National forests were logged very little until the 1950s. But starting in the 1960s, the Clearwater forest provided about 150 million board feet of timber per year. For many of the folks in towns like Orofino and Kamiah, logging was a way of life.
But by the year 2000, the Clearwater forest was providing less than ten million board feet of timber per year.
Timber men like Don Konkol say the U.S. Forest Service, which owns 67% of the timber land in Idaho, just isn't selling the trees. He puts the blame squarely on Congress and past administrations. Konkol says folks have gotten away from common sense in what he calls the "no-logic zone" of Washington, D.C.
"They just need to manage the forest and not for a single use... For example, the mortality rate of forest lands in the Clearwater is 170 million board feet a year. I don't think they've sold two million." Konkol says the Clearwater is considered the best forest for growing trees in Idaho. "It's a shame it's not being managed properly."
Some of those sentiments are echoed in the halls of academia as well. According to Jay O'Laughlin, there's been an eighty percent reduction in timber harvest in all the forests in the Northwest.
O'Laughlin is with the University of Idaho's Idaho Forest, Wildlife and Range Policy Analysis Group. He says two things have changed in the Clearwater: the forest has gotten denser, with a lot more trees than fifty years ago. And the species composition has changed, from pine to fir.
"We have too much timber in certain age classes. There's probably not enough old-growth in most of our national forests. That's a given.We have a situation where we have to thin out some of these middle sized trees; I'm talking about trees that are 18 to 25 inches.... The key thing is to set objectives with the public. There's no other way to do it on the public land."
"Part of the reason we have gridlock today is because, in the past, the Forest Service did what the Forest Service either wanted to do or was told to do by Congress, and a lot of that was to provide timber. Those days are gone. In the future, it's going to have to be, we need to take care of this land. That's always been the Forest Service's mission: take care of the land and serve the people. The best way to do that is to work hand in hand with them...."
"The purpose of cutting timber now is to meet ecological objectives. And timber harvesting is now a by-product of other land management activity. It is not the final objective in and of itself."