My family has lived in Douglas County since the 1850s. Living here my whole life and listening to my family stories and history, I’ve come to see the logging industry as a boom and bust risky business, especially for the logger or mill worker. Over time it’s become obvious to me that the timber industry has controlled our county for their self-interest for over a century. Even as Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality drafted a report that identified logging as a main contributor to poor water quality for communities, it was never published after intense pushback from the timber industry and the state’s Department of Forestry (NR Jan. 11, 2017). Everything is expendable except the bottom line. Workers are “let go” because of mechanization and advanced technology. But that truth is not really spoken, not out loud.
Republicans in Douglas County have been big timber’s friend, which shows up in each election campaign round. The county commissioners always agree with the timber industry’s agenda and continue with the contributions to their campaigns to get elected. While the times have changed the rhetoric remains the same. Whether it is that their threats of greater stand replacement forest fires or library closures, we better get out the cut while we can on the “unmanaged” federal forests. There are the promises of jobs coming back without mention of how many have already been replaced by machinery of one kind or another. I have seen the loads of private lands logs that ship out of Coos Bay. These logs from Douglas County could feed local mills, but too often they don’t.
Recently both commissioners Freeman and Boice, as well as DTO chief, Ragon, deny they have blamed the northern spotted owl but I have articles from The News-Review where they have said just that (NR Dec. 22, 2016).
It is time to stop blaming environmentalists, the Endangered Species Act and needs of wildlife for the lack of money in the county coffers.
I’m a small woodland owner in my own right and a computer savvy, college-educated woman. I can easily verify timber industry and county commissioner timber harvest versus job claims. Oregon Department of Forestry timber harvest records and Department of Employment data is online and easy to find. You don’t need a degree in forestry to do simple math with simple numbers.
From late 2006, when the Great Recession began, through 2014, Douglas County’s total timber harvest levels increased 29 percent with federal harvest levels increasing 124 percent. Federal harvest levels more than doubled yet during this same period employment records show wood products manufacturing jobs dropped 31 percent in Douglas County. What happened?
This disconnect isn’t due to spotted owls, timber famines or environmentalists. The main reason timber jobs decreased even with a big increase in timber harvesting is due to large increases in automation and log exports as reported by the U.S. Forest Service — also online. Also with continuing advances in mechanization, timber is felled and hauled off-site in a fraction of the time compared to post WWII.
In fiscal year 1990-91 our local government revenue from private timber lands amounted to $54,427,234 and in fiscal year 2011-12 the local county government took in $334,819. The difference of $54,092,415 is due to private timber owners having liquidated their stands while calling it sustainable management (State of Oregon Legislative Revenue Office Feb. 2013 Research Brief, Table A1: Revenue from Privately Owned Forestland; Table A2: Revenue from Publicly Owned Forestland).
Because management of our federal lands have been charged with protecting water quality and critical wildlife habitat, we have public forest lands in various stages of regrowth. While there are few remaining stands of native untouched forests there are numerous tree plantations. The commissioners’ call, echoing that of the predominate timber industry groups to cut these down like the private lands have been cut is both misguided and short-sighted. The public loses the clean clear running streams and rivers — the important fisheries that bring rivaling revenues compared to logging. And, although the commissioners deny that recreation money is what “we” want, there are people who pay real money to come to a place with free-running clean cold rivers, old native forests, clean air and plenty of beauty.
We would be so much more the poorer were we to foolishly liquidate it all. I am asking that our commissioners envision possibilities beyond liquidating our pubic forest lands. We want to engage with the future, with invention, whether it is recreation based, technology based, higher education based, or renewable energy based. Our BLM and national forest lands are simply not sustainable at the 1980s level of cutting. The timber industry has proven that with their own lands.