Chip Mills Propaganda

A friend in Virginia has been sending me newspaper articles on chip mills for my comments.  Here are comments on some paraphrased quotes by chip mill advocates, plus some other paraphrased quotes from other sources such as posts to saf-news.  These comments were posted to nefr-list, saf-news and alt.forestry August 5, 1999.  For more information on the chip mill controversy, see these web sites:,,

Deconstructing Chip Mill Propaganda

"Chip mills only use waste wood and poor quality trees."

Chip mills will use any wood that is fed into them.  If the owners of the chip mills have QUOTAS to meet, which they always do, they'll take anything, including grade timber and smaller trees that could become grade timber if left to grow.  The same applies for contract loggers who have quotas set by the chip mills.

Chip mills don't hire foresters to mark trees for their loggers to cut.  Nor do they issue silvicultural guidelines for the loggers to follow themselves.  They just issue quotas.  And they pay when those quotas are met.

But who says all so-called waste wood should be utilized anyway?  Shouldn't top wood and culls be left to rot and enrich the soil?  Shouldn't cavity trees be left for wildlife habitat?  Shouldn't some stands that have been heavily cut in the past be thinned by girdling (rather than commercial cutting) so that all the all the waste wood will go back into the soil?

"Chip mills don't encourage clearcutting."

Well, they may not issue specific INSTRUCTIONS to their contractors to go out and clearcut, but neither do they hire foresters to develop sustainable management plans for landowners, nor do they issue silvicultural guidelines to their contractors that prohibit clearcutting.

In fact, most of the contractors that supply chip mills use large mechanical harvesters that are unsuited to selective cutting unless they are run by highly trained personnel, which is rarely the case.  These machines are very expensive to own and operate, and are most efficient working on clearcuts where the operators don't have to worry about maneuvering between trees and scarring them in the process.

If they don't want to encourage clearcutting, why don't they agree to make their permitting conditional upon contracts with the state stipulating that they will only buy wood from landowners and contractors that have been certified under sustainable forestry programs?

"Besides, clearcutting mimics natural processes like hurricanes and wild fires." 

So clearcutting is best understood as a NATURAL DISASTER?  But even with severe windstorms, many trees will be left standing.  Hurricanes typically cause severe damage only on slopes facing the strongest winds, the southeast facing slopes, and on wet soils. 

Fires also leave many live trees, particularly those with thick bark that insulates them from fires.  Thin-barked maples, birches, pines and hemlocks will often die; but thick-barked oaks and hickories will survive, plus older trees of other species.  Wet areas won't be affected by fires.

"Clearcutting is necessary on many woodlots to reverse the bad effects of decades of high-grading."

OK, a bit of the truth emerges.  Translation: Industry (facilitated by bureaucracy) has so badly MUTILATED the forest that the only remedy is to level it and start over.  The first part is of course true, but how does the second part follow from it?  Why not try to salvage what is left rather than throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water?

Most high-graded forest stands still have 30-50% of acceptable growing stock, that is, trees that if left to grow will produce valuable timber in time.  After one or two improvement harvests/thinnings, these trees will grow into very respectable timber stands.  And they will produce high rates of return over the next 10-20 years.  Landowners won't have to wait for two generations to see another harvest as they will after a clearcut.

"Clearcutting is but one tool of science-based forestry."

Now that they've high-graded the hell out of the forests for 40 years, they want to give them the COUP DE GRACE by clearcutting them.  Then they'll move elsewhere for 40 years.  Then, as soon as the trees are big enough, they'll come back to high-grade the hell out of them for another 40 years.  Then they'll clearcut them again.  This is science-based forestry.

"Given the choice between continued high-grading and clearcutting, the latter is the better choice."

Once again, a bit of the truth emerges.  What they're really saying is they've screwed things up royally.  They admit to having done MASSIVE ECOLOGICAL DAMAGE, but now they've figured out how to redeem themselves.  There certainly is truth in the diagnosis, and there's a certain idiot logic to the prescription, but given their history, can you trust these people?

It's sort of like saying, well, hitting the thing with a sledge hammer didn't work, so now we're going to try a wrecking ball.  Let's see if that does the trick.  Trust us.  We know what we're doing.  We're trained in science-based forestry.

"We tried doing selective cutting and we found it left too may inferior trees behind." 

What they tried was CLASSIC HIGH-GRADING: cutting the best and leaving the rest.  It was selective only insofar as they "selected" the biggest and best trees.  And of course they left all the inferior trees behind because they were only thinking of the short-term returns from logging.

There's a big difference between selective logging and selective silviculture.  They tried the former, but not the latter.  Selection silviculture would have called for just the opposite of what they did: leaving the best and cutting the rest.  And it would have resulted in highly productive, sustainable forest stands.

"Landowners have property rights and it's up to them how they'll sell their timber."

The typical landowner sells timber only once or twice in a lifetime.  Loggers and procurement foresters buy timber every day.  Who do you think will win contests of NEGOTIATING SKILLS under these circumstances?

Given the amount of knowledge and experience that are required to design and execute a sound forest management plan, landowners need professional guidance and assistance.  They need to know how to avoid destructive high-grading and clearcutting, and how to plan for the long-term health and productivity of the forest.

What some loggers and procurement foresters really mean when they talk about property rights is THEIR right to landowners' property.  They believe they are entitled to go in and cut whatever they want, however they want, and pay the landowner whatever they feel like paying.  Studies have shown that consulting foresters get at least 20% more for the same timber as loggers and procurement foresters.

"Chip mills won't come in and level 10,000 acres in one night."  

No, it will take the average chip mill about A YEAR to level 10,000 acres.  And then it will level another 10,000 acres per year after that until there's nothing left to cut within the "procurement area" of the chip mill.

The reason that we have so may chip mills in the first place is because the big pulp mills that the chip mills feed have exhausted THEIR procurement areas, and have developed the satellite chip mill technology to EXPAND their procurement areas.

"What we don't need is more regulation.  We already have enough regulation to choke a horse."

What we really have is NO REGULATION at all.  The so-called best management practices that are in place in most states are strictly voluntary on the part of loggers and landowners, and they only cover things like stream crossings and erosion control, not silviculture or management.

The few states that do have regulation of cutting practices have it to protect loggers from a plethora of local regulations and ordinances, many of which could be quite restrictive if the state didn't intervene on the loggers' behalf to preempt such local regulations.  State cutting practice regulations also typically include mandatory best management practices to appease local environmentalists. 

"Opposition to chip mills is just a pretext on the part of preservationists to control forest industries and private property."

Given their past record, would anyone is his/her right mind NOT want to control forest industries?  They admit having screwed things up royally through decades of high-grading.  And now they want carte blanche to "fix" their mistakes with rampant clearcutting!  Who wouldn't be opposed to this travesty except those who profit from it?

What most sane people want is to give more control to well-informed and well-advised landowners so that they can make the best choices about the future of THEIR private property.  Most landowners worked hard to come up with the money to own their land.  They don't want to have their property values destroyed by rapacious chip mills and their contractors. 

Many studies have shown that sound silviculture yields 2-3 times the annual returns of high-grading and clearcutting over time.  Likewise, net present values of well-managed forests are 2-3 times those of clearcut or high-graded forests.  Landowners need to get this information along with assistance from consulting foresters in implementing sound silvicultural practices.