Colo. and Wyo. foresters gather for annual meeting in Casper
Casper – On May 11-13, the Society of American Foresters hosted their annual Colorado/Wyoming meeting, featuring educational talks and discussions led by presenters from around the country.
During the Wyoming Interagency Timber Meeting on May 11, State Natural Resource Advisor for U.S. Senator Barrasso, Travis McNiven, talked with attendees about the current political climate and recent changes at Capitol Hill.
Things are continuing to progress with President Trump’s cabinet, said McNiven.
“On April 28, he just nominated a gentleman by the name of David Bernhardt to be undersecretary, so he joins Secretary Zinke there at the Interior,” he commented.
On April 24, the Senate confirmed Sonny Purdue as the Secretary of Agriculture.
“There’s no doubt that a lack of a secretary has slowed the transition process and that really impacts the forest service,” noted McNiven. “We hope that there will be other key personnel coming for natural resources and the Forest Service.”
Beginning on May 11, Secretary Purdue began announcing restructuring changes for the USDA.
“The biggest change is there’s going to be a new undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs,” he said.
McNiven continued, “There’s also going to be a bit of a reshuffling with the Natural Resource Conservation Service as it will be shipped over to what’s called the Farm Services side of the new structure and be joined with the Farm Service Agency and risk management agency at USDA.”
According to McNiven, this will free up the Undersecretary of Natural Resources to focus primarily on the Forest Service.
As the 115th Congress progresses, McNiven noted that active management of forests is an important discussion topic.
“In Wyoming and other western states, the private land owners and state agencies in our industry and the stakeholders do a great job of managing the forests to reduce the fire risks, but in many ways forest management policy has agencies’ hands tied,” he said.
According to McNiven, large forest fires dramatically impact budgets, in addition to destroying wildlife habitat, causing soil erosion and air pollution.
“There’s millions of dollars in reclamation work that needs to be done down the road,” he commented. “It’s really been problematic on those fronts and then also policy with the never ending litigation of timber sales are often subject to.”
McNiven continued, “Those are some of the focuses we’ll be addressing in the upcoming Congress, as well as the Farm Bill.”
In 2006, McNiven explained that the U.S. and Canada reached an agreement that the U.S. would lift countervailing and other duties on certain Canadian timber if timber prices stayed above a certain point.
“That agreement expired in 2015 and since then, the two countries have failed to renegotiate a new agreement, primarily because Canada has effectively very little motivation to change the trade situation as it stands today,” he said.
On April 24, the Commerce Department announced they would implement tariffs up to 24 percent on Canadian softwood lumber imports, which McNiven noted has had “some ripple effects.”
“It has started to create a discussion with some of our Canadian friends who are calling on Canada to place tariffs on U.S. shipments of poles for Canadian imports,” commented McNiven. “There’s a little bit of a threat of retaliation if that goes through.”
He continued, “We’re hopeful that the two countries will be able to come back to the table and put an agreement back in place.”
McNiven explained that recent changes have been made in policy definition of biomass
“We just changed that biomass will be viewed by the United States government as carbon neutral at it relates to the carbon cycles,” he said.
While some argue that biomass is not carbon neutral because of emissions during logging and burning, McNiven noted the mindset is shortsighted.
“It fails to recognize and account for the fact that the harvesting of trees and biomass does promote forest regrowth, which is a carbon sink,” he continued. “Also, if we do nothing or take no action, wildfire emissions and decaying trees put out a lot more carbon and methane emission than the biomass industry.”
He explained that the opening paragraph of the policy states that federal agencies are to be consistent in the federal policies enforced and that they recognize the benefits of biomass used for energy, conservation and forest management.
“We definitely think that this is a step in the right direction, although not a silver bullet. This statement will start to set the table for federal policy,” McNiven concluded.
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.