Saturday, March 1, 2008

March BMP Q&A

By: Jake Donellan, BMP Forester (Ret.), Texas Forest Service

Q:   In one of your most recent BMP Q&A articles, you mentioned that you thought that there may be an increase in the number of complaints about logging. What evidence do you have that would make you believe that, and if it turns out to be true, what can we do to avoid having a complaint against our operation.

A:   Forestry as we know it is currently undergoing a change. In fact, Texas Forest Service (TFS) has recently offered several workshops called “Changing Roles in Forestry” and “Texas Forest Expo” to landowners, loggers, and foresters highlighting some of the issues related to this change. These workshops identify some trends that are beginning to emerge across the forestry landscape affecting its participants. A couple of the trends identified in these workshops are the basis for my claim regarding a possible increase in logging complaints but I would like to focus on what I consider to be the primary reason.

The most important trend in my opinion is that the urban wildland interface (UWI) is expanding rapidly, bringing with it more people with limited experiences concerning forestry operations. With this increase in population, comes an increase in the chance some of these people may pass by a timber harvest operation. The limited experience and potentially unfavorable view of timber harvesting of some of these individuals may cause them to complain about the harvest. In other words, the visibility of timber harvests increases as more and more people move into the areas where the majority of harvests occur. The increase in visibility combined with the number of people, all with varied ideologies regarding timber harvesting, could lead to more complaints.

An increase in complaints is not a certainty by any means, but it is a possibility. Furthermore, it is important to note as mentioned in the previous article, TFS Best Management Practices program usually receives on average only 3-5 complaints per year. Usually of those 3-5 complaints, only 1-2 of them turn out to be complaints that have reasonable environmental concerns. Despite my speculation that the number of complaints may increase, I don’t expect the number with reasonable environmental concerns to increase because of the high BMP implementation rate (91.7%) throughout the state.

In regard to the second portion of the question, I don’t know if it is possible to avoid a complaint in all cases. The most important thing is to make sure you follow the BMP guidelines and implement BMPs properly on each job. BMPs have been proven to be effective and help to ensure that the timber being harvested is having a minimal effect on water quality and thus a minimal environmental effect.

If BMPs are implemented properly on a tract that received a complaint, then that creates an opportunity. The opportunity that is created is one of education for the person who lodged the complaint. A return call by a TFS BMP forester would include an explanation to the complainant as to why no further action was taken. This explanation would most likely include a description of the voluntary BMP system adopted in Texas, the high implementation rate that exists statewide, and possibly a very general overview of what was viewed i.e. if BMPs were implemented at the site in question. In some circumstances this explanation/educational opportunity could spill over into other aspects of forestry such as reforestation, harvest/reforestation rates, ecology, wildlife, or any other numerous avenues related to forestry.

The alternative is that if a complaint is legitimate, then it creates another opportunity for education. This opportunity relates to the landowner, forester, and logger of the operation in question as well as the BMP forester that addresses the complaint. It is important to understand why BMPs weren’t implemented properly: was it simply poor implementation of BMPs; could it be a poor understanding of how to implement the proper BMPs; did the landowner request that BMPs not be implemented; or was there some other reason? In all of these cases, some education needs to occur so that all the parties involved are aware of the implications of their actions.

Education always seems to be the key to solving most of our issues. Loggers should be well aware of how much education exists to help with Pro-Logger certification. It is important to know that the loggers aren’t the only ones who are the target of all the educational efforts. TFS, the Texas Forestry Association and other agencies and groups continue their efforts to educate these new landowners and UWI residents about forestry and forestry related issues. While we are educating these relative new comers about forestry, we are also educating ourselves about the different values and objectives they have for the land. This dialogue presents both sides with opportunities to build trust and with that the potential to see things from a different point of view.

The bottom line is while forestry may be changing, one thing that is not changing is people’s attitudes about timber being harvested in an environmentally sensitive and sustainable manner. Whether complaints increase or stay the same, as long as BMPs are being implemented at a high rate like they are today, loggers can take pride in the fact that they are doing their part. In fact, all you loggers should be proud to be such an outstanding group of environmentally sensitive lumberjacks and lumberjills, you’ve got the numbers to back it up (91.7% BMP implementation rate). Now, I have a question for you loggers, how many of you have been called environmentally sensitive before today?

For more information regarding BMPs consult the Texas Forestry Best Management Practices book (a.k.a. the “Bluebook”), contact your local Texas Forest Service office, or you can contact me.

* This article was published in the March 2008 issue of the Texas Logger