KANE — Allegheny Hardwood Utilization Group (AHUG) executive director Susan Swanson testified in Washington in front of the House Subcommittee on Forestry and Conservation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and was encouraged with the response she received following her presentation.

Swanson described the feedback she received from the subcommittee as “beneficial.” She said problems with decreasing timber sales is common across the country, noting that industry, municipalities and school districts nationwide are feeling the same financial pinch as those on the Allegheny National Forest.

The director addressed the subcommittee on issues with management on the Allegheny, describing to them what she considered to be a “revolving door” of forest supervisors. She said the forest has seen approximately eight supervisors over the last 10 to 12 years.

Swanson noted that most of the forest supervisors on the Allegheny hail from western states, and adjusting to the silvicuture of the Allegheny hardwood forest may take time for some of these supervisors. She suggested to the subcommittee the U.S. Forest Service find supervisors for the Allegheny who are native to the eastern part of the United States, as the learning curve would be smaller.

Also in her testimony to the subcommittee, Swanson stressed the Allegheny, like many other national forests nationwide, are unhealthy “due to overstocking, disease, drought, insect infestations and catastrophic wildfires resulting from a lack of sound management.” She cited the Forest Service has already classified “60-80 million acres of national forest land as being overstocked and at particular risk.”

Swanson added that layoffs from the decreased timber sales have been seen at the sawmills, and while poor forest health, unemployment and poverty have increased in the region, so, too, has McKean County’s dependency on the federal government’s Secure Rural Schools program.

Swanson said poverty levels in the forest’s counties are among the highest in the entire state — with 17 percent of the people in the four Allegheny National Forest counties living in poverty. The state poverty level is at 13.7 percent. She cited that more than 24 percent of Forest County residents are considered to be at or below poverty levels — the second highest percentage in Pennsylvania — with almost 40 percent of those residents being children. Swanson said the amount of McKean County residents living in poverty is about 19 percent. 

During her testimony, Swanson said “it is not a coincidence that many of the counties with the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the country also happen to be those surrounded by federal forests. I believe it will require decisive action by Congress if we want to restore the health of our rural communities and our federal forests.”

Swanson suggested to the subcommittee that solutions should include acknowledging that “timber production is the primary objective on this relatively small portion of the national forest system, not one use among many.” She said about 23 percent of national forest land has been identified as suitable for timber production in current forest plans.

Swanson noted that Thompson is very interested in what the local timber industry is trying to accomplish on the Allegheny. Last week, Thompson told The Era that harvests on the forest have increased, but sales and demand have decreased.

What Thompson is noticing, Swanson said, is an increased harvest of pulpwood, usually used to make paper and particle board. She said that 10 years ago, approximately 60 percent of timber harvested was saw timber, used for veneer and board quality wood, while 40 percent of the timber harvested was pulpwood. Swanson said now those numbers have flip-flopped, noting only 15 million of the 35 million board feet being harvested is saw grade timber.

Swanson’s testimony can be found at thompson.house.gov/press-release/thompson’s-agriculture-subcommittee-calls-upon-forest-service-actively-manage-national.

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