Glenn “G.T.” Thompson has spent much of his life in the woods. The U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 5th congressional district since 2009, Thompson grew up spending his weekends in the woods with his family where to this day they still enjoy a heritage of the outdoors, of hunting, fishing, camping. Boy Scouts was also a big part of developing his passion for forestry and healthy forests.
Forests play a prominent role in his Central Pennsylvania district. His Congressional duties include chairing the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy & Forestry and as such has been a proponent of pro-forestry congressional hearings that impact ownership and management. He was also a lead sponsor of the Forest Products Fairness Act.
The following is an excerpt from an interview conducted in 2013 by the Forest Landowners Magazine.
Q: Can you describe the impact of forests and the forest industry in your district and why it’s such an important issue for you and your constituents?
A:Agriculture is our No.1 industry and that includes the forest products/timber industry. I would say that the forestry industry is the original legacy industry that defined Pennsylvania to the point where it influenced its name (Penn’s Woods). Our No.2 industry is tourism and our tourism largely surrounds the beautiful forests we have throughout the state. Forestry is inherent as part of the No.1 and No.2 industries in the state and unfortunately it has been under attack on the forest products side with over-regulation and with a judicial system that allows the economy to be shut down by outside interests that weigh in with lawsuits that are actually reimbursed – and I’m appalled by this - by the federal government that allows these lawsuits under an abuse of the Equal Access to Justice Act. The forestry industry plays a tremendously important role in our economy not just in my district but throughout Pennsylvania and the nation.
Q: You've talked about the need to restore “active and healthy management of our national forests in order to provide a stable revenue stream for rural schools and counties, and to help build back these robust local economies.” This seems like an obvious win-win, but what are the challenges in getting this to happen?
A:There are a number of challenges. Number one, the environmental interests who seek to shut down all forests. They fail to recognize that trees are living entities. They will die on their own accord. You’re not going to save for (perpetuity) these trees. I would argue that most of the victories that environmental groups have had through the judicial process over the past 30 years have served to contribute greatly to the demise of our healthy forests.They’re largely to blame for preventing the proper management that prevents invasive species. Another problem is the inherent bureaucracy in the U.S. Forest Service. The problem with government is that it moves at the speed of bureaucracy. I know the chief, the forest supervisors, and the great staff. They recognize the issues of how our forests have not been managed anywhere close to the sustainable rate. The schools, police, and fire services struggle because the forest service is not managed to a point where it provides that continuous funding source that’s always supposed to be there to replace the loss of private property tax.
"I would argue that most of the victories that environmental groups have had through the judicial process over the past 30 years have served to contribute greatly to the demise of our healthy forests. They’re largely to blame for preventing the proper management that prevents invasive species."
Q: What can those who manage national forests learn from private forest landowners?
A: That’s one of the roles of my committee as well as the corresponding committee on the Senate side. We need to be a conduit to make sure that the flow of best practices is being shared with the Forest Service. We need to provide the opportunity, even if it’s just to take a select forest and apply some of these principles to the public sector the way they’re doing successfully in the private successfully. Those are all steps in the right direction. Some of it is maybe a willingness to say, “Hey, let’s let people do what they’re good at when it comes to making sure the forests are healthy and harvesting at a sustainable rate.” Maybe we let the private sector manage that aspect of our national forests. They’re good stewards. They’re not doing this in a way that reflects timbering 100 years ago; they’re doing it so that there’s a sustainable growth rate so that they always have that resource.
Q: Among the private forestlands community it’s a constant process of educating the public about forest management and the goal of sustaining our forests. Private forest stakeholders also continue to counter the public perception that it’s all about timber harvesting. Is it a similar challenge for you in your role as Chairman of the House Forestry subcommittee?
A: Absolutely. We need to educate people that mechanical harvesting or timbering is one of the tools that make sure the forest is healthy. There’s nothing worse than a blighted, diseased, mature forest that is not enjoyable to be in and that doesn’t support the wildlife, birds and critters people enjoy seeing. It does require education and it’s the responsibility of all key stakeholders around forestry. So that includes individuals such as myself, who are policymakers. Certainly professionals do that and need to continue to do that, whether it’s the U.S. Forest Service or state-level agencies. It’s also the people in private industry. I’ve met a lot of great folks who are forest landowners and they are passionate about those forests and what those forests do for our economy and the health of the forest. And we all have a responsibility to do that education and advocacy. Unfortunately there’s this mindset that’s been perpetuated by a handful of organizations, not a lot of folks, who like to present issues and debate on emotion. Unfortunately their arguments are successful, but when you scratch the surface they lack the science and facts to back them up.
"Frequently when I’m talking, I relate a healthy forest to a healthy church. We know we have a healthy church when we have multiple generations in the pew. A healthy forest is kind of the same way. You can’t have just a dormant mature forest. That’s not good for the forest or the wildlife, the birds and the critters. We need all stages of a forest in order to assure we have a healthy forest."
Q: At what point in your career (or even childhood) did you become aware of the idea of forest management and why it’s important?
A: I recall being vividly aware of the issue even back in the mid 1970s and that guided me toward what I was originally thinking of pursuing at Penn State at the agriculture department. A big influence for me is that I have a brother in law who is a retired state forester. I used to spend time with him out on the job when he was marking timber and doing all the different responsibilities he had and that gave me an inside view of that aspect of our timber industry.
My experience and perspective has matured and developed after becoming chairman of the committee that has jurisdiction over forestry in Congress, in the House. Frequently when I’m talking, I relate a healthy forest to a healthy church. We know we have a healthy church when we have multiple generations in the pew. A healthy forest is kind of the same way. You can’t have just a dormant mature forest. That’s not good for the forest or the wildlife, the birds and the critters. We need all stages of a forest in order to assure we have a healthy forest.To me it’s a good sign if we’re dealing proactively with issues such as invasive species. We’re preventing unnecessary fire loads that contribute to wildfires and forest fires. And if we’re doing those things right, we normally wind up with vibrant rural economies as well. If we do all the right things, everybody benefits.
"Trees are a crop; that’s why they’re there."
Q: You’ve remarked that your subcommittee is one of the more bipartisan committees in Congress, not just in terms of makeup but also in terms of finding common ground. Some outside the forest industry might find that surprising. Do these issues have less inherent partisanship to them – again, once people understand what forest management is about?
A: Definitely on the Agriculture committee, which is where the jurisdiction falls for national forests. I don’t want to mislead people and say that there’s not partisanship on this issue in Washington because there is. There are those that believe trees should be worshiped and locked up so they’ll live forever and that is the worst thing anyone could do to ensure future sustainability of forests. Trees are a crop; that’s why they’re there. That’s not the thinking on the Agriculture committee. It is one of the more bipartisan committees in Washington and it has been a pleasure to work with members on both sides of the aisle. My closest colleague on forestry issues, Kurt Schrader, (an Oregon Democrat), who lives this every day and has seen the demise of his rural community and the forest there as production and sawmills have been shut down. Again, I don’t want to portray that there are not opponents on the committee to how we believe our forests should be managed, but on the Agriculture committee, forestry has good allies both Republican and Democrat.
Adapted from an interview by Pete Williams for the Forest Landowner Magazine.
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