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The forest products industry: issues and responsibilities.

The Forest Products Industry: Issues and Responsibilities

The forest products industry is the economic mainstay of western Montana, eastern Washington, and the Idaho panhandle. After record-breaking prosperity in the 1970s, the industry experienced several changes in the 1980s. The first few years of this decade included severe setbacks as the nation and the industry reeled from the effects of the 1980-82 recessions. Then, while wood products demand rose in 1984 and 1985, prices remained low due to international competition and other factors. Finally, despite high demand and improving prices in 1986 and 1987, the industry lost jobs due to technological changes that enabled plants to produce more efficiently. In the meantime, smaller plant closures and corporate mergers and buyouts changed some of the industry's regional players. The overall results are an industry quite different from what it was ten years ago.

To assess how the public perceives the industry today, the Bureau of Business and Economic Research conducted an extensive telephone survey in April and May of 1988. The survey examined public attitudes and opinions about the wood products industry and looked at topics such as the industry's obligation to local communities, its forestry practices, and water pollution caused by logging. The Bureau surveyed more than 1,700 residents of western Montana, northern Idaho, and eastern Washington (figure 1) and also interviewed a sample of elected officials in all three areas.

This article summarizes the survey's findings. The text refers to some statistical information that is not included in the figures and tables. More detailed information about the survey results are available from the Bureau.

Highlights of the


* Jobs and the economy are considered the

number one problem in the Inland Northwest.

Pollution, public services, infrastructure,

and some local issues are a distant


* Those responding to the survey felt wood products

companies have a responsibility to protect

the environment as well as provide jobs.

* Most respondents said that forest products

companies are committed to the local areas,

but a sizable minority thought they would

rather "cut and leave."

* Most people believe forests are a renewable

resource that requires management and a

long regrowth period.

* Respondents credit the wood products companies

with doing a good job of forest

management - even better than government


* Respondents think that timber is being cut

faster than it can be replaced, but were divided

as to whether there will always be an adequate

supply for local mills.

* Respondents did not think water pollution

caused by forest practices is a major problem.

* Respondents believe there are serious conflicts

between commercial and recreational uses of

the national forests.

General Concerns

To begin the survey, interviewers asked respondents to identify the most important problem in their area. Their responses indicated that jobs and other economic concerns are by far the most important problem (figure 2). Seventy percent of the overall sample gave that response, and even more elected officials (74 percent) answered similarly. Among the area residents, those from the Washington-Idaho panhandle were most likely to name this issue.

Respondents were less clear when asked to identify the number two problem. Residents of the surveyed Montana counties mentioned pollution; Coeur d'Alene area residents cited public education; and others referred to public services and infrastructure, such as sewers, roads and planning.

Before moving on to more specific questions, the interviewers asked respondents what the term "forest products industry" meant to them. Many gave more than one response, but they mentioned mills, logging, and forest management most frequently. Among those responses, area residents mentioned mills most frequently (35 percent), with logging mentioned by an additional 24 percent. Nearly half the elected officials mentioned logging, with mills the second most frequent response.

The responses to these introductory questions established that there is a consensus among residents of the Inland Northwest; they clearly are concerned about jobs and other economic issues. The forest products industry provides many, and sometimes most, of the basic industry jobs in the survey areas. Therefore, the attitudes and opinions expressed in the survey are especially significant.

Industry Responsibility

The survey sought to assess public attitudes about the forest products industry's responsibilities to their local communities. It also asked respondents to evaluate the industry's level of commitment to their local communities.

To discover what residents and local officials feel is the forest products companies' most important community responsibility, interviewers read survey respondents a list of items and asked them to rank them from most important to least important. Residents from all geographic areas surveyed responded similarly; they said protecting the environment was the industry's most important responsibility, followed relatively closely by the responsibility to provide jobs (table 1). Treating workers well and paying a fair share of taxes came next, followed more distantly by supporting community organizations.

Table : Table 1 Ranking of Forest Products Industry Responsibilities

Resident sample (a)(n = 1754)
Protect the environment 2.0
 Provide jobs 2.3
 Treat workers well 3.0
 Pay fair share of taxes 3.2
 Support community organizations 4.7

Elected officials (b)(n = 121)
Provide jobs 2.0
 Protect the environment 2.5
 Treat workers well 2.8
 Pay fair share of taxes 3.0
 Support community organizations 4.7

NOTE: Rankings were from 1 (most important) to 5 (least important); thus, the lower the average ranking, the more important the item.

(a)Excludes elected officials. (b)Includes county commissioners, county and city treasurers, state representatives, and state senators.

The ranking order was virtually the same among all resident respondent groups. Older respondents and those from households with a forest products industry employee tended to rank jobs and environmental protection with almost equal emphasis. Younger respondents and those with higher education levels were more pronounced in their ranking of environmental protection as the more important responsibility.

The elected officials who participated in the survey differed somewhat from area residents on this issue. They ranked the industry's responsibility to provide jobs as more important than its responsibility to protect the environment. However, elected officials ranked the other items in the same order as the residents, with roughly similar emphasis.

Elected officials and area residents, then, agreed that providing jobs and protecting the environment are the primary responsibilities of the forest products industry. However, these groups disagreed on which of the two is the top responsibility.

Interviewers asked a separate question to measure the level of forest products industry commitment to their local areas. The question asked specifically whether the respondents felt that the large forest products companies are truly committed to their communities, or if they are interested only in cutting as much timber as they can and then leaving.

About half the area residents surveyed said that the wood products companies are committed to their areas. Another third said the companies are only interested in cutting and leaving.

No single sub-group had a majority which felt that the companies only wanted to cut and leave. However, residents of Montana's Lake, Gallatin, and Missoula counties were more likely to say that the companies are uncommitted to the area, with 44 percent answering that way and 35 percent saying the companies are committed to their communities. Another group, those earning under $15,000 per year in household income, divided evenly on this issue. Otherwise, all other resident groups had more respondents saying that industry companies are committed than said they weren't.

Elected officials had a more favorable view of the industry. Sixty percent said the forest products companies are truly committed to their communities. Only 24 percent said the companies just want to cut timber and leave.

Renewability and


Before asking respondents specifically about forest management in their local areas, the interviewers asked them some general questions about forest renewability. Both elected officials and the public viewed forests as renewable resources, although many recognized the need for management and/or a long regrowth period (figure 3).

The residents surveyed agreed that American forests, in general, are renewable. However, more of them said the forests are renewable with good management practices (34 percent) than simply said they are renewable (28 percent). Elected officials were much more likely to simply say the forests are renewable (52 percent). Another one-fourth said forests are renewable if managed properly.

Very few in both groups said forests are not renewable. Only 4 percent of the elected officials and 15 percent of the general public gave that response.

Survey participants answered a series of questions about forest management. The first asked whether the federal government, the state government, or forest products companies do the best job of managing their forest lands. The general population ranked state government first (30 percent), followed by the forest products companies (26 percent), and the federal government (20 percent).

Despite significant differences in land ownership patterns in Idaho, Montana, and Washington, the rankings did not vary among the residents from each state. College students (a small proportion of the total sample) accounted for the only notable difference - they were much more likely to choose state government, and much less likely to choose private industry as the better forest land manager.

The surveyed elected officials felt differently than the general public. They ranked the forest products companies and the federal government almost equally (32 and 31 percent respectively) as the best land manager, followed more distantly by state government (18 percent).

Inland Empire residents thought the wood products companies in their area are doing a good job managing their forests. When asked to evaluate the companies' forest management, nearly half rated it good to excellent, 31 percent said fair, and only 7 percent said poor (figure 4). Elected officials gave the forest products industry even higher ratings. [Graphical Data Omitted]

Turning next to regulations, the most frequent response was that these rules affecting timber cutting on government land should be left alone. One-third of the residents and 38 percent of the elected officials felt that way. An additional 10 percent of the residents and 19 percent of the elected officials preferred even fewer government timber regulations. Even so, one-fourth of the general public and one-fifth of the elected officials preferred stricter regulations.

Responses to the questions concerning forest renewability and management seemed to indicate that residents are fairly middle-of-the-road in their attitudes. The general feeling seemed to be that forest are renewable, that wood products firm are doing a reasonably good job of managing their lands, and that government regulations are adequate. Public perceptions toward the timber supply issue revealed a more critical view, however.

The survey asked residents and elected officials if timber in their area is being cut faster, at the same rate, or slower than it can be replaced by new growth. Roughly 40 percent of both the residents and the elected officials said timber is being cut faster than it can be replaced (figure 5). About 28 percent of both groups believed it is being cut at a replacement rate. [Graphical Data Omitted]

The survey also asked residents about future timber availability in their area, and responses to this question did not completely correspond with the feeling that timber is being cut too fast. Area residents evenly divided on the issue, with around 40 percent saying there will always be an adequate supply (figure 6). The same proportion disagreed. Elected officials were optimistic about future timber availability. Over half said there will be adequate supplies, and one-third disagreed. Thus, while the most frequent response was that timber is being cut faster than it can be replaced, many of the respondents felt that the future supply will be adequate to keep area mills operating. [Graphical Data Omitted]

Water Pollution

A series of questions revealed what Inland Empire residents think about water pollution, and whether or not logging practices cause water pollution. Interviewers asked area residents if their local forest products companies pollute their region's water. While 42 percent said the companies pollute the water "a lot" or "somewhat," the remaining half said "not too much" or "not at all." Elected officials answered similarly, with a slightly higher proportion showing more concern about pollution (figure 7). [Graphical Data Omitted]

Those who showed concern about water pollution (by saying the industry pollutes a lot or somewhat) then answered a question asking them about current water pollution problems compared with five or ten years ago. One-third of this group said the industry's water pollution problem is less now; 43 percent said it was about the same. Only 21 percent of that group - 8 percent of the entire sample - said the forest products industry pollutes the water more now than it did five or ten years ago.

Forest products companies are not extraordinary polluters, respondents said. When asked to compare the water pollution of the forest products industry to that of other industries in the area, only 16 percent of the respondents thought that the industry pollutes area water more. More than two-thirds of both residents and elected officials said the water pollution caused by the forest products industry was the same or less than that of other industries.


The forest products industry is not without controversy, and one section of the survey sought residents' view on two of those issues. The first dealt with timber availability, and the second with conflicts between commercial and recreational uses of the national forests.

Interviewers asked if area residents felt the presence of large forest products firms makes it more difficult for small firms to buy government timber. Half the area residents surveyed said that it does; one-fourth said it makes no difference. A relatively large proportion, about one-fifth, did not express an opinion, perhaps indicating uncertainty or ignorance about this issue (figure 8). [Graphical Data Omitted]

A similar proportion of elected officials felt that large firms make it difficult for small firms to obtain government timber. However, more of them - over a third - said it makes no difference. Fewer were undecided on the issue, which accounts for the difference.

The survey also asked about conflicts between commercial and recreational uses of the national forests. Half the surveyed residents and elected officials said these uses are conflicting. One-third of the residents and 41 percent of the elected officials said the two uses have little or no effect on each other.

Perhaps more revealing is that three-fourths of those who see conflicts perceive them as serious. This was true for both the area residents and elected officials. This translates to 41 percent of all respondents. Thus, a substantial proportion of Inland Empire residents feel that recreation and commercial activities are conflicting uses of the national forests, and that those conflicts are serious.

Paul E. Polzin, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, served as project director for this study. Mary L. Lenihan, Quarterly editor, administered the day-to-day operations of the survey. Jim Sylvester, Bureau statistician, was in charge of the project's data processing. Susan Selig Wallwork, Bureau research associate, designed the questionnaire. All four worked on the analysis.
COPYRIGHT 1989 University of Montana
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Lenihan, Mary L.; Polzin, Paul E.; Wallwork, Susan Selig; Sylvester, James T.
Publication:Montana Business Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 1989
Previous Article:Profiling Montana's out-of-state visitors,
Next Article:Federal regulation of hardrock mining in the national forests.

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