Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Not Clear Cutting Forests

No, this isn't a proposal for slap-dash clear cutting of forests.

One of the things that is so frustrating about watching Mark Udall and his environmentalist extremist allies in the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society is their refusal to do any kind of cost-benefit analysis on the things they propose.

We are reminded of this by a Walter E. Williams essay on Costs vs. Benefits that never mentions the word "environment" or "global warming." Instead, it tries to teach the basic concepts of cost benefit analysis:

If we look to benefits only, we'll do darn near anything because there's always a benefit. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were 43,443 highway fatalities in 2005. If we had a maximum speed law of 15 mph, the death toll wouldn't be nearly as high, probably not even as high as 500. You say, "Williams, that's a crazy idea!" You're right, but let's not call it crazy; it's more accurate to say: saving some 43,000 lives aren't worth the cost and inconvenience of a 15 mph speed limit.

Now, take Mark Udall's support of roadless wilderness.

What is the benefit? It is primarily aesthetic. If there are no roads, there can be no lumbering. If there is no lumbering, there can not be ugly areas of clear cutting. Yes, clear cutting is ugly but it can lead to healthier forests that are less likely to burn. Which is uglier, a 60,000 acre burned forest or a few 300 acre clear cuts? Which is uglier, a 600,000 acre fire that burned so hot that it fused the soil or a few roads that allow thinning and even clear cutting over a few thousand acres?

What is the cost of these aesthetic benefits? Higher lumber prices, lost jobs, and destroyed local economies that then have to be subsidized by either the Federal or state government. Who pays those costs? It is almost never the people who benefit. Higher lumber prices are a well disguised regressive tax on the poor whose housing costs are forced up to acommodate the more wealthy population's desire for aesthetics. Yes, the wealthy pay more taxes, but their costs never match the hardship their policies impose on others.

A secret cost, again never paid by those who benefit, or admitted by politicians like Mark Udall is the cost in lives expended fighting forest fires that could have been contained by well planned clear cut fire breaks.

Here in Colorado, the costs are enormous. We have 1.5 million acres of lodge pole pine forests that are infected with the pine bark beetle, with projections that by 2012 every mature lodge pole pine in the state will be dead. This is the direct cost of Mark Udall's no roads-no thinning policy, but he is not paying the cost. Instead, he is reaping huge donations from the west coast "environmentalists" who won't be coming to Colorado to look at their handiwork.

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