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Increasing logging won’t help the economy

Chris Cadwell’s March 26 Register-Guard guest viewpoint headlined “Sustainable timber harvest will benefit Oregon” implies that increasing logging on publicly owned Bureau of Land Management forests will bolster sustainable harvesting and rural employment. The myth of sustainable timber harvesting and rural timber jobs surfaces again!

A 1989 report by Oregon State forestry academics, “Timber for Oregon’s Tomorrow,” dispelled an earlier myth by showing that Oregon’s timber harvest levels were not sustainable. In 1989, timber harvest from BLM forests was at 1 billion board feet, three times the sustainable rate. Over cut for decades, BLM forests have earned a jubilee.

Forest Service inventory data from 2010 show Oregon’s forests still being harvested too quickly, especially when saw timber is measured instead of biomass.

The vast private industrial forest, intermingled with BLM lands, is being cut at three times its sustainable rate. The export of the best timber from these corporate forests makes Gov. John Kitzhaber’s finding — that “logging on public lands does not provide logs of the quality necessary for Oregon mills to remain competitive” — seem rather arbitrary.

Oregon logs and minimally processed wood products such as chips are being shipped in record volumes to China, where they are processed into finished lumber, plywood and particleboard, then shipped back to the United States, where they out-compete domestic products.

Global trade policies, offshore tax reductions and property tax subsidies allow Oregon’s largest private forest owners to profit from this outsourcing. Is it fair, let alone sustainable, to sell more public timber to make up for the liquidation and export of private timber?

The relationship between timber harvesting, log exports and wood-products jobs is evident when Oregon counties dominated by industrial forests are contrasted to counties with more federal lands and further from ports. Oregon Department of Forestry timber harvest volume records can be compared to wood product manufacturing jobs as reported by Oregon Department of Employment to visualize this relationship.

Coos and Clatsop counties average less than two jobs per million board feet of harvested timber.

By contrast, Josephine County, with a higher percent of public land, averages 19 jobs per million board feet of harvest, and Deschutes County shows more than 60. Having declined to six jobs per million board feet, Lane County, with the state’s largest timber harvest, is losing wood product jobs in spite of harvest increases.

Cadwell wrote, “Kitzhaber, Sen. Ron Wyden and Reps. Peter DeFazio, Kurt Schrader and Greg Walden have recognized the need to increase timber production to support Oregon’s rural economy.” Our political leaders, in seeking simply to increase BLM logging to support rural economies, should do more research.

A 1955 forest industry map of Lane County graphically displays the main reason rural timber jobs have declined. Dozens of the little mills scattered across the 1955 map are gone, their timber supplies reduced by over cutting and log exports. Others have been gobbled up by today’s mega-mills. BLM timber harvests are dominated by these big, highly automated, centrally located mills.

According to Timber Data, 10 mills typically control two-thirds of Oregon’s BLM timber sales. Sustaining rural timber jobs will require spreading the wealth from federal timber harvesting to smaller, more local operators.

To justify efforts to increase public logging, even to privatize millions of acres of public forests, Oregon’s timber industry exaggerates its 21st century contribution to jobs and the economy.

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis reports today’s wood products industry employs 25,000 people, less than 2 percent of Oregon’s nonfarm labor force. It shows this industry contributing only 1 percent to Oregon’s gross domestic product. “Big Timber” is not too big to fail, especially due to its own short-sighted profiteering!

What would truly sustainable timber harvesting really entail? It would not over cut two-thirds of the private forest. It would respect the public’s entwined water, wildlife, fisheries and quality of life.

Sustainable timber harvesting would protect and increase domestic wood product manufacturing. It would encourage tax policies that reward economically and ecologically sustainable private forest practices.

Above all, truly sustainable timber harvesting would act on the fact that the only large forests in Oregon that have been even minimally sustained have been federal.

Federal forests, including today’s contested BLM lands, are intended to benefit the many, not the few. A uniquely American heritage, our public forests should not be sacrificed to private industrialists.

(This article was originally published in the Guest Viewpoint section of the Register Guard)

Roy Keene helped design the first industrial-scale sustainable timber harvest certification for the 100,000 acre Collins Almanor Forest in Northern California in 1994.

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