Railroads & Clearcuts

Railroads & Clearcuts News

from the Public Information Network

Issue Number 3, September 1997


Raw Logs and Chips: Exporting Forests and Jobs


The environmental, economic, and political crises in America's forests are made worse
by the export of raw logs, chips, and other unprocessed wood products

In the early 1960s, with the establishment of industrial-strength clearcutting operations on the National Forests, a few corporations began to export raw logs from the Pacific Northwest. Since then, more than 80 billion board feet of logs have been exported. The years 1989 and 1990 saw log exports topping four billion board feet. In an average year, more than two billion board feet is exported from the West Coast as a raw log. And that doesn't include chips, pulp, or other minimally-processed wood: more than two billion board feet of chips were also exported from the Northwest in 1996.

About half the cut in Oregon and Washington,
and more than half the cut in Alaska,
is being exported as raw logs or wood chips.

 Softwood logs exported (in million board feet)















































Major log ports (million board feet exported in 1996)

Longview WA


Tacoma WA


Aberdeen-Hoquiam WA


Everett WA


Port Angeles WA


Portland OR


Coos Bay OR


Astoria OR


Newport OR


Eureka CA


Oakland CA


Sacramento CA


Ketchikan AK


Anchorage AK


Juneau AK


Valdez AK


British Columbia


Montana and Idaho


Source: U.S. Forest Service, Production, Prices, Employment and Trade in NW Forest Industries, Resource Bulletin PNW-RB-266.

The log export issue is especially timely right now: U.S. Senator Slade Gorton has attached a rider which would circumvent federal log export restrictions. The vote may come at any time.

Contact your U.S. Senator, your U.S. Representative, and President Clinton immediately and tell them to oppose any weakening of log export restrictions!
Congress toll free 1-888-723-5246

The debate about raw log exports centers around several issues.

As in most debates, much of the heat comes from "issues" which are a distraction at best.
Let's consider some of the controversies around the export of American jobs and forests.

Issue # 1: Jobs. Of course log exports do provide jobs -- and longshoremen have resisted attempts to ban exports, claiming that they'd lose 2,000 jobs. But longshoremen load and unload finished wood products, too. There is no doubt that American jobs are being bypassed by log exports. A study by the Washington State Employment Security Division reported that seven direct and 14 indirect jobs are lost for every million board feet of logs exported. That would be 14,000 direct jobs processing the two billion board feet of logs now exported every year. Log exports clearly cost a lot more jobs than they create.

Issue # 2: "Any economic activity is good." "Demand" is elastic, which is why corporations spend so much on advertising -- to convince us that we want and need more of everything -- including log exports. But do we? Do we want to strip our land of forests? Half the timber we cut goes to paper, and two-thirds of paper is packaging, tissue, and other disposables. Do you want packaging more than you need healthy forests? What about jobs in recycling, and in forest restoration?

The depletion of forests by wholesale export goes along with the productivity-at-any-price arguments that have been used to justify replacing human labor with pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and machines.

"[T]he export of unprocessed logs, the relentless drive for ever higher levels of automation, the stress on clearcutting..., the use of chemical weed killers, the burning of slash, and so on, make no sense from a worker's standpoint."

-- John Bellamy Foster, The Limits of Environmentalism Without Class

 Issue # 3: Over the past century, and continuing today, more and more timber is cut, while the number of jobs goes down. According to numerous studies, this is due to overcutting, exacerbated by log and chip exports and automation -- not to environmental restrictions. Most of the small independent mills have already been forced out of business, and many timber communities are now desperate for jobs. But if a handful of big corporations did not control most of the land and resources and manufacturing capacity, perhaps we wouldn't be so eager to settle for jobs that don't pay a living wage, and leave us with depleted resources and toxic waste. Who's in charge?

Issue # 4: "Free market" and "free trade" -- rhetoric and reality. When a community tries to exert its sovereignty over its resources and labor, corporations raise the banner of "the free market" and "the need to compete," as if those were higher ideals than independence and community. There is no free market, and never has been. Every country subsidizes its timber industry. The rhetoric of "free trade" is only used by politicians and corporations when their profitable deals are threatened by common sense and community control. And, free market or not, it will never in the interest of the Pacific Northwest to be a resource colony for value-added economies elsewhere.

The compulsion to join in the frenzied drive to destroy what is left of local economies and culture is its own reward. We can't be competitive in a global economy dominated by the same corporations which have depleted our natural resources and ruined our regional economies.

Issue # 5: The trade deficit. It has been claimed (usually by the exporters) that log exports help the balance of trade. But the international trade of wood products is a tiny percentage of total U.S. trade -- less than one percent. America's trade deficit can not be resolved by exporting what remains of our forests. And anyway, value-added forest products processed in America would fetch an even higher price. The transition to a new value-added forest economy is controlled by the few corporations which have the capital and the national and international marketing operations to promote value-added products -- unfortunately, the same corporations that benefit from the log export trade.

Issue # 6: Independents versus big landowners. It is claimed that log exports provide a lucrative market for small landowners. The grassroots-sounding Washington Citizens for World Trade was established to promote exports, as if the wholesale shipping of unprocessed natural resources were necessary for a healthy economy. But WCWT is financed by the major exporters, including Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek -- and staffed by the likes of former Plum Creek vice-president Nick Kirkmire.

The truth is that only a handful of timber corporations have enough timberland, or the access to Asian markets, to export logs. Most of the logs are exported by Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek, from lands they stole from the public through the fraudulent and corrupt Northern Pacific Railroad land grant. Every time there's a recession, more small mills go out of business, and Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek end up with a larger share of the market. Two of every four trees continues to be exported from the Northwest as logs or chips, bypassing U.S. mills and accelerating deforestation.

As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife pointed out in 1991-1992 when it proposed critical habitat protections for the spotted owl, a small reduction in log exports would more than make up for any timber cutting restrictions enacted to protect the environment [or to ensure future timber supplies and long-term employment].


The Railroad Land Grants and The Log Export Trade

Among the largest log and chip exporters are the corporate heirs of the 19th century railroad land grants. The two largest holders of Northern Pacific Railroad grant lands are Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek Timber. These railroad grant lands include more than 1.5 million acres of Weyerhaeuser land in Washington State, and Plum Creek's holdings of 1.6 million acres in Montana and Idaho and 330,000 acres in the Washington Cascades. Both corporations have used their profits to acquire additional lands elsewhere, and both Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek export hundreds of millions of board feet of raw logs and are involved in chipping operations. Both use their export profits to bid against independent mills for timber on the National Forests. If Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek stopped exporting the logs from the railroad grant lands they control, small mills would have access to more timber.


The Battle To Restrict Raw Log Exports

Recognizing the disadvantages of natural resource colonization and depletion, nearly every nation in the world has banned the export of raw logs. Yet America's political leaders, with their penchant for quick profits over sovereignty and sustainability, have concocted several pieces of convoluted legislation, shot through with weasel-words, loopholes, and expiration dates. Common sense and the law are being abused by transnational corporations and their representatives in Congress.

The export of raw logs from federal lands has been restricted since 1968. In 1973, the ban was made total. Unfortunately, the ban must be renewed annually. In 1990, the Forest Resources Conservation and Shortage Relief Act (FRCSRA) banned the exportation of raw logs from state forests west of the 100th meridian, except for Washington State, where a 75 percent ban was enacted, until late 1992, when all Washington State logs exports were banned. However, the commitment of Congress to a healthy economy and environment was not complete -- the Washington State ban was to expire after five years, and its renewal is being held hostage by Slade Gorton, the Senator from the State of Weyerhaeuser Washington.

Defying the Restrictions:

& Slade Rides Again

Say you are a huge region-wide landlord (like, say, Weyerhaeuser or Plum Creek Timber). If you export your own logs, it is illegal to cut National Forest logs in the same area -- in effect, "substituting" public timber for the trees you've exported overseas. There are any number of ways to hire contractors to do your bidding for you; even the Forest Service has no idea how much second- and third-party substitution takes place. And it is legal to export your logs from one region and then turn around and bid on National Forest timber in a different region, called a "sourcing area," if the two areas are "economically and geographically separate."

Sourcing area boundaries have been challenged by conservationists and by companies which don't export logs, who argue that the Northwest is one large log market and that improper substitution is occuring. A 1995 lawsuit charged the Forest Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture with violating the FRCSRA law by allowing log exporters to purchase federal timber in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. The lawsuit was settled in November 1996, but Gorton's rider, offered at the urging of Weyerhaeuser Corporation, suspends portions of the FRCSRA. Under the 1990 law, two of the largest log exporters, Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek Timber, were required to reapply for permission to purchase federal timber. Gorton's rider prohibits the Forest Service from conducting that review. "The log export lobby clearly is nervous about the validity of their substitution permit, and they appear unwilling to end log exports. So they got a friendly Congress to pass a backdoor suspension of the law," said Mike Grayson of the Montana Wilderness Association. (in a November 1996 press release by the Montana Wilderness Association and the Sierra Club).

Gorton is trying to cut another deal this year to make the continued ban on log exports from Washington State lands contingent on ignoring the provision in FRCSRA which requires periodic review of federal sourcing area restrictions -- creating, in effect, a huge region-wide substitution of state (and private) logs. In other words, if you want to process State Forest logs here at home, then you'll have to let the big boys continue to export their logs while bidding on National Forest timber. So much for jobs, free trade, and environmental sanity. Who's in charge?

Gorton's Log Export Rider: the View from Montana

edited from reports by Steve Thompson

At the behest of the log export industry, Senator Slade Gorton has attached another rider to the Senate Interior Appropriations bill. It would gut the 1990 FRCSRA law that restricted the export of raw logs. The Senate is about to vote on this bill. We hope to raise opposition on the Senate Floor and catch the Administration's attention in preparation for the conference committee.

The main concern with Gorton's log export rider is that it does away with the compromise embodied in the 1990 Forest Resources Conservation and Shortage Relief Act. This compromise allowed log exporters to buy federal timber if their mills are in an economically and geographically separate area.

Most folks in the Northwest support an outright ban on log exports. And there's even greater support for ending federal timber sales to log exporters.

Perhaps the greatest opposition is from the majority of timber mills that find themselves squeezed by the large log exporting conglomerates. For example, in Montana, Plum Creek can easily use its economic clout (from log exports as well as from its near-monopoly ownership of more than 90 percent of Montana's industrial timberland) to subsidize high bids on National Forest timber sales.

The 1990 compromise with the powerful log export industry allowed exporters to purchase federal timber under the "economically and geographically separate" rule. In 1990 and up until 1994, there were economically and geographically separate log markets in the Northwest. Now, however, the Northwest is one big woodbasket. Montana mills, for example, are forced to compete against Oregon mills for Montana timber. Any purchase of Northwest federal timber by log exporters qualifies as substitution.

A lawsuit joined by Boise Cascade, Bennett Lumber, the Small Business Timber Council, Lemhi County Idaho, the Montana Wilderness Association, and the Sierra Club sought Forest Service enforcement of the substitution law. Stimson Lumber voluntarily ended its export of raw logs because of our lawsuit.

Prodded by the lawsuit, the USDA and Forest Service attempted to enforce the 1990 compromise, but these moves were blocked by Gorton riders in 1995 and 1996. The 1997 rider takes the more direct route of simply changing the statute. By eliminating consideration of Washington log exports from the sourcing area equation, the rider skates around an objective consideration of "economically and geographically separate." Further, it opens the door to the nation's second largest log exporter, Pacific Lumber and Shipping, for unrestricted access to federal timber. Instead of moving forward on log export restrictions, this rider moves us backward several huge steps.

Here are the impacts on Montana: Non-exporting mills face unfair competition in federal timber sales against log exporters who make windfall profits exporting logs rather than using their own logs in their own mills. Allowing substitution helps the big guys and hurts the little guys, pure and simple. Further, Montana mills must compete against Washington and Oregon mills that cannot outbid the subsidized Asian import markets.

Since it is economically viable to transport logs hundreds of miles, Montana mills are directly affected by the big sucking sound of two billion board feet of the highest quality logs being exported from the West Coast. The impacts on non-exporting mills further West are even more direct.

From an environmental perspective, high domestic demand fueled by raw log exports creates enormous political and social pressure to log sensitive public lands, including old-growth forests and roadless areas. The bottom line: public land owners, fish and wildlife are subsidizing the huge corporations that generate windfall profits from log exports.

Chipping the South

As timber supplies in the Northwest are depleted, the pulp and paper industry is moving South. The Southern U.S. now produces 25 percent of the world's paper. There are 140 woodchip mills in the Southeastern U.S., 108 of them built in the last decade. Taking advantage of exemptions from environmental regulations, and of taxpayer-subsidized river transport and dock facilities, more than a million acres in the South are clearcut every year for woodchips. Water quality is deteriorating, and the remaining longleaf pine and Appalachian and Ozark hardwood forests are disappearing -- including habitat for 42 threatened and endangered species within the chip mills' sourcing areas. Corporations such as Champion International and Willamette Industries are investing heavily in woodchip facilities and operations. In April, 150 national, regional, and local citizen groups signed a letter to the U.S. EPA calling for a moratorium on new chip mills and a cumulative impact study. Contact the Dogwood Alliance, PO Box 4193, Chattanooga TN 37405, (770) 867-0197, e-mail dogwood@essential.org.

Action Items

Contact your U.S. Senator, your U.S. Representative, and President Clinton immediately and tell them to oppose any weakening of federal, state, or private
log export restrictions! (Call Congress toll free 1-888-723-5246). Tell them to:

Make total and permanent the federal and state lands restrictions on raw log exports. Taxpayers should not lose money and forests to bolster the profits of corporations wheeling and dealing in the log export trade.

Require the Forest Service to review sourcing areas annually. In 1996, 1.5 billion board feet of raw logs was exported from Oregon and Washington, while 1.1 billion board feet was sold from the National Forests in Oregon and Washington. Does anyone see a connection here? No more loopholes, no more substitution.

Ban the export of raw logs from railroad grant lands, and from private timberlands.
Free trade rhetoric is no comfort to a region without forests or jobs. Who's in charge?

Place a moratorium on any new chip mills.

Who to Contact

The Dogwood Alliance, a coalition fighting the destruction of the South's forests by the spread of chipping operations. PO Box 4193, Chattanooga TN 37405, (770) 867-0197, e-mail dogwood@essential.org.

Steve Thompson, an environmental activist in Montana, has built coalitions with millworkers, small timber companies and local governments to fight the export of raw logs. PO Box 4471, Whitefish, MT 59937, (406) 862-3795, e-mail sthompson@desktop.org.

Mark Lawler is an expert on log export issues for the Sierra Club in the Pacific Northwest, and National Forests Committee Chair for the Sierra Club Cascade Chapter, 8511 15th Ave NE, Room 201, Seattle, WA 98115, (206) 632-1550, mark.lawler@sierraclub.org.

The Inland Empire Public Lands Council is dedicated to the transition of the greater Columbia River ecosystem from resource exploitation to long term community and biological sustainability. IEPLC's projects include Forest Watch (National Forest monitoring), Get the LEAD Out! (restoring the toxic-mine-waste-polluted Coeur d'Alene-Spokane River), Railroads & Clearcuts, and Public Outreach (including the Transitions journal). IEPLC, 517 S. Division St, Spokane WA 99202, (509) 838-4912.

The Public Information Network provides research and information services to citizens and public interest groups, including training in grassroots environmental and economic research, the End Game project to expose corporate subsidies, and several Internet-accessible databases http://violet.berkeley.edu/ ~orourke/PIN.html PO Box 95316, Seattle WA 98145, e-mail pin@igc.org.

The views expressed in the Railroads & Clearcuts News are those of editor George Draffan, and not necessarily those of other contributors or organizations mentioned.

Donations for the News are welcome, payable to the Public Information Network, PO Box 95316, Seattle WA 98145-2316.

The 200-page Railroads & Clearcuts book about the railroad land grants is also available, for $17 postpaid.