By Don Healy
Published: Monday, November 17, 2014, 12:01 a.m., The Everett Herald Newspaper, Washington
The residents of Washington have just passed Referendum 1351, which mandates a reduction in class size without providing for the funding to accomplish this objective. This funding burden is added to the existing problem of obtaining funding for current education needs for which the current Washington Legislature is already being threatened with contempt of court by the State Supreme Court for not meeting the requirements of the state constitution. Obviously, we are failing as a state to adequately provide for the education needs of the youth of our state. There is at least a partial solution to this dilemma which will solve additional problem as well.
Since 1908, the U. S. Forest Service, as required by law, has provided 25 percent of its receipts from the sale, lease, rental, or other fees for using the national forests, to be used for roads and schools in the counties where the national forests are located. Up until the late 1970s, the revenue from timber harvests provided large sums of money to local school districts. However, by the late 1970s, environment groups, through court actions, essentially halted timber harvests on federal lands in the United States. Since that time, there have been virtually no timber harvests on federal lands. In the past 34 years, our forest inventory has continued to grow and we currently have more standing timber than we did in 1950. However, without harvesting and applying silvicultural treatments such as thinning, and as a result of our prior fire suppression policies, the health of our forests has declined precipitously due to over-crowding and stagnation. This has led to massive insect infestations such as the mountain pine beetle, which created conditions ideal for the massive forest fires that we are seeing each summer. The health of our forest could be dramatically improved by thinning and selective partial cutting.
Ironically, while we have greatly reduced our timber harvests in the United States, we have not reduced our consumption of wood products. Last year, we imported $14,710,000,000 worth of lumber, up from $12,420,000,000 in 2012; a high percentage from Canada, but some from as far away as New Zealand and Finland. We preach a mantra regarding farm products of buying locally whenever possible. Should we not apply the same thought process to forest products as well? The multiplier effect from lumber production is about seven times, which means that were we to produce that $14,710,000,000 worth of lumber and wood products domestically, it would provide a $102,970,000,000 stimulus to our nation's economy.
I will leave it to the economists to estimate the precise increased revenue that would flow to our schools from the 25 percent of the stumpage rate, but the impact would be substantial. Factoring in the increase in employment levels, B & O taxes, and property taxes, the overall benefit would be much greater yet. We would also have the added benefit of having healthier and more productive forests. I believe the merits of this proposal are well worth considering.