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History of the Forest Products Laboratory

Interview #927: Moody, Russell C. (June, 2009)

View all of First Interview Session (May 5, 2008)

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00:35:58 - 00:41:55 Forest Service

Forest Service, impression, utilization research, timber, sale, policy, industry, harvest repercussions, politics, harvesting, USDA, politics, budgets, changing perception

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00:35:58

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LB

Well, sort of in the same vein then, what were your impressions of the Forest Service? I guess, before you came to work here and, and then as your job here progressed?

RM

Ok, I, I guess I really didn't have any impressions before I came here. I didn't even know what it was. And then, slowly, I learned that yeah, we're part of the Forest Service, and a part of the US Department of Agriculture. But, the, the mission of the Forest Service seems to be so much different from the mission of many of the other of the other USDA, that the Forest Service kind of sits by itself as far as an agency. And then, as far as our Lab, we were---so much of the utilization research in the Forest Service was right here that, that there wasn't a whole lot for engineering to do with other stations. And as far as the Forest Service is concerned we were mainly---how should I say? The chief of the Forest Service always had big issues with utilization, as far as harvesting's concerned. Well, I shouldn't say utilization---the big issue was timber harvests, we need to have sale quotas and all that kind of stuff. And, and I guess my impression was that, that the timber industry in the South and the West, for a long time, pretty much ran the Forest Service timber sale policy. That was my impression of what happened. What used to happen is that the, these mills would---little western towns, southern towns would have a lumber mill, and it would build up around, around a national forest sale, or something like that. And then they say we, well, you know, we really need to, in order for our mill to be competitive, we need to be fifty percent bigger. And so, in order to get fifty percent bigger, we need more wood. And the way to get it was to get it from the Forest Service. Well, and if the Forest Service managers said, no this is our sale, this is it, well, politicians got involved. And politicians would say, look you guys got to come around here and get us some more wood. So I think, well, in my mind---I have no direct evidence---but, in my mind, the timber industry had a real influence on the Forest Service timber sales in the South and the West for many years. And then, by the, coming in to the '80s more and more activists got involved, and then it went the other way, where all of a sudden we're looking at, we're setting aside more wilderness areas, which now comes, you take that out of the bank of potential harvest. And so it, now sustained harvest is, in order to sustain [harvest all this rest?] you've got to reduce that. And when that got reduced mills had to shut down. And when mills shut down, all of a sudden there wasn't any way to utilize this stuff. So, it was, it kind of---the pendulum, I think, swung one way and then it swung back the other way. And so the down-shot of this was a lot of our, at least in the West, a lot of our small communities lost their timber industry because they had the feeling they had to be so big to be profitable or, and they became part of a bigger corporation or something like that. And they'd look at it and say well this little thing over here isn't getting us any money, so we'll shut it down. And so markets dried up in some of these areas and, and I don't, I guess I've been retired ten years now, but I know the struggle is still how do you, how do we remove some of this material from the woods because it's causing tremendous fire loads, and we got to figure out a way to get it out of there.

00:39:54

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LB

Did you feel that any of the repercussions of sort of the political nature of the Forest Service here?

RM

I don't know what---[pause] I suppose budget cuts were eventually what, what happened. The Forest Service became less of a contributor to the timber industry and so I expect they got less support for budget, which ended up being less support for budget for utilization being one thing, and then they've got cuts. So I think over the last twenty, ten to twenty years that's, that has taken a cut. Because we had, we had some great years for a while where budgets were increasing and staff was increasing and stuff like that. And, but, but I think, I think this is all part of the pendulum where we were, we were probably over-harvesting the national forests at the chagrin of some of the forest managers. And they finally, I think there was finally a group within the Forest Service that just finally said look, we can't put up with this anymore, and got enough environmental groups involved that it, it did make a change.

00:41:16

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LB

So, ultimately, did you see a change in the way that the Forest Service was perceived?

RM

Oh, I think so, yes. Definitely, the, yeah, the word, I guess the changing word was ecosystem management, back in the, and that's probably twenty years old, now that wording. And, you know, let's look at the whole system and how we can sustain the whole works. And, and this level of harvest that we've had in the past doesn't fit in with this. And so we've, we ended up reducing timber cuts and sales and stuff like that.

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