We Need a Horse To Push the Cart

by bear bait

Hi Mike: Sunday I did my citizen due diligence and attended the Independence stop on the Wyden town hall meetings around the State tour, done in weekend chunks all year long. This is my report, or really my impressions of that meeting.

There were about 100 people in attendance at the pretty new and wonderful Independence Library. Most were geriatric supplicants from around the county, there to support their guy while he preached to his choir. Independence itself is 35% or more Hispanic, and demographically they are an older generation of post WWII Tejanos (US citizens) from the lower Rio Grande agricultural areas of southeast Texas, who came to replace the Okies in farm labor while the Okies were taking jobs in the mills and logging camps after coming home from the War.

They are a wonderful group of senior citizens, and they and their offspring are a core group in good citizenry for Independence. The rest are of recent arrival and dubious papers. We do have an all Hispanic aliens-only Headstart program which acts as a summer babysitting service for women needing to work in the fields. However, none of those were at the meeting. In fact, there were two people of color that I could see, one an Asian lady and a retired WOU prof of Asian (India) background. I also saw at least two people under 20 and a small sprinkling of people between 20 and 40, most of whom were either press or Wyden staff.

The rest in attendance were old farts like me, and quite concerned about their entitlements as they take their final steps to eternity. What’s in it for me? was the general question raised. That and some FAA decision that might keep airpark folks from accessing the State airport from their private taxiways, thus lowering property values… me, me, me. America at its best. None expressed concern for lost jobs or the collapsing economy. What will my take be? What is in it for me? And also punish Bush. Get that Bush administration and Halliburton… (under my breath I said to one and all: “Get a life, dudes.”)

That said, one woman whined on about debt collectors and how predatory they are, and illustrated it with her not paying a $400 bill that over three years ended up with a judge compelling her to pay over $9,000 in the end. Wyden, to his credit, went into a preacher mode and explained in a fatherly way (test tube?) that debt and spending are components of rights and responsibilities. She had the right to go into debt and she had the responsibility to pay that debt. If there are methods used in collection that are illegal, his staff would be sure to listen to her plea. And he promptly called on another to speak.

I was never called, and a county commissioner told me afterward that I never would be, as they know who is there by questioning local pols and govt people. So his staff scattered across the room are pointing at the raised hands for him to answer. The town hall auction has shills. Who’d a ever thunk? I feel like I was at a diamond auction in NYC, rigged and staged.

It seemed, by his emphasis, that Wyden was putting all his time into trying to get back the publicly financed bonus money from Wall Street banks that took bailout money. He is not going to let go of that bone.

Also, as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Wyden feigned ignorance when a visibly agitated, probably ONG guy from the WOU academy, stood and asked if Wyden was going to ask for Senator Feinstein’s removal as chair of the Select Intelligence Committee with her outing the US based Predator missiles pounding the Taliban on the Afghan border, that she said were launched from Pakistani Army bases. The man called that treasonous and a threat to American troops that should not be allowed. And, there was every indication that the outing of the missile source might topple the Pakistani government. Wyden showed some good footwork and a deft way with words as he explained he had not been in Washington at the time, and his people would get his name and address and certainly get back to him… foul ball. Next pitch.

Wyden was ebullient and all smiles when he announced that the stimulus bill was good to Oregon and had hundreds of millions in it to reduce forest fuels and produce merchantable logs, and that could happen in as little as two weeks. I did NOT loudly guffaw. I have class and a sense of proper deportment at such an austere gathering as this. You can bullshit some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people today, as you just did, Senator.

I will explain, somewhat, the current lumber industry. There is no market for lumber. Home starts are at the lowest since BEFORE WWII. The roster of for sale but unsold homes in the US is 4.55 million (the latest number I could find on Google). That is about a year’s worth in a slow year. New home starts in January were about 415,000, which is the lowest number since the Depression. The monthly drops in new home starts continue to be 15-20%. There is no apparent bottom yet… unless 0 is the bottom.

When you can’t sell the lumber you need to, from logs that you manufacture from your own land and which generate the money to pay for that land and all the other expenses from your milling business, you are hardly driven to go buy will o’ the wisp logs from the Feds. Lucy has pulled that ball back far too often, and sawmillers are no longer willing Charley Browns attempting to kick that ball. Wyden, his Democrat Party, their environmental NGO supporters, their litigating cohorts, and President Obama need to know that pushing Federal logs into the bleakest home construction market on record is a non- starter.

The sawmills are gone. Auctioned off, dismantled, and gone. All that are left are mills sufficient to cut the growth of that private half of Oregon’s timberland in industrial tree farming use. Their bean counters and their program is driven by interrupting the capitalization of tree planting at the earliest date, the culmination of mean annual value growth, and that means it is now a small log milling economy, and the building methods and building design are based on small log produced products.

The other half of private timberland is owned by small ownerships, without sawmilling capacity, anxious people standing in line, waiting to be able to sell logs. Many are victims of a huge forestry hoax, holding trees too large for the still operating sawmills. Butt logs and whole trees are now too big and a drag on the non-market. There is not even an export option left. The deal about having nice, slick trees to sell in retirement is now a matter of where will I be able to sell enough to support myself or at least pay the property taxes? Meanwhile, their vast and valuable resource has been rendered to protected status by open space legislation and state land use. Your tree farm, regulated by ODF, LCDC, and myriad other Nanny State regulations, is no longer economically viable. And here comes Wyden with the cavalry to save the industry with some pecker poles developed on a day late and a dollar short attempt at fuels reduction (you can laugh right now… and then cry — this is a pause for emotional outbursts of regret).

What is needed at this time… right now… is a robust, vigorous, massive attempt at trail cleaning and road maintenance, to clear the way to access every and all fire starts at the one tree level. All smokes out by dark. Hard hikes into empty country to put out a snag, and stay there until it is a cold fire. And then a long hike home to await the next one. Engines rolling, helicopters on standby flying. Put out every fire as soon as possible. And fight fire at night when it is cooled down and when you can line it to stop ground fire, and be there when it warms up to drop water and retardant. Fight fire like you are mad at it. Like it is important. We can deal with fuels reductions when we have somewhere to use the extra fiber that will be produced.

There will be a time, and from now on is the time, to discuss how to reduce fuels, and where to use the developed material removed. Or to plan, with adequate boots on the ground and planes in the air, to spring burn or fall burn for controlled burning of all those millions of acres in need of controlled fire. Not WFU. Not conflagration by design. Not conflagration by happenstance and serendipity, administered by inexperienced scaredy cats, in the heat of summer. Not when the days are longest and hottest. That is the time to fight fire with a vengeance. In the fall, with helitorches and burnouts and the works, just ahead of the fall storms… We do have pretty good weather intel today. We do have means of watching and looking. We have the tools. All that is needed is the will and the way… Stimulus should be a way.

The promised logs are of value down the road, if we ever have an economic recovery. It would be then that we can build new mills to use the harvested material. But if that is a deal where every kid with a laptop and free time can appeal every offering on his or her whim, then it is useless, and should so be recognized. Wyden has done neither. And so goes his Democrat Party. They take the Enviro money to get elected, and they are being paid to not have a reasonable fuels program. It is their supporters who have destroyed the infrastructure to develop and process small logs and debris. Until we get those logistics worked out, and there is a lumber market into which products can be sold, it is all hot air, and a delicate dance to the pipers of the polls. The potential to use the fiber and improve forest health is just that, potential, until there is the political will to make it happen with certainty.

Another problem is that the USFS and BLM now no longer have the experienced staff in numbers enough to provide such a program of fuels reductions. The USFS is right now asking around to retired agency folks to see if they would contract some of the work. Some kind of stimulus, huh, to ask the retired to go to work in an effort to employ more folks and put more money in the economy? Their job would be to design a timber sale that the buyers can’t afford or need. Sale buyers need a lumber market, not logs. They need people buying the inventory of unsold homes, not someone selling lumber to someone else to build another home to not sell in a glutted market.

The cart has been placed before the horse, and the emperor is to drive it, stark naked, because his people did not do their due diligence. This is like me going to some interior Alaska village to sell $2000 a pair super insulated underwear to people who can’t afford the stove oil or food to survive since the price of crude oil has dropped and so has their State entitlement, and then to blame the business failure on global warming.

When the part of the economy I have a teensy bit of understanding of is bollixed to a large degree in the stimulus, I do have to wonder how many more parts of our economy will also get faux stimulus that will be of no help. I wonder if this is nothing more than a grandiose Nancy Pelosi Speaker triumph of Democrat power in the legislative branch, one of paybacks for past Republican slights, and no more than some sort of ongoing Lawmaker/Bonebreaker Kung Fu with no real public appeal and real use.

We are supposed to politely applaud the legislative gymnastics that produced it, and reward the actors with more of our economic blood. According to Wyden, he voted no when Bush pissed away $1 trillion on rich guy tax relief, $1 trillion on the Wars and $1 trillion on TARP. He voted yes on the Obama stimulus. So this is our chance to spend $1 trillion for the good of the American people… and by the way, here is the bill. Now you have to pay it. I made the choice for you.

My response: it can’t happen, dude, ’cause I ain’t gagged down the first trillion. What we need is a trained horse that can push the cart forward with its nose. Wyden could help.

Discouraged in Independence — bear bait.

17 Feb 2009, 7:23pm
by John M.

Bear Bait provide interesting commentary on his experience with one of our Senator’s town hall meetings. While I give the good Senator credit for enduing this schedule of moaning sessions, it would be a fine move if he could come to grips with the issues BB mentioned and not dance so much. On the other hand even if he leveled with people it probably wouldn’t make any difference.

BB’s comments about national forest management are unfortunately too true. There is something more to the current burning of the land beyond the apparent lack of wisdom. I am suspecting that back in Washington somewhere beyond the FS is someone with power over people jobs telling the FS to quit spending money on fires. This person, or persons, has either no appreciation of the value of the people’s forests, monetarily or socially, or has been brainwashed to believe burning the land is the right thing. I am probably wrong, but it sure looks like something other than line officer bad judgment is going on.

The idea of putting the old 10 AM policy back in play certainly makes sense. If there is no good reason for a fire to burn, and by ‘good’ I mean a well analyzed and jumped through the legal hoops reason, then put that hummer out. Don’t wait until it gets a head of steam up. Pound it with every resource available. Even at fuel prices today, there is plenty of going home gas. If it means crews spending the night camped out in the bush eating dried out ham between two pieces of bread, so be it.

Researchers have set the value of water from the national forests at something like $27 billion dollars, and recreation somewhere in range of $6 billion. Seems like with that kind of value the FS should not be allowing fire to romp over the landscape.

I vote for stomping on wildfires, and then get restoration forestry moving to reduce the fire losses, and assure the trees will be available for our grandchildren.



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