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‘Balanced’ forest plan must address log exports, taxes

Guest Viewpoint

Eugene Register Guard, Aug 7 2013

‘Balanced’ forest plan must address log exports, taxes

By Roy Keene                                    


Rep. Peter DeFazio’s guest viewpoint in the Aug. 2 Register-Guard claims his proposal to place 1.6 million acres of public O&C forest under timber industry control is a “balanced” solution for Oregon. By its very nature, his legislative draft appears more of an effort to appease big timber than to establish balance.


My critique is not an “attack” on DeFazio, but rather a disagreement, based on experience, with his unbalanced forest solution. A balanced forest solution for all Oregonians would address the whole forest — particularly the industrial forest, currently accounting for three quarters of the logging in Oregon.


The volume of timber on Oregon’s private forest has been reduced from more than 165 billion board feet in 1930 to 80 billion feet today. Most of this loss of volume has resulted from the liquidation of industry’s mature forest. Industry now covets our mature timber — hence its efforts to control public forests, including the contested O&C forest now managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Earlier foresters warned us about old growth liquidation, already in full swing during their 1930 forest inventory work. They admonished Oregon’s leaders to “Promptly adopt a system of managing old growth for the continuous production of high quality material while there is yet sufficient stock to do so without calamitous dislocation of people and industry.”


A more balanced forest proposal was created during those hard times, the 1933 National Plan for American Forestry. This visionary plan addressed the whole forest, not just the public half. To stabilize long-term timber supplies, it encouraged a sustained yield mandate on private lands and the acquisition of more public forests, not giving them away.


Unsustainable industrial logging continues to put pressure on sustainably managed federal forests, as well as on prudently managed private woodlots. This unfair burden is exacerbated by the increasing export of the best logs from industrial forests. Sen. Ron Wyden claims that Oregon’s mills need the larger logs from BLM lands. Increasing federal logging to compensate for private log exports simply becomes substitution — a practice supposedly forbidden by law.


An equitable forest solution for Oregon should restrict large-scale log exports. In 2012, exporters shipped out nearly a third of Oregon’s annual harvest, simultaneously outsourcing thousands of jobs. Timber exported from Oregon is milled into finished wood products in China, then shipped back to the United States at prices that out-compete our own mills.


DeFazio tried to restrict log exports in 1994, even challenging Weyerhaeuser, the region’s largest log exporter. Why aren’t log exports addressed in his “balanced” forest solution?


Balancing forest revenues for all Oregonians would address more than just increasing the revenues from BLM logging, most of which are paid to the 18 O&C counties. Statewide, annual private forest tax subsidies average twice the highest BLM harvest revenues collected to date!


Oregon Department of Revenue figures show that private forest owners receive more than $200 million a year in timber tax relief. Owners of more than 5,000 acres of forest land receive an additional $50 million annually in harvest tax relief. This foregone tax revenue could bolster non-O&C rural counties like heavily logged Clatsop County, employ deputies, and support schools.


Increasing BLM logging will enrich the timber industry, but not necessarily the rural communities. Degraded by industrial deforestation, closed mills and losses in water quality, wildlife, and fisheries, Oregon’s rural communities have become perpetual political hostages for more logging.


In the 1990s, DeFazio suggested establishing public log sorting yards in rural communities. Log sorting more than pays for the extra labor and handling. Having BLM foresters operate our timber sales hands-on, then deliver logs for sorting or directly to purchasers, would increase profits and jobs. Current BLM timber sales are so large that only the mega-mills qualify to buy them. Creating smaller, locally dedicated timber sales would spread the wealth and realistically increase rural employment.


Getting the best returns from our timber requires reforming how it is sold, not just how much we sell. In 2008-09, the BLM logged 117 million board feet. The Department of Revenue reported the O&C counties as collecting $94 million. In 2010-11, BLM logged more timber, 133 million feet, yet the counties collected only $37 million. This discrepancy in value reflects our timber being sold at far below normal market value, held freely, then logged when markets spike.


Since it is impossible to achieve balance with bullies, balanced management of forest resources continues to elude us. A rich and powerful timber industry has bullied Oregon for 150 years, especially our elected officials. The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing corporate campaign money as free speech further increased industry’s political clout. DeFazio’s effort to give public forests over to their control, far from being “balanced”, underscores this undemocratic influence.


Roy Keene is a forest consultant and timber broker with 40 years of experience in Oregon’s forests.

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