Natural Resources Development Remains Vital to our Western Communities

(Washington, D.C.)  Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers today attended the Natural Resources Committee hearing on “The Evolving West.” Witnesses at the hearing, including Russ Vaagen, Vice President of Vaagen Brothers Lumber Company in Republic, Washington, focused on the necessity of protecting and preserving the resource industry that has long been the backbone of rural communities in Eastern Washington and throughout the West.

“We all share a common goal for a vibrant West and a strong rural community,” said Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “Where we differ is how we measure our success and achieve that goal. In our quest to protect the environment, we have imposed burdensome regulations that are hurting our rural industries. These policies have increased the cost of doing business in the resources industries, pushing many farmers, ranchers and loggers out. The future of the West must include maintaining healthy forests, protecting our dams, and having a reliable and clean water supply.”

Russ Vaagen testified at the hearing on the changes the timber industry has faced throughout the years. Through proper management and collaboration, Vaagen believes it is possible to have healthy forests and more timber harvested, while at the same time protecting other areas of the forest.

“I was pleased to see that Russ made the trip from Northeast Washington and offered his expertise on the forest and timber industry,” continued McMorris Rodgers. “It is important for people here in D.C. to hear how people on the ground are managing the land and keeping it healthy.”

Forests that are unmanaged are more susceptible to forest fires. The latest example in Eastern Washington was the Tripod Complex Fire, which burned over 200,000 acres last year on the Okanogan National Forest. The cost to suppress the fires was $100 million and is likely the costliest fire in Washington state history. The damage to the tourism-based industries was significant. Outfitters lost an estimated $30,000 in revenue and many snowmobile, hiking and horse trails will not be available for use by local residents or tourists.


The Real Truth behind the ‘New American West’


Although rural communities in the West are undergoing changes, it is a mistake to believe that the importance of the agriculture and resources industry has diminished:

Claim: Your next job will likely be in services. (Because we are transitioning from low-wage, low-skill industries to high-wage, high skill industries)

Reality: Logging is a high-wage, high skill industry

“One thing that people may not know is that in the rural communities some of the highest paying careers are in sawmills and jobs in the woods. In our area the average sawmill worker makes between $35,000 and $45,000 annually not including benefits. This makes up a very important part of the economic engine of our communities. A healthy sawmill infrastructure allows much more opportunity for specialty and value added manufacturing. Timber revenue in the rural west also generates tax dollars for the local governments. Sawmills and the resource industries are not the cornerstone of these rural western communities that they once were, but they play a vital role in the overall economic picture.” Russ Vaagen, Testimony to the House Natural Resources Hearing on the “Evolving West”

Claim: Public lands benefit the economy of the West. (Value measure in revenues generated from hunters and anglers)

Reality: If we don't measure value of agriculture, timber, and mining the only thing left is recreation and hunting. Value measured in hunting and angling normally calls for breaching the dams and trespassing.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that breaching the dams would increase electricity bills for Northwest ratepayers by $300 million, add $40 million to transportation costs, eliminate 37,000 acres of prime irrigated farmland, wipe out 2,300 jobs, and cut personal income by $278 million a year. The Corps says the lion’s share of the impact would fall on Eastern Washington and the Columbia Basin. Entire farming communities dependent on irrigated cropland could disappear, and breaching the dams could be the death knell for Washington’s struggling aluminum industry, which relies heavily on affordable hydropower.” Don Brunell, President of Association of Washington Businesses, A Message to Judge Redden

Claim: The extractive economy of the Old West is rare in the New West. (Few truly resources dependent counties left)

Reality: There are few truly resources dependent counties left because of environmental regulations like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

“In a state like Idaho, it would be impossible to sustain a ranching operation, such as ours, without the use of public lands for grazing. In my county, Owyhee County, the federal government owns over 76% of the land. Nearly 40% of all cattle raised in the West spend some of their lives on public land allotments. The public lands are critical to the functioning of the livestock industry in the west. There are individuals and extremist organizations in our state and across the West who know this fact and have learned how to manipulate and distort the law in order to achieve their activist, destructive agendas. Through federal laws such as NEPA, they have essentially gained control of the federal lands and have taken the decision-making ability away from the federal agencies. In a system that is supposed to be fair and impartial, they have found judges who are almost certain to rule in their favor.” Brenda Richards, Testimony to the House Resources Committee, NEPA Task Force

Claim: Agriculture is not growing (Importance in terms of jobs and income has diminished)

Reality: Ag is a $1.1 billion dollar industry in Eastern Washington and the number one employer in the State of Washington.

“Washingtonians live in a state that has experienced dramatic economic changes in the past year. For more than a decade, this state’s economy hummed along faster than the rest of the nation. Aerospace, biotechnology and the computer industry led the way while agriculture, the cornerstone on which our state was built, quietly continued to play a key role in our economy. Now, when Boeing has slashed more than 30,000 jobs in 12 months, the dot-com bubble has burst and our state trials the nation in job growth, agriculture remains one of the state’s economic cornerstones. In 2001, agriculture employed almost 179,000 people more than any other industry in Washington State.” Washington State Horticultural Association.

Claim: Energy development has high opportunity costs. (Reserves in the intermountain West contain only a three-and-one half month supply of petroleum. Pursing these limited resources could jeopardize the emerging competitive advantage of the West quality of life.)

Reality: We can have both. We can increase energy production and preserve our quality of life.

“Montana can and will lead the way in producing clean and green energy for the entire county with wind power, biofuels, and fuels from coal. We will continue to promote the development of these resources in Montana through a host of incentives, and we will export these technologies as well. I am proud of the progress, but cognizant of the impacts as well. While the wages for our workers are increasing, so is the price of real estate. Growth will continue to put pressure on our recreational amenities and access to our public lands and rivers and streams. Montana is unique in the Rocky Mountains in that its citizens have a constitutional right to access our streams. That is why, for this generation and the next, I have proposed $15 million for purchase of more access sites on our rivers and streams and public lands, and more state parks.” Governor Brian Schweitzer, Testimony to the House Natural Resources Hearing on the “Evolving West.”

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