Was it good news to hear that timber harvests increased in Oregon in 2012?
Yes, because it means more people have gone back to work in the woods, the mills, driving trucks and selling lumber. The numbers are a reflection of a slight increase in the demand for housing and a recovering economy.
Does that mean we’re going to see increased services in Douglas County? Like libraries and transfer sites that are open more often? Or landslides across roads being repaired more quickly? Or will our schools find it easier to balance their budgets without laying off teachers?
In Douglas County, 77 percent of the timber harvest came from privately owned forest lands that make up about 44 percent of our land base. While those landowners pay county and state taxes and employ folks who do the same, their contributions alone can’t bridge the gap left by the lack of revenue from state and federal timber harvests.
The state and federal forests that count for 55 percent of Douglas County’s land saw another decline in harvest. On state lands, harvests dropped 45 percent. That translates to less money feeding into the Common School Fund, since receipts on state forests, like the Elliott State Forest near Reedsport, are dedicated to that fund.
On Bureau of Land Management forests, the harvest dipped by 13 percent in the Roseburg district. That means the BLM has once again failed to achieve its mission of providing economic stability to counties.
Since 1990, timber harvest on federal land in Oregon has dropped 90 percent. Harvests that exceeded 4 billion board feet annually in the mid-1980s have dwindled to 77 million.
No one is asking for a return to such a high level of cut, but the pendulum has swung too far.
We cannot stop managing our federal forests altogether. Sure we want clean water and prime habitat for fish and wildlife. We also want to encourage camping, hiking and other recreational uses. We’re all Oregonians who treasure those aspects of our beautiful state.
But we’ve also watched insects infest and kill standing trees. We’ve seen forest fires scorch thousands of acres of lush forests.
Just this week, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio had to press the federal government to fully fund its hazardous fuel reduction projects. The program — proven to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire — routinely falls more than $200 million short of the budget authorized by law, leaving rural communities at risk.
We’ve mentioned many times our interest in seeing a viable plan for managing our federal forests, especially the Oregon and California Railroad lands unique to Western Oregon. The lopsided state of sustainable timber harvests in Oregon is another reminder of how important it is for Congress to devise a solution.