falter in early 2018, even before the tariff battle, the Chinese domestic demand for American timber dried up. We then learned in late 2018 that the red oak, residual ash, and black walnut that had been bringing us huge export revenue but which were then beginning to stack up in East Coast log yards were not once destined for Chinese factories re-exporting their finished goods back to America. No, those logs and lumber were being used up domestically in China, as China grew its own middle-income population. A population that is now up against the ropes and cannot buy American hardwoods that make pretty kitchens and flooring.

Accordingly the American timber industry is going through a shake-up due to the way timber buyers invested and spent. The fact is that even as they close in China, new cabinet and flooring factories are opening up in several other Asian countries.

And so now on the battlefield it is the confident American consumer and her local bank officers standing strong against the evil political tide that seeks to reverse what has been accomplished, just begun really, since November 2016.  It is happy healthy family versus a global colossus hungry for endless cash, endless money, endless wealth, at any cost, even the cost of individual liberties and American success.

In this fight I put my money on the American consumer, not just because I think she is a tough and hard working bunch, but because I am an American. I want her– you, me, us — to win this fight.

Red oak and rain: Taking a strong economy for now while America fights for an even better future

Our present tariff battle with communist China has some personal pain associated with it, but I and everyone in business I deal with say we are ready and willing to put up with it for the long term betterment of America.

“I am just sitting here watching the rain come down,” says ‘D’, a young forester I have worked with for almost twenty years.

A super hard worker, risk taker, and fourth generation forester\logger (he is the first in his family to have a college degree, and in fact he has a Masters in Forestry), ‘D’ has a young family to feed and a great deal of investment in time, equipment, and standing timber that he cannot do anything with, or earn money with, so long as it rains.

With incessant rain like we had throughout 2018 and now well into 2019, most forestry operations stop. Marking timber on steep mountain sides, building roads into timber, cutting, skidding, and hauling timber just is not safe or environmentally possible in rain. Then, as a result, the sawmills slow down. They cannot get the trees they need to make the hardwood lumber products so much of America and the world require for flooring, cabinetry, moulding, doors, tables, furniture, etc.

But the rain is only part of the pressure on the timber industry.

Almost half of Pennsylvania’s hardwood timber economy is comprised of the red oak tree, which grows a beautiful wood used around the world. Until the tariff spat began last year, China was the primary destination for almost all of Pennsylvania’s red oak. China took our exported red oak logs and manufactured all kinds of wood products that they then sold back to American companies. When the tariffs started to bite in 2018, demand for red oak logs began to slow, because Chinese companies could not afford to compete on that new level playing field. Their own tariffs on manufactured American goods had protected them from competition, and so with tariffs on their products, their own manufacturing slowed down, and their decreased need for raw materials followed. A year later, the demand for red oak lumber has nearly died. Spectacular high quality red oak trees, that six months ago were highly sought after in a fiercely competitive free market, are now being turned into railroad ties and pallet wood (some wood workers specialize in making beautiful furniture from homely oak pallets; well, guys, get ready for a whole lot of very nice red oak pallets to become available).

Standing red oak trees have lost over half their value since this time last year, and as a result, roughly a third of Pennsylvania’s powerful hardwood lumber industry is at a stand-still, with landowners, foresters, loggers, and sawmills trying to figure out how to make up that lost productive time, and lost revenue, and to find another tree species to take the place of the red oak.

Back to the rain… the forest products industry can weather this storm, as well as the tariff tiff with China.

“It’s for the best, for a better America, a better economic future for all of us” says Mike, a heavy equipment operator from Renovo, Pennsylvania, to me this morning, as he finally found time to discuss a timber project we have together, and the China tariff effects on it.

Mike, too, is stalled out temporarily by the non-stop rains, and he is also bitten by the temporarily slow red oak market.

“It hurts, but we needed to do these tariffs,” says Mike.

“It’s sacrifice and pain now, so that America will have an even better economy in the future,” says ‘D’.

I feel the same way. Pain and sacrifice, risk taking and hard work, all for a better future for us and our children. We will all be creative and find ways to make a living; after all, overall the economy is very strong.

Carry on, Mister President. We understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. The tariffs hurt, but we support you.  It is about damned time that someone in Washington, DC, gave a crap about our country and we people who labor out of sight in flyover country.

Logger “Pete” takes a breakfast break on his log landing. A tough, super hard working little Irishman from central Pennsylvania, it’s Americans like Pete who keep our economy going from the ground up

Aggressive timber management necessary in the Northeast

When I tell some people how aggressively we try to manage standing timber (forests), they often recoil.  It sounds so destructive, so environmentally wrong.

It is not environmentally damaging, but I will be the first to admit that the weeks and months after a logging operation often look like hell on the landscape: Tops everywhere, exposed dirt, skid trails, a tangled mess where an open woods had stood for the past sixty to eighty years just weeks before.  No question, it is not the serene scene we all enjoyed beforehand.

This “clearcutting” gets a bad name from poor forestry practices out West and because of urban and suburban lawn aesthetics being misapplied to dynamic natural forests.

However, if we do not aggressively manage the forest, and the tree canopy above it, then we end up with tree species like black birch and red maple as the dominant trees in what should be, what otherwise would be a diverse and food-producing environment. Non-native and fire-sensitive species like ailanthus are quickly becoming a problem, as well.

When natural forest fires swept through our northeastern forests up until 100 years ago, these fire-sensitive species (black birch, red maple) were killed off, and nut trees like oaks, hickories, and chestnuts thrived.  Animals like bears, deer, turkey, Allegheny woodrats, and every other critter under the sun survived on those nut crops every fall.

Without natural fire, which is obviously potentially destructive and scary, we must either set small prescribed fires, or aggressively remove the overhead tree canopy to get sufficient sunlight onto the forest floor to pop, open, and regenerate the next generation of native trees.  Deer enjoy browsing young tree sprouts, so those tasty oaks, hickories, etc that lack sufficient sunlight to grow quickly usually become stunted shrubs, at best, due to constant deer nibbling.  Sunlight is the key here.

And there is no way to get enough sunlight onto the forest floor and its natural seed bed without opening up the tree canopy above it.  And that requires aggressive tree removal.

Northeastern forests typically have deep enough soils, sufficient rainfall, and gentle enough slopes to handle aggressive timber management.  Where my disbelieving eyes have seen aggressive management go awry is out west, in the steep Rockies, where 1980s “regeneration cuts” on ancient forests had produced zero trees 25 years later.  In fact, deep ravines had resulted from the flash-flooding that region is known for, and soil was being eroded into pristine waterways.  So, aggressive timber management is not appropriate for all regions, all topography, or all soils.

But here in the northeast, we go out of our way to leave a huge mess behind after we log.  Why? Because how things appear on their surface has nothing to do with how they perform natural functions.  Those tangled tree tops provide cover for the next generation of trees and wildflowers, turtles and snakes, and help prevent soil erosion by blocking water and making it move slowly across the landscape.

Indeed, a correctly managed northeastern forest is no place for urban or suburban landscape aesthetics, which often dictate bad “select cut” methods that work against the long term health and diversity of the forest, as well as against the tax-paying landowner.

So the next time you see a forest coming down, cheer on the landowner, because they are receiving needed money to pay for the land.  Cheer on the loggers and the timber buyers, the mills and manufacturing plants, and the retailers of furniture, flooring, and kitchen cabinets, because they all are part of a great chain of necessary economic activity that at its core is sustainable, renewable, natural, and quintessentially good.

Tom Wolf & Republican legislature should agree on this, if nothing else

A version of the following essay was published by the Patriot News at the following URL: http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2014/12/if_they_can_agree_on_nothing_e.html#incart_river

Conservation: An Area Where Democrat Tom Wolf and the Republican Legislature Should Agree
By Josh First

Land and water conservation are not luxuries, they are necessities in a world of growing demand for natural resources. As America’s population grows, the natural resources that sustain us, feed, us, cloth us, nurture us, warm us, and yes, even make toilet paper (and who can do without that), must be produced in ever greater supply.

Some of these resources are at static levels, like clean water, while others, like trees, are renewable. All are gifts that God commands us to manage wisely in Genesis.

Pennsylvania is facing some challenges in this regard, however, as the Susquehanna River shows serious signs of strain, and our world-famous forests face a devastating onslaught of invasive pests and diseases.

John Arway, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, has been advocating for officially declaring the Susquehanna River an “impaired waterway” for years. The data Arway draws upon support his concerns: Dissolved oxygen so low that few animals can live in the water, one of three inter-sex (hermaphroditic) smallmouth bass populations in the country, a bass population with insufficient young to keep the species alive, the remaining bass covered in tumors and pfiesteria lesions, invasive rusty crayfish pushing out the tastier native crayfish, among many other factors. Once-abundant mayfly hatches are now non-existent.

Fishermen used to travel to Harrisburg from around the country to fish for smallmouth bass; not any more.

This past September a friend and I hunted geese out in the river, wading in our shorts. We saw none of the usual turtles, water snakes, birds, or fish that once teemed there, and the water smelled…odd. One day later, a small scratch on my leg had became infected with MRSA, and I spent four days hooked up to increasingly stronger antibiotics at Osteopathic Hospital.

In November, we canoed out to islands and hunted ducks flying south. Except that over the past ten years there are fewer and fewer ducks now flying south along the Susquehanna River. We speculate that there is nothing in it for them to feed upon, and migrating ducks must have turned their attention to more sustaining routes.

The river almost seems….dead.

Feeding the waterways are Pennsylvania’s forests, the envy of forest products producers around the world. Our state’s award-winning public lands and their surrounding mature private forestlands sustainably and renewably produce a greater volume of the widest variety of valuable hardwoods than any other state in America.

Our forest economy isn’t just about timber production, however, as hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation themselves represent large economic sectors. Our robust black bear and wild turkey populations draw hunters from around the world, but these popular species depend almost entirely on acorns from oak trees; without acorns, they would hardly exist.

The oak forests at the core of our world-famous hunting and valuable timber were once considered under the gun from overabundant deer herds, but with that problem now resolved they face an adversary that could turn them into the 21st century version of the American chestnut – sudden oak death disease.

Recall that the American chestnut, like the now-extinct passenger pigeon, once carpeted the entire east coast with unimaginably abundant white flowers and nutritious nuts that fed wildlife and humans alike, and its wood was a more available version of cypress – strong, rot-resistant, straight grained, easy to work. And then, like the once unimaginably vast swarms of passenger pigeons that had blackened the day sky until they also suddenly disappeared, the mighty chestnut was wiped out in a few short years, 100 years ago, by an imported disease.

Our oaks, ash trees, and walnut trees seem to be facing a similar doomsday right now.

Thousand cankers, emerald ash borer, lanternfly, ailanthus, mile-a-minute weed, Japanese honeysuckle, Asian bittersweet vine, and many, many other non-native invasive plants, bugs, and diseases now threaten our valuable native forests on a scale unimagined just a few years ago.

Ironically, the edges of our state and federal highways appear to be the greatest means of spreading these pests.

Today, Pennsylvania has a true balance of power between Democrat governor-elect Tom Wolf, and an overwhelmingly Republican legislature. There isn’t much policy that these two equal forces are going to agree on. But if there is one area that they should easily find common ground, it is land and water conservation.

Something is seriously wrong with the Susquehanna River, and something is about to be seriously wrong with our forests.

Whether a crushing regulatory response is the appropriate way to address these issues, or not, let’s hope that Pennsylvania state government can help fix these problems before they become catastrophes future history books write about.

Josh First is a businessman in Harrisburg

BLM giving open land a black eye

The Bureau of Land Management was established as a temporary holding entity, dealing more with water management than common natural resources and the plants and animals living on the land under its care.

Now, BLM has become the poster child of Big Government Gone Wild, using armed force and the threat of lethal force, let alone more prosaic forms of terrifying government coercion, to achieve dubious policy goals.  Many of these policy goals grate on the public, who perceive them as being at best ancillary to BLM’s mission, if not at odds with the multiple-use land management models the agency is supposed to implement.

Citizens, who own their American government, chafe at official signs that say “No Trespassing – BLM Property,” as though the very taxpayers underwriting BLM are alien invaders upon that government-managed ground.

Job #1 would be to actually communicate with the citizenry about the agency’s policy goals, the underpinnings and purpose of its policies, the reasons for protecting some landscapes from vehicles.  Certainly, BLM can achieve better ways to manage environmentally sensitive land, and perhaps asking the citizenry for ideas would take the agency into new, good places.  Many users of federally-managed lands are actually savvy about Leave No Trace, and most others at least care, even if they do not yet know how to minimally impact an area.

BLM’s heavy hand in the supposed name of environmental quality is giving all open land a black eye.  As a result of BLM’s foolish behavior, all kinds of questions are being asked about public land, not just about how it is managed, but why it even exists.  Perhaps it is a good discussion to have, and I certainly stand on the side of having those public spaces, but so far the BLM is just pouring gasoline on the fire, which threatens to overtake all public lands.

Part of any discussion should include What Next about BLM.  The agency has clearly outlived its established purpose.  My instinctive thinking is to divide up its lands among the agencies best suited to manage each piece – National Park Service for this heavily used area, National Forest for this timbered area, and so on.  And no, conveying some of these lands to states is not a bad thing, so long as the deeds carry perpetual stipulations that the lands cannot be sold to private owners or converted to some other use.  Mining, timbering, preservation of historic artifacts, water management, passive and active recreation, scenic beauty, ecological purposes…states can do many of these as well as a federal agency, and all without having snipers in fatigues pointing guns at citizens.

If nothing else, getting rid of BLM to get rid of its ridiculous snipers and armed thug culture is a worthy step.  Not only is that insane behavior unworthy of a representative government, it is unrelated to the purpose of protecting open land in the first place.

Climate change claims can’t ever be wrong

If you haven’t done so already, pay attention to global warming/ climate change claims.

Whenever the weather is hot, or cold, or windy, or in a lull, the vacuous claims are bandied about that these occurrences are evidence of “climate change” or “global warming.”

We’ve had an unusually cold winter. Why, it reminds me of the ones I used to know in my childhood. Do you, too, recall the deep snows on roads and huge piles of plowed snow in parking lots of the 1970s?

That snow was considered normal back then. Then we had twenty years of warm winters. Now we’ve had two years of cold winters. It’s certainly not global warming! Why, could it not simply be the natural variation of a complex, large weather system in a complex planet?

No matter what, people claiming that current weather is evidence of some bigger trend cannot ever be wrong. No matter what the weather is, they ascribe it to their favorite sky-is-falling environmental crisis du jour. It is a pretty ingenious way to argue, you have to admit: They just cannot ever be wrong. No matter what the evidence is – black or white, Saturday or Wednesday, Mars or Venus, cold, hot, very cold, very hot, lukewarm, tepid, accurate or inaccurate – or when it occurs, it all proves the same thing to promoters of human-caused climate change.

And the fact is that there are real environmental quality issues that need to be addressed and resolved. One that is near to my heart is the high grading of private forests, where the best commercial trees are removed and the junk trees are left behind. This creates huge swathes of forest with little habitat value for animals, and little present or future commercial value for landowners and the surrounding society that needs their forest products.

How sad that high grading forests is accomplished with such simple emotional appeals: “Why Mabel, we will just take the big trees, and leave the little ones for later. There’ll be lots of green left in your woods,” goes the high-grader’s sales pitch.

Because western clearcutting was so damaging to western ecosystems, clearcutting got a bad name back east. Back here most of our private forests are at a point where it’s either clearcutting most of our private woods, or allowing forest fire to shape them. Most of our private forests need to be re-set to zero. That will provide maximum diversity and the broadest habitat and commercial values.

But like claims of global climate change, clearcutting is another false boogey man whose opponents are driven by emotions, and not science. And the real damage is allowed to go on under the false guise of “protecting” the forests.