Striking a Balance: A Perspective on Managing Our Forest Resource

Dan Tomascheski

Vice President, Resources - Sierra Pacific Industries

Thursday, October 01, 1992

I am honored that you asked me to speak in this lectureship series. I attended these lectures as a student, but never envisioned standing here as the Lecturer. I hope what I have to say interests you. Informal discussion with time for questions is usually productive, so I will keep my formal remarks fairly brief.

You may have noticed in the paper last week the results of a survey of California businesses. It showed one in four larger businesses intended to move all or part of their operations out of the state. The rate jumped to one in three for manufacturing firms. Several reasons were cited: the cost of workers compensation insurance, taxes, and environmental regulations were the most frequently listed.

As a company we are also slowly sinking under the weight of this burden, but unlike other businesses, we can not move our operations as you would an aircraft assembly plant or insurance billing center. Our forests are our factories; we cannot pick them up and relocate, although we could attempt to sell and reinvest elsewhere.

Our company is family owned. It grew up in California and all of our investment and people are here. We are committed to attempting to prosper here.

The Company's Landscape Management Approach

I'll briefly discuss our approach to management of the company's timberlands. The essential elements of our landscape management approach are the following:

We use larger scale analysis tools such as GIS systems to look at landscapes or watersheds in assessing impacts of harvesting activities on our forest lands and to assess resource attributes.

To steal a trite phrase from the environmental community we "think globally but act locally" in planning management activities. We work with what we've got in terms of current timber stand and other vegetation attributes, preserving options where feasible. We aren't afraid to start things over, if we need to, to maintain forest health or to regain a measure of productivity we may have lost. We use the information we have derived in the landscape analysis to tell us how much of which attributes we have where, and we use this analysis to inform our decisions. Often it is an art as much as a science.

We are very sensitive to wildlife needs and we attempt to maintain a mosaic of vegetative diversity, cover types and other elements over the landscape. Snag and hardwood retention, canopy layering, down woody material retention, and carefully planned site-specific burning prescriptions are all elements that we employ in managing the resources. Converting timber type information to wildlife habitat types, assessing their present distribution on a landscape basis, and projecting their future distribution is essential in this approach.

We conduct applied research in areas such as species life requisites, individual tree yield models in uneven-age forests, and projections of habitat availability over time. We use outside expertise to develop study methodology, train our people for field work, and to validate conclusions. Our work with Dr. Bill Krohn, of Maine Fish and Wildlife, with fisher and pine martens is an example of this. The work with Dr. Biging and Dr. Congalton of this department on field validation of satellite imagery data is another.

While many of the management decisions on our landscapes are at present "best guess decisions", the entire topic of appropriate landscapes is in great need of applied research. As an example we are just beginning to quantify what constitutes suitable habitat for spotted owls from a landscape perspective with our habitat typing and reproductive pair studies. It is important to point out that, while each prescription is highly localized, we are maintaining a landscape perspective in assessing the effects of these decisions.


This type of approach has brought us several benefits that make us better equipped to survive for the long term from a political as well as economic standpoint.

It has made us extremely credible players in the political process. We are more effective at influencing policy and regulatory decisions due to our commitment to participate and our good faith efforts at integrated resource management.

We have built some rapport with elements of the environmental community as well as with specialists in various disciplines given our willingness to discuss valid concerns and our attempt to incorporate them into our management.

Dispersal of evenage harvests and use of extensive (not just intensive) harvest practices helps us reassure environmentalists and the public that we are sensitive and mindful of other resource values. Various field trips with environmentalists, teachers, business groups, and others has shown the importance of landscape appearance. We tend to discount this fact from a scientific viewpoint, but it can't be ignored. People are visual animals; their response to the world is largely conditioned by what they see. They have trouble visualizing change through time as foresters are trained to do. Thinking of the forest landscape in terms of an architectural space has merit for understanding how the public sees forests. Seeing really is believing for most people, and they are reassured if the managed forest looks "ok". We try to "market" and "sell" our vision of our timberlands to promote understanding.

The decision to begin the type of timberland management we have and to attempt the compromise that became the Sierra Accord didn't come without costs, however. It has split the industry into various factions. Some feel we should not compromise on any issue and that running the risk of losing our ability to manage timberlands in an initiative battle is preferable to giving it away in negotiations. The possibility of suing for a taking of private property rights is often part of this reasoning. Others feel that while the concepts in the agreement and its successors are feasible, the regulatory bureaucracy with their own agenda will render these principles unworkable when it falls to them to implement it through regulation. I happen to think that's a strong possibility and one that will take constant involvement.


Several years ago we tried to assess our current and likely future situation as forest land managers in California. Several things were clear to us.
Californians' perception of our forest management activities was uninformed and not generally favorable. For the public at large, this perception was driven by their feelings on issues such as old growth redwood harvesting and clearcutting. We recognized that forest management for timber production is a public activity in that its effects on the landscape can be directly observed. This is particularly true as forested areas of the state become increasingly urbanized. The fact that the public's observation was largely uninformed did not prevent them from drawing conclusions from what they saw. We believed that we could not survive over time without acquiescence to, if not wholehearted acceptance of our practices by that public. We knew that forest management activities affect the amount and quality of resources used or enjoyed by the public such as water and wildlife. Their perception of us had largely been formed by extensive and long running messages from the environmental community and given frequent and graphic expression in the media. We in the industry had done a poor job in communications and education. Industry leaders tended to be business people (of course) who placed a low priority on these efforts. Results, for the time and funds spent, were hard to measure in the short term. Thus, these programs enjoyed only sporadic and underfunded support.

We believed we were doing a responsible job of providing a very useful and renewable product, wood, that society needed for shelter and thousands of other uses. Our activities served as an important source of employment for the rural areas of the State. Wood was a material that had been with us since we first formed it into a tool or used it to start a fire.

All this gave us confidence that what we did was honorable and necessary to peoples' continued wellbeing. Many of us believed that these inherent values were sufficient and that in time much of environmentalism would be exposed for what many of us believed this movement to be - a pseudo-scientific vision that left people and human needs out of its prescriptions for reshaping the world.

We tended to discount its aesthetic and religious elements, not realizing that for many, it was in fact a secular religion, providing a spiritual value system they were missing. We, as so many others throughout history have done, underestimated the power religious zeal brings to a cause. Environmentalism was also big business; providing considerable employment opportunities and many research dollars.

We were ill-equipped both in world view and in daily experience to deal with this emerging social and political movement. In addition, we had just faced a statewide initiative challenge whose provisions would have been destructive for forests ecosystems, rural communities, and the California public.


Trying to develop a strategy that could deal with this situation in an intelligent way, we felt we needed a "phase shift" in the public perception of private land forestry in California. We needed a vehicle that was high profile and that could educate the public, environmentalists, and politicians as to the current regulatory constraints in place in California as well as develop livable new constraints that would help create the public perception that forestry practices as conducted in the State were sensitive to other resource values and did not lead to the eventual destruction of the forest ecosystem.

We needed to accomplish this so as to avoid another initiative effort that would truly destroy our ability to keep our lands in productive forest and necessitate converting it to other uses.

Our strategy evolved over several months of internal discussions on the California situation and review of the integrated resource approach we had taken in the management of our timberlands. It grew out of the failed attempt at negotiations between the industry and environmentalists after Proposition 130 was defeated.

One outcome of our overall strategy eventually became known as the Sierra Accord. It surely became the most visible. We believed that opening up a dialogue with the environmental community, and using our land stewardship as a basis for discussing forest practice reform was worth a try. The Accord, and the subsequent legislative football it became, arose from our engaging in this dialogue. The story of the attempted passage of this as legislation is nothing if not vastly entertaining and disillusioning, but it can wait for another forum.

I believe the Sierra Accord will be judged as a milestone, good or bad, in forest policy in California. It was an attempt to reach a consensus on a very complex, emotion-laden societal issue: the use and maintenance of a key natural resource. It personally involved hundreds of people. It brought out the best and the worst in many of them. And it has largely failed in its goals, at least for the short term.

We had many objectives in formulating the strategy that led to the Accord. They can be divided into political/strategic goals and forest practice/tactical goals.

On the political/strategic front we hoped to achieve several things:

  • We hoped to regain for the industry some of the credibility we had lost. We needed to be a credible participant at the legislative, policy and regulatory level. We hoped to become part of the process and substantively influence policy or regulation rather than be the token industry representative or the affected party reacting after the decision was made. To do this we needed to regain some measure of confidence and credibility with other players in the process, be they wildlife biologists, state and federal regulators, or even governors. We needed the proper forum to effectively express our insistence on rigorous science rather than science with a political or quasi-religious agenda. We believe we have achieved some measure of that as a company and we're working to improve on that for the industry as a whole.
  • Secondly, we were willing to grant, to major elements of the environmental community, some legitimacy in terms of their viewpoint and goals. This would be a major shift in industry perception and an important pre-requisite to engaging in a productive dialogue.
  • In line with that we hoped to divide and introduce some uncertainty into the environmental community on forestry issues, so that the more radical elements who wanted no forest management would be somewhat separated from the mainline groups. The more radical people often were the originators of many of the ideas that could cripple us, such as Prop. 130. We have had some success here as the more radical elements castigate the middle of the road groups about "selling out" in supporting the Accord and subsequent legislation.
  • We were interested in identifying the key players in various groups who may be interested in solutions and not just in adhering to an ideology. We hoped they could be persuaded by field trips and the weight of the physical evidence that careful forest management could protect resource values and still produce for society's needs. We were interested in beginning a long-term dialogue with them that could serve to educate both sides as to the complexity of forest practice decisions. We hoped to attach real people and faces to their perception of a faceless, monolithic industry. We thought we could demonstrate our commitment to managing all forest resources, not just the timber. We hoped to show that in fact we personally cared about the forest. We believed conveying this feeling was essential to mutual understanding, since environmentalists and the public often related to the forest in personal terms rather than scientific or business terms. We hoped to educate each other in this process.

On the tactical/forest practices side, we hoped to accomplish several things:

  • We sought to preserve even age management, particularly clearcutting, as a forest management tool. We were willing to compromise on size of clearcuts and intensity of their use in a watershed in return for recognition of even age management as a legitimate management technique. Most environmentalists of course wanted no clearcuts. We still firmly believe even age management and clearcutting are appropriate silvicultural tools that are needed to maintain healthy, productive forests. In fact they mimic to a great extent several natural events - events that both the tree species and wildlife that use these forests evolved with.
  • We knew that streamside zones and riparian areas are very productive for timber growth, but the same could be said about them for wildlife. Their value was already recognized for filter strips, regulation of water temperature, and as food producers for aquatic organisms. Since they currently enjoyed protection status under existing regulation, we believed they could be used to harbor that component of an industrial forest that would be maintained in later seral stages. This could increase the stand diversity of larger forest ownerships. Since stream courses formed a net over the landscape, they would help provide habitat connectivity. At the same time we hoped to build recognition that the stream courses could not maintain the structural and species diversity desired if they were not managed over time.
  • We noted the environmental community's desire for growing a crop tree of the largest diameter possible before harvest. When forced to state a diameter it was usually between 30" and 40". The environmentalists were concerned that the tree farming they perceived to occur in the Southeastern U.S. would become prevalent here as clearcutting intensified and technology made utilization of chipped fiber more feasible. Some favored harvesting individual trees at the individual tree's culmination of annual increment, not realizing that CMAI is a stand concept. The fact that individual trees may culminate in several hundred years led to results that none of us could live with and remain in business. We suggested that on average, crop trees be of a size comparable to those diameters reached by trees in naturally occurring, fully stocked stands as derived from normal yield tables. Those of you who are technically oriented will understand how crucial this difference was.

    Such a compromise allowed us to maintain a reasonable rotation age while giving the environmental community some reassurance on harvest diameters.

  • We were willing to consider state acquisition of unharvested old-growth forest of some size, as long as payment was assured and we retained the ability to harvest in areas not classified as significant.
  • We developed a requirement for long-term management plans for larger ownerships wherein we could demonstrate our sustainability. We believe these plans were in our interest as they made us defensible in countering claims that we were "overcutting". It also made us more defensible in terms of disclosure under CEQA, particularly when our activities are challenged in court. We hoped to avoid another round of inaccurate and misleading FRRAP reports by using our own site-specific inventory data to project timber inventories and wildlife habitat quantities over time. The wildlife-management portion of these longterm plans would give us the opportunity to explain and justify our practices in terms of wildlife protection and management. As an example, our spotted owl management plan as approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service has been very constructive in the context.

    We worked long and hard to sell our strategy to the industry at-large and point out its possible risks and benefits. This, as you know, met with mixed results. Our efforts although not focused on legislation, continue as we attempt to mediate discussions, educate others about technical aspects, participate in political strategizing, and attempt to reach consensus.


We know this takes a long-term commitment and sizeable ownership. Smaller ownerships, particularly those held by non-industrial owners could not be expected to follow this course. In fact, if we're not careful in the next few years, the disincentives to holding timberland for the smaller owner will outweigh the benefits. They will either convert the land to other competing uses, or sell to larger owners who can afford the regulatory burden of forest ownership in California.

Based on our preliminary work at assessing impacts of this approach, we believe we will lose 30-35% of our long-term productive capability as compared to a very intensive, tree farming type of approach. Nobody including ourselves really knows what this cost is. We do know it is substantial and that it is incurred with few incentives other than buying the time to stay in business for a little longer.

We believe that government-provided incentives for resource protection is preferable to coercive regulation, but unfortunately few exist in California. State regulators fear (probably with good reason) that the public would be unwilling to pay for resource protection in the form of tax credits or investment incentives. They find it safer and more profitable from a budget and personnel standpoint to stick with increasing regulation. As a result, California's regulatory structure for forest management has few incentives for resource protection. We don't receive tax credits or collect fees as the point of origin for high-quality water deliveries because we left a filter strip of big trees in the streamside zone. There is no spotted owl or marbled murrelet protection rebate coupon even though we have thousands of acres we cannot harvest. State and federal governments as financially strapped and mismanaged as ours are not likely to institute these incentives any time soon. As a company, we are currently focusing on development of incentive proposals that would help forest owners afford the cost of benefits foregone by complying with these protective measures.

Shifting to the present then, the type of thing I outlined above is a strategy that may allow us to continue operating in California. It's risky and full of pitfalls. As a company with a positive image, we may be "loved to death" by the regulators, bureaucrats, academicians, politicians, and environmentalists.


Our timberland management approach attempts to integrate concerns of all forest resources including the timber resource. It is close to what my vision of true forestry and the forester's role really is. Whether or not we can compete in the global marketplace with this approach remains to be seen. It will take real commitment to compete with New Zealand and Chilean radiata, and compressed fiber products from the Southeastern U.S. given that they are less encumbered than we are. It can be argued that these other areas of the globe will soon be subject to the same type of constraints, but I believe their low population pressure, significantly less urbanization, and less complex regulatory structure place them considerably behind California in this area.

The process has been personally stressful for us, but our commitment is the same. The world changes, sometimes not for the better, but it does change, whether or not our best efforts to intelligently affect that change in the way we would like bears fruit. We have a responsibility to the 3,000 families that work with us to do every thing we can to preserve their livelihoods. The company's owners, the Emmerson family, are committed for the long term. They are proud of the quality of their forest resource management.

We honestly believe we can balance competing resource needs and remain viable if allowed to take the lead in striking that balance. We believe we can develop the stature needed to have at least some chance of influencing the direction of the changes that are occurring. While we may end up being judged as naive and having failed, it's still too early to make that judgment.

Introducing: Dan Tomascheski

Daniel J. Tomascheski is Vice President of Resources for Sierra Pacific Industries, the largest industrial forest products company in California. In this position Mr. Tomascheski is responsible for the management of over 1,000,000 acres of forest lands.

Mr. Tomascheski is at the forefront of a visionary generation of private forest resource managers who are effecting the transition from a previous orientation of timber primacy to the next decade's management philosophy where timber outputs are attained within a context of sustained production of diverse environmental values. Success in this venture depends on combining technical and professional skills in forest land management with sensitivity and response to changes in the social and political environment in which forest enterprises must operate. Dan Tomascheski has taken a leadership role in California in working with the industry, conservationists, and the state legislature to bring professional and societal views together.

On the professional side, Dan is responsible for the Company's timberlands and the procurement of 775 million board feet of timber per year from a combination of company lands and other private sources together with lands administered by the USDA Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This timber harvest supports the operation of the Company's nine sawmills, three millwork plants, and co-generation facilities that produce 80 megawatts of electricity sold to public utilities.

Dan also is responsible for directing the Company's state and federal public involvement programs. He initiated negotiations with the environmental community that eventually led to a legislative proposal for forestry reform. He also developed the Company's wildlife biology program that focuses on the California spotted owl. The success of this program has made the Company a leader in dealing responsibly with forest wildlife issues.

Dan was born in Canyonville, Oregon, and grew up in Reno, Nevada. He obtained a BA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1974, and initiated his professional forestry career through the Master of Forestry program at the University of California, Berkeley, 1977. He married a fellow student and Cal Forester, Jeanne Heintz, and resides in Redding California with their three children.

Dan's first permanent forestry position was with Fibreboard Corporation where he was responsible for forest appraisals and harvest planning on company lands. He joined Sierra Pacific Industries in 1978 where he was contract officer responsible for timber purchases and harvesting on Company lands. In 1982, Dan became Timber Division Manager and supervised the purchase of an additional 650,000 acres of forest lands for the Company. He directed staff responsible for all phases of land management and introduced a computerized timberland inventory and Geographic Information System necessary for developing a modem approach to multiple-resource management. He became Vice President of the Company in 1988.