Hunt where the ducks are


To the editor,


There is an expression “hunting where the ducks are” that I didn’t always keep in mind when making important decisions such as career choice or other investments. When I did things turned out much better. Now I see once again certain candidates for public office currently running ads promising jobs to Montana youth in timber. 

The term about the ducks means, “To seek opportunities or results in situations or places where they are most likely to be found.”

Here are some tree growth figures from the FIA, the best real figures I know to exist.

Acres in growth class in cubic feet per acre: 

                      120+       85-119    50-84     20-49       0-19

Montana      186K       1,257K    5,646K   12,540K   1,637K

Oregon         9,263K   3,811K    5814K     5,228K    3,271K

Washington 8,203K  3,198K   4,338K    2,341K     534K

I have no objection to using some portion of our nation’s timberland to produce wood products. There is a right way to do it. Scavaging from low productivity stands like less than a 100cuft/yr by fiat is a poor and not long lasting way. So notice where the ducks are and are not in the above figures comparing Montana to just two other states, Oregon and Washington. There are many other states with much higher production and much lower costs than in the mountainous timber lands of Montana. Here the forests provide us with their largest economic benefit as watersheds. There is a reason orange and grapefruit groves and rice paddies are not great job or investment opportunities in Montana. Same reason as for timber.

I spent a good number of years in the Oregon forests and watched the politicians take Oregon from the No. 1 timber state to, well, greatly diminished. They did it by letting big corporate plunderers mine the timber lands instead of managing them for sustained yield and long term job stability. Yet even now, Oregon still produces more by far than the  cold dry (but spectacular) ranges of Montana. It took from 400 to 800 years to grow the old growth that was rammed through some 1,500 Oregon mills over a 50-year period. When I left Oregon there were something like two still standing and one of them was closed. Yet, second growth is there and growing. Perhaps smarter young folks who really want to do wood products may figure out a way to keep the shop producing instead of boom and bust. So, in my opinion if timber is your thing, consider hunting where the ducks are. There are promising fish for Montana’s youth; just not timber, but that is more than allotted space allows us to go into.

 Robert Wooley