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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Slow growth seen in timber market

BOISE – Idaho’s state Land Board has approved a timber sale plan for 2014 that calls for harvesting 249 million board feet from state endowment lands, the highest logging level in more than a decade.

The timber cut has been fixed at 247 million board feet for the last several years, but next year’s includes a one-time adjustment that bumps it up by 2 million. In 2002, the state’s timber sale plan volume was less than 175 million board feet.

The board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials and is chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, unanimously adopted the plan. The state received only positive public comments on it, including enthusiastic support from Bennett Lumber Products, Idaho Forest Group and Stimson Lumber Co. in North Idaho.

“Last year almost one-third of all sawlog volume brought into our facility originated from Idaho Department of Lands timber sales,” wrote Tom Biltonen, resource manager for Bennett Lumber in Princeton. “The IDL timber sale program is a critical component of Bennett Lumber’s supply base and long term viability. We appreciate the efforts of the Idaho Department of Lands in supplying raw materials to the timber industry and the resulting support of our schools and other endowments.”

Last year’s state timber harvest brought in reduced receipts due to lower prices, despite the high level of cut. This year, Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz pointed to some good news on that score: two timber sales in March brought an average stumpage price of $400 per thousand board-feet, up from recent years’ averages of $200 or less; the state is now averaging around $250.

State forester David Groeschl said the economic downturn brought significant drops in prices starting in 2008. Now, there’s a surge in demand and a shortage of timber on the market from private sources. “Over the next couple of years we will see improved demand and improved stumpage prices,” Groeschl said. “I think overall, it’s going to continue to slowly improve.”

Drawing jeers

Two Idaho newspapers, the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Falls Post Register, offered “jeers” on their editorial pages last week to Coeur d’Alene Sen. Bob Nonini, picking up points on which they disagree with Nonini’s legislative agenda as well as his reluctance to talk to Idaho reporters.

Personally, I attempted to ask Nonini about his debate and vote against a fellow Coeur d’Alene lawmaker’s bill in the Senate this year immediately after that day’s session concluded, only to have him run off the Senate floor. That was followed by a comical sequence in which he jumped into a crowded Senate elevator, I joined him, he jumped out as the other senators gaped, and headed down the stairs, and I followed, only to hear “no comment.” I gave up after a flight and a half.

After I reported extensively last spring on Nonini’s campaign finance activity during the primary election – in which he unsuccessfully targeted several fellow GOP incumbents for defeat – he told me at the beginning of this year’s legislative session that he doesn’t like my reporting and wouldn’t be speaking to me. Other than an occasional social comment, he kept that up all session. The editorial jeers weren’t referring to his interactions with me, however, but to an item reported by Idaho Education News, an online news outlet. The site reported that Nonini said he’ll be back next year with his unsuccessful legislation to grant $10 million a year in tax credits for donations to scholarships to private schools, with the idea of saving the state money by getting thousands of students to switch from public to private schools. As the Lewiston Tribune put it, “The Great Nonini is too great to talk to Idaho reporters. He outlined his agenda to the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Rachel Sheffield.”

Asia trade mission

The governor and a delegation of business leaders left Friday on a trade mission to Asia, with stops planned in South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam. Taiwan is Idaho’s second-largest export market, and South Korea is its third; high-tech products and electronics are among top exports, but the state is looking to increase ag product exports. Among those represented on the mission are the Idaho Wheat Commission and the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, which represents hundreds of growers and shippers. The group returns April 27.

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