By Kirk Thompson, Stevensville
Recently the county commissioners paid $17,000 to the UM Bureau of Business and Economic Research to do a study of what the economy of the Bitterroot would look like if there were no change in the level of Bitterroot NF annual timber sales over the past 30 years. The study concluded there would be more jobs and income in Ravalli County if the timber sales had remained the same. The study was based on false assumptions to get the conclusion the commissioners wanted, and is therefore a waste of $17,000 of taxpayer money. There is good data in the report, but it is available for free.
These are some of the false assumptions:
1. That the 30+ MM board feet cut from the Bitterroot NF would easily be maintained, ignoring economic viability, federal funding, social issues, and environmental constraints.
2. That the sale of Bitterroot NF timber would always be profitable, even during recessions and low timber markets.
3. That timber logged on the Bitterroot NF would be processed in Ravalli County, and not exported to mills elsewhere.
The study totally ignored the fact that the last large timber mill in Ravalli County shut down with millions of board feet of logs on hand and millions more under FS contract. After the mill closed, long trains of logs were hauled out of the valley every weekday for months. Despite very high lumber prices at the time, the owner said he could not make any money. The Forest Service cannot require a mill to saw NF logs. The Bitterroot NF cannot require logs cut on the BNF to be sawed in the Bitterroot Valley.
The study ignores competition from Canada and national economic factors, and many other changes in the state and local economy. The study ignores the fact that some NF timber sales do not sell. There is no mention of the fact that in the 1980s many timber companies did not want to log NF timber sales they had already purchased, and actually paid the government money so they would not have to log them!
As a result of false assumptions and ignoring relevant facts, the study is worthless, and the University of Montana should be ashamed of it.