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Thursday, January 26, 2012

HB 291, What's Up With That?

Sometimes you go along, in a good mood, reading the news of the day, everything looking like roses, and then you halt in mid-coffee-gulp.

What caused the gulp?

Tyler Blount of Wytheville brought to my attention in an email a seemingly - on first read - innocuous piece of legislation that has been introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates by Washington County Democrat (and generally okay guy) Joe Johnson.

Here's a (.pdf) copy of the bill:
You might want to enlarge it (by clicking on it) in order to read it.

The legislation addresses - through a change in the existing Code of Virginia - the very real problem of poachers stealing timber from landowners.  Which is fine.

That's Section 1a.

But what's up with 1b?

"B. Any owner of property on which timber is to be cut shall send written notice, via certified mail, to all owners of property adjoining the property on which the timber is to be cut at least 60 days prior to the cutting of any timber. The owner shall send written certification to the State Forester, via certified mail at least 45 days prior to the cutting of any timber, that such notice was sent to the adjoining property owners."

Protecting property owners is one thing.  But what's this written notification of neighbors and the government nonsense?

Wytheville's Tyler Blount smells a rat.  Here's a portion of the email he sent me, which references the email he sent to Delegate Johnson:
I am particularly worked up about yet another Democrat, perhaps the most conservative Democrat left in the House of Delegates, and a man who is  a very kind and reasonable person being willing to offer legislation that restricts free enterprise and needlessly regulates one of the larger industries in his district- the forest products industry.  

I sell timber for private landowners throughout southwest Virginia every year for whom the timber sale income helps hold on to their farm, finance college educations, purchase more land, a tractor or car/truck and kick-start their retirement.  The logging companies, sawmills, heavy equipment machinery (dozers, skidders, knuckleboom, log loaders) and parts dealers, fuel distributors.... and various other attendant businesses that benefit from the private wealth redistribution initiated by a timber sale would all be negatively affected by this bill.  A neighbor with an axe to grind could send a registered letter to a landowner who intends to sell timber and dispute a long-established property line and threaten to use the Timber Trespass law this proposed bill would amend to effectively block a timber sale for an indeterminate time.  

This bill appears to be a pernicious, incremental, back-door attempt to halt timber sale on private land  just like they have been halted on public lands. The environmental wackos are ever vigilant to cripple free enterprise and seemingly always able to find a Democratic politician to carry their socialist water.

The impact this bill would have on timber marketability, administrative costs and its just plain inconvenience merits our opposition.  Perhaps most importantly the "foot in the door" that passage of such a requirement would give to those opposed to timber harvesting is significant. If this bill passes It is not hard to imagine that a future amendment would require that adjoining landowners approve the sale of your timber.

Here is the body of the email I sent to Delegate Johnson and excerpts from other emails with relevant comments:

Dear Delegate Johnson:

I am writing to inquire into your motivation for offering house bill 291 requiring sixty days written notice before cutting timber.

As a private consulting forester I support my family and contribute to my church and community from the commissions I earn from professionally marketing timber for my private landowner clients. One of the most important considerations is managing timber is deciding when to sell. And one of the best times to sell timber (and to cut it) is during the winter months. Snow, rain, freezing and thawing and generally inclement weather makes harvesting timber in the mountains very challenging during winter months or periods of prolonged wet weather. The resulting decline in log supplies at area sawmills and wood using plants can lead to sharp spikes in demand for timber that can be logged in winter. When an informed or professionally assisted landowner offers timber for sale that can be logged during bad weather he/she will very often receive premium price for the timber. However, if the logger cannot begin immediately to harvest trees and pulpwood and transport logs to sawmills and other wood processing plants the winter logging premium evaporates. Requiring 60 days notice before beginning harvesting is the same as taking money from the landowner's pocket.

Why do you in this economy or even in a booming economy want to sponsor legislation that hamstrings a significant source of income for so many southwest Virginia landowners?

This bill would have a very deleterious effect on the value of standing timber and is a significant encroachment on private property rights. Values of standing timber fluctuate widely over a period as small as a few weeks. Requiring 60 days written notice before cutting timber is taking money out of the pocket of the private timberland owner and empowering disgruntled or contentious neighbors to hinder ones benefits from owning timberland. Whatever happened to the self-evident truths that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights... the right to pursuit of happiness was originally to own property and was expanded to include all private business. What business has the state in interfering in private business of private landowners?

Please help me understand why you wish to hamstring my business and eclipse the private property rights fo so many of your consituents?

Sincerely,

Tyler Blount, Consulting Forester
I'm guessing Delegate Johnson has a legitimate reason for having introduced this change to existing law. Darned if I know what it is though.

Mr. Johnson?