Went to the prep sessions for the American Forest Foundation “Fly-In,” where small forest owners like me come from around the U.S. to lobby our Federal representatives. Tomorrow, I have appointments with staffers from Barbara Comstock, Robert Goodlatte, Rob Wittman, Tim Kaine, Mark Warner and my own representative Gerry Connolly. It was nice that the sessions were held at the Holiday Inn – Capitol, the old USIA Building. Like coming home.
We discussed the major issues affecting forestry. I have the option of choosing which ones I want to emphasize.
Not in order of importance, the first issue is the Energy Bill and how it treats biomass. The EPA may treat the burning of biomass the way it treats fossil fuels. This is silly, since biomass is essentially carbon neutral. The growing trees absorb carbon and it is released when the biomass is burned. It is not like this would stay around anyway, since the biomass would release carbon when it decays and if left as slash might even burn in a forest fire.
That brings us to the second and maybe most urgent problem, wildfires. Each year wildfires get more expensive. There are lots fo reasons for this, including more homes built in forested areas, land use changes and climate change. But a big one concerns management. The Forest Service is now using 50% of its budget to fight fires. This leaves less for other programs. and ironically less for activities to prevent fires.
One that I find annoying personally is a proposed EPA standard for Federal purchasing that would require the use of Forest Stewardship Council wood. Tree Farm wood, my wood and that of the majority of small American landowners, is not included in this standard. Ours is certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. I have looked into it. If you are concerned about forests, water, soils and wildlife, there is no significant difference in the standards. Certification by FSC is more expensive and included details unrelated to actual forest health. Anyway, it is a political issue that should have no place in a discussion of forest health. That is what I will tell the staffers and that is what I believe with moral certainty.
Some forest owners are interested in the estate tax. I am not very passionate about this, although I can understand the issue. Currently $5 million is exempted from tax. This seems a lot, but recent IRS rulings are making taxable value higher than it should be. A piece of land owned by several family members may be difficult to sell and so have a lower market value. IRS is treating this like a single owner, which may result in taxes owed.
The problem with taxing forest land is that it is an illiquid asset. You cannot just take off some of it. Heirs might be forced to sell the land, or part of it, just to pay the taxes. Maybe we don’t feel sorry for rich heirs, but consider the effects on forest fragmentation, which we should care about. Forest and farm owners are often land rich but cash poor. It is often a public policy interest that their land remain in farm and forest.
I doubt that I will push this particular factor very hard.
A subject I am interested in is the Timber Innovation Act, that would provide research into using wood in new ways, things like tall buildings using cross laminated timber (I have written about this before). This is a good use of resources. It does not require that builders use wood, but it provides more options and shares techniques & technologies. I have linked to my note about the use of cross laminated timber.
Finally, is a relatively simple one. This is the 75th Anniversary of the American Tree Farm System and we would like a resolution honoring that.
Anyway, my lobbying day starts at 8am tomorrow. It should be fun. I have studied innovative use of wood, forest health & wildfires, so I will talk about those. I will also share with the staffers news about the new Tree Farm Foundation.