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How might forestry be impacted by Waterways of the U.S. rule?

How might forestry be impacted by Waterways of the U.S. rule?
WOTUS impact on timber industry explored. Current forest conditions, markets, invasive beetle updates.

It isn’t just row crop agriculture that is fearful of the EPA’s Waterways of the U.S. (WOTUS) proposed rule. If implemented, the rule would also have a tremendous impact on forestry.

Joe Fox, director of the Arkansas Forestry Commission, recently spoke with Delta Farm Press about the state of the industry and his recent testimony on WOTUS before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry. Among his comments:

On current forestry conditions…

“Northeast Arkansas got a bit dry late last year. But with the weather we’ve had recently, that’s been cleared up pretty well.

“In general, the Southeast isn’t in drought and our forests haven’t gone thirsty. That’s all the way from Arkansas over to the Atlantic Ocean. We’ve been able to enjoy the refilling of reservoirs.

“That isn’t the case over in the panhandle of Oklahoma and Texas, although that isn’t big timber country.

On market conditions…

“As far as markets, little by little, traditional and non-traditional markets are coming back. There isn’t a stampede but we’re seeing improvement on housing starts, tons of paper shipped, lumber and lumber prices.

“One of the newer things is wood pellets – generally for the markets in western Europe. It’s an interesting dynamic because the Europeans are trying to replace coal-fired electrical generation with the pellets. There are two plants, one in Jefferson County and one in Drew County, being built in Arkansas for that right now. Another plant is in Louisiana right across the state line from Crossett, Ark.”

On invasive beetles harming forests…

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of different beetles harming our forests. In 2014, we discovered the emerald ash borer in Arkansas. There’s a 25-county quarantine for ash wood products – trees, firewood and lumber that still has bark on it. Such products can’t be moved outside the quarantine area.

“We really don’t know how to stop the emerald ash borer. We think the worst perpetrator in the spread of the beetle is regular firewood. You know, someone might come into the state to hunt and brings firewood with them to burn at camp. That’s why all firewood is quarantined in the 25-county area. You need to get your firewood from your destination or home area.

“Not transporting firewood is just a wise strategy. We’re partnering with several state agencies across the South to get that word out. Firewood can carry a lot of hitchhikers. The emerald ash borer travels that way along with invasive insects like Asian longhorn beetle.

“One big pest we don’t have in Arkansas is the mountain pine beetle. That beetle is devastating the pines in the Rocky Mountains from Canada all the way down to Arizona and into west Texas. Some stands are being wiped out and that, in turn, means pine in the South has become more valuable.”

Waterways of the U.S.

On WOTUS and Fox’s testimony before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry…

“I testified on behalf of the National Association of State Foresters. State foresters are responsible for helping advise private forestland owners on how best to manage and protect about two-thirds of America’s forests – about 500 million acres.  So we’re all about helping forest owners.

“Well, the (WOTUS) proposed rule says that all tributaries of currently navigable waters would come under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government. It took five-and-a-half pages of the Congressional record to address all the tributaries. Even so, it isn’t clear is, say, a forest road ditch will be considered a tributary of navigable water. That’s a major worry.

“Another term of concern is ‘significant nexus’ that came out of a Supreme Court ruling. That means if neighboring water has a significant nexus to a tributary or navigable waterway it comes under government jurisdiction.

“A forest road ditch could be adjacent to a flatwoods pine plantation or a natural oak/pine stand, a terrestrial feature that stays wet part of the year. Would the adjacent terrestrial feature (not a water feature) become a water of the U.S.? That’s a big thing that worries us.”

On confusing WOTUS language…

“It isn’t just foresters who are confused about the terminology of the proposed rule. The lawmakers got much the same message from the other panelists. There needs to be absolute clarity about the rule’s language before any future action.

“By the way, how much would implementing WOTUS cost landowners?  That’s another central concern.

“It seems there’s a significant effort by Congress to ask the EPA to pull the rule back, take in all the comments from stakeholders that have been made – and there have been a bunch – on the front end and then, if they see the need, rework the proposed rule. That’s what I hope will happen if the EPA doesn’t get rid of the rule altogether.”

On the difficulty of one-size-fits-all rules…

“A whole lot of farmers own forestland right alongside their row crops. In Arkansas, we do a pretty good job with voluntary Best Management Practices. All states have BMPs, although some are regulatory.

“The thing is, you can’t regulate all areas the same. The flatwoods in south Arkansas are different than the hardwoods in east Arkansas. And those areas are certainly different than woods in New Mexico, Pennsylvania or Montana.

“You can’t write a generalized set of rules for the entire United States. That’s very difficult but some folks don’t seem to understand that. What would work in New Mexico wouldn’t necessarily work in Louisiana or Mississippi. That’s why BMPs need to be styled to individual states. That just makes sense. And if the WOTUS is going to happen, it needs to be handled in the same way.”

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