By Andrew J. Blazewicz Jr.
Concerning the proposal by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to add three species of bat to the endangered list (Aug. 20 Mirror), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restrictions that would accompany such a listing would be devastating to the forest products industry, an industry already substantially weakened by the economic collapse of 2008-09.
As mentioned in the article, the decline of numbers of bats of all species is largely attributed to the white nose syndrome fungal disease, which has no connection to timber harvesting.
The USFW restrictions would include a no harvest zone of 315 square miles around each bat hibernaculum, for the period of April 1 through Nov. 15, retention of a 60 percent forest canopy cover of specific size and species of tree and no harvest buffer strips of 100 to 200 feet along ephemeral and perennial streams.
The addition of three bat species to the endangered list would extend these restrictions throughout the commonwealth.
The effect on sawmill and pulp mill production and ability to operate is clear.
Mills located within the zone, or which procure a substantial or even a portion of their raw material from within the zone, cannot reasonably operate on a four and one-half month yearly schedule.
In addition, those months include the wettest of the year, and the time when growing sites are most susceptible to damage and erosion.
With such a compressed work schedule, operators will be less inclined to wait for perfect (frozen or dry) conditions in which to complete their operations.
Markets for certain products which must be harvested during the summer months would not be available. This affects forest owners, already suffering from depressed markets for standing timber, the forest industry with fewer markets for its products and the end using public, which would pay a higher price for the product, if it would still be available.
The easiest decision for the Pennsylvania Game Commission to make would be to list the three additional species and extend the restrictions.
Most of the public does not operate in the forest products industry, does not own forest land and might well embrace the idea of saving endangered species, especially if the cost falls to somebody else.
Upon closer examination, however, this decision creates hardship on human, environmental and economic levels.
Consider the elderly widow whose life is made more difficult through lack of funds from a timber harvest that might have been made. Consider early succession plant and animal species (those which thrive in a young forest), which do not grow or inhabit a forest of 60 percent canopy cover.
Consider the forest management options taken away by these restrictions and the resulting decline in the health of Penn's Woods.
Consider the sawmill and pulp/paper mill closures, throwing thousands of people out of work and adversely affecting the local economies, and government revenues.
Government is funded, ultimately, by the ability to tax commercial activity. Without commerce, government funding shrinks, as we have seen since the 2008-09 collapse.
Extension of the USFW restrictions to all of Pennsylvania will harm local economies, reduce government revenues, cause hardship to the land owning public, and eliminate, over time, early succession plant and animal species in Penn's Woods.
These would be the harmful effects of the restrictions, which would have no effect on the incidence of white-nose syndrome.
Andrew J. Blazewicz Jr. is a consulting forester with an office in Hollidaysburg.