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We Aren’t Logging Our Way to Prosperity

Politicians, industrialists and environmentalists seeking to bolster timber revenues and jobs by increasing logging are ignoring the elephant in the room: log exports.

Without downsizing log exports, we won’t solve our timber problems. Why? Because it’s not just about how much timber is logged. It’s where this timber goes, who works on it, and how it’s taxed that has the real effect on our economy.

In a Register-Guard guest viewpoint on Oct. 11, Lane County Commissioner Peter Sorenson said, “History has taught us that we can’t cut our way to prosperity.” Indeed, in 2010 a substantial boost in timber cutting failed to increase local jobs or revenues.

According to U.S. Forest Service and state of Oregon data, Lane County’s timber harvest levels increased 35 percent from 2009 to 2010, yet revenues and employment dropped during this period. At the statewide level, timber harvesting rose 17 percent, while jobs and revenues also decreased.

Claims that more logging creates more prosperity are even more dubious when log exports are tallied.

In the third quarter of 2011, U.S. Forest Service data show that 560 million board feet of raw logs were exported from the Northwest, an increase of 27 percent from 2010. Half of the volume came from Oregon. That implies that a third of Oregon’s annual harvest is being exported as logs instead of finished lumber.

In the third quarter of last year, 255 million board feet of finished lumber was exported from the Northwest. Only 7 percent of it came from Oregon; Washington exported fewer logs and shipped 10 times more finished lumber than Oregon. Northern California exported far fewer logs and three times the lumber.

Is Oregon being manipulated like a Third World country?

Other industrial countries protect their forests, people and economies by charging tariffs on raw log exports. Russia recently reduced log export tariffs from 80 percent to 15 percent in order to join the World Trade Organization. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, extolling the virtues of maintaining his country’s tariff, said that, “In seven years, all of the timber they harvested would be processed in Russia.”

In Oregon, export logs are selling for 30 percent or more above domestic prices. Suppose a tariff split the difference, and added 15 percent to export log prices. Export log values average about $650 per 1,000 board feet, so a 15 percent tariff would come to $97.50 per 1,000 board feet. Multiplying Oregon’s projected 2011 log export volume by a tariff at that level would generate nearly a $100 million a year. Tariff receipts could be directed to the counties in which export logs are harvested to bolster revenues.

Lane County produces the largest annual timber harvest in Oregon, loading more than 100,000 log trucks in 2010. How much of this timber is exported? How many local jobs are lost to the huge volume of logs being shipped abroad? How much revenue would a modest export tariff provide? How much damage do forest resources suffer from clear-cutting the timber that fills the boats?

To see how our streams and fisheries are affected by massive log exports, use Google’s satellite images to soar above locked logging roads and over the corporate forests in the McKenzie, Row, Siuslaw, Long Tom and other crucial watersheds. Scan the Mohawk’s eastern tributaries into Weyerhaeuser’s huge tree farm to connect visually the company’s heavy clear-cutting with recent erosion and flooding downstream.

At President Bill Clinton’s Forest Summit in 1993, the state historian questioned nonsustainable timber harvesting and log exports that costing timber workers more jobs without protecting spotted owls. He was dismissed rudely instead of answered.

Clinton’s Northwest Forest Plan divided up the remaining federal old growth while ignoring the corporate half of Oregon’s forests. Clinton also ignored the science of his plan, which emphasized that, “Non-federal lands must be an integral part of any forest strategy.”

Dividing federal forests between those to be logged and those to be preserved hasn’t resolved today’s forest resource shortages. Considering the escalating log exports from already overcut corporate forests, federal forest fixes won’t resolve it in the future.

Surely county and state leaders can find other remedies for so-called timber shortages besides giving away more public land. Why hasn’t Oregon’s delegation even discussed protecting our forest resources and industries by taxing forest liquidation and restricting log exports?

Citizens of Oregon’s timber counties — especially in Lane, the state and the nation’s timber epicenter — deserve less biased forest fixes and better representation.

Roy Keene of Eugene has worked for 40 years as a timber cruiser and broker. He is a founding member of an informal forest research group, Public Interest Forestry.

(This article appeared in the February 13, 2012, edition of The Register-Guard with the less apt title, "Log exports, not harvests, key to timber future.")

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