As pointed out by Roseburg Forest Products President and CEO Allyn Ford, lawsuits by environmental groups and logging restrictions on federal lands continue to hinder the timber industry.
Nevertheless, there are reasons to be optimistic that the next few years will be better for Douglas County’s wood-products companies than the past few years.
Overall, Ford delivered an upbeat talk last week at his annual state of the timber industry speech to the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
Ford has addressed the chamber for 10 straight years. But his updates to the chamber predate that streak. In 1998, Ford said the county’s timber industry had steadied itself after losing 2,000 jobs after the northern spotted owl was listed as a threatened species in 1990.
The national economy was strong and interest rates were low. The speech foreshadowed what has become a persistent theme in Ford’s annual talks — the timber industry, albeit a smaller one, was battling back.
“We are no longer in retreat,” he said. “The bad news is we used to be a lot bigger.”
In 2004, Ford said the previous year was RFP’s “low point in the last 30 years.” The economy slumped, and the company went through mass layoffs, shedding nearly one-fifth of its work force.
Then, home building took off. Big houses were the rage. RFP was suddenly hiring again. “You are sitting in the heart of the wood-products industry in the U.S. and likely the world,” Ford told a chamber audience.
In spring of 2006, Ford said the industry was braced for a slowdown and warned about a housing bubble. He was right about that. Demand for wood products disappeared. Several hard years followed.
Through the bad times, Ford remained a booster, boasting about the quality of Douglas County’s wood, mills and workers. “You put that together and there’s no place in the world that can compete with Douglas County,” he said in 2008.
In recent years, Ford has highlighted the importance of global events on the county’s timber industry. Europe is a major competitor in the world marketplace, but economies there are sputtering. The Canadian timber industry continues to be plagued by a pine beetle infestation.
Meanwhile, home building has picked up again. Ford told the chamber last week that he sees the timber industry benefiting from pent-up demand, particularly for apartments.
Three days later, the Census Bureau released figures confirming Ford’s view. Housing starts dipped in April, but that was apparently a minor stumble in the recovery.
More importantly, building permits issued during the month reached the highest level in nearly five years. The numbers foreshadow summer construction activity, with multi-family dwellings leading the way.
Housing starts translate into money for Oregon’s economy. During the boom years of 2004-06, housing starts topped 2 million, and Oregon’s wood products exceeded $20 billion in sales, according to the timber industry’s Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Sales dropped close to $10 billion as housing starts bottomed out in 2009.
Federal policies still need to be revised. Some 60 percent of Oregon’s forests are owned by the federal government, yet produce only 12 percent of the timber harvested. That needs to change.
But even with that large problem unresolved, Douglas County’s timber industry has survived the lean years and appears poised to rebound.