Since moving to Roseburg in 1983, I’ve learned that some folks have a solution for long term economic prosperity in Douglas County: cut more timber from public lands within Douglas County. This will secure more Federal timber payments for county government and create more family wage jobs. Let’s call it Plan A.
Here’s what I have also learned:
1983: “John Stephens, new RFP president and CEO, approves of new labor agreement, freezing wages for one year and limiting pay boosts to a total of 8.5 percent within the next two years.” He also discussed exports: “Two percent of our production was exported last year. Our target is 20 percent by 1985.” (1)
1983: Three months later: “Senator Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, a critic of the Reagan administration’s timber contract relief plan, said many companies, anticipating a bullish economy, engaged in a wildly speculative bidding binge in the late 1970s and early 1980s that left them stuck with large volumes of unmarketable federal timber. So they came to Washington for a bailout....” ”In fact, the big winners will be the nation’s largest, most well-heeled timber firms. Heading the list is the Roseburg Lumber Co., owned by one of the wealthiest men in America, with $312 million worth of federal contracts.” (2)
Mid 1990’s: Our commissioners and others placed the blame for falling wages, a shrinking county budget, reductions in library services, and rising unemployment on a simple target, the Spotted Owl. (Chris Boice maintained this tradition more than 20 years later, Nov. 25, 2016 at a public forum to discuss the future, if any, of the public library system). While the commissioners dedicated themselves to putting our boys back to work in the public forests, some of the “boys” already had jobs in the private industrial forests within Douglas and Coos Counties. Some were driving trucks to Coos Bay to deliver logs for export. But then, because of changes in the Japanese economy, Weyerhaeuser closed their Coos Bay sawmill in 1998. (3)
Meanwhile, many local citizens have made it loud and clear that they do not want higher taxes and that a tax rate of $1.11 per $1,000 of assessed property value is more than plenty. Surely, it is at least equally important to note that many other Douglas County citizens, including too many young people, are relocating to Portland with a property tax rate of $4.34 per $1,000 of assessed property value. (4) Apparently, there are people who value a county with higher property taxes, when they know that the libraries are open at least six days a week, the area attracts young workers and families and the economy is diversified.
Our county tax rate is among the lowest four tax rates in the state. (4) House Joint Resolution 21 (which would have amended the state Constitution by setting a minimum permanent property tax rate in all 36 counties of $2 per $1,000 of assessed value) died in committee in 2015. Was there a Douglas County commissioner or local state representative advocating for this proposed change or bringing it forward for discussion at a public meeting? Even a Curry County commissioner publicly supported the measure. (5)
Douglas County may be a popular place for people with a high priority for low property tax, but they may be among the last residents of the county, if our younger generation continues to leave or avoid moving here. Roseburg Forest Products headquarters left town because they have other priorities. (6)
I’ve learned that many issues impact the timber industry and timber-related jobs besides the Endangered Species Act. Automation, out of state housing starts, supply and demand, international competition, foreign trade, tariffs, and other national economies affect the stability of an economy dependent on the timber industry (7,8,9,10,11,12,13). I haven’t learned what our local public officials think about advocating for state legislation to solve problems with tax compression, overhauling private timberland taxing in Oregon, promoting legislative measures to raise our fatally low permanent tax base, or lobbying for industries other than timber.
For 33 years the commissioners’ Plan A has been very clear.
What is Plan B?
1 Oregonian, June 12, 1983
2 Oregonian, Sept., 22, 1983
3 Unrelated to the spotted owl, in 1998 Japan was in a depression, housing starts collapsed, and different wood products were being used there. Harvests from the 209,000 acre Millicoma tree farm, owned by Weyerhaeuser, would now be through timber sales to independent contractors. Weyerhaeuser closed its export sawmill in Coos Bay. Millicoma: “Biography of a Pacific Northwestern Forest” by Arthur V. Smyth. p. 139
4 Oregon’s Counties: 2016 Financial Condition Review. Secretary of State Audit. Jeanne P. Atkins, Secretary of State. Online. http://sos.oregon.gov/audits/Documents/2016-11.pdf
5 “Oregon House Bill Would Raise Taxes in 13 Cash-strapped Counties” Medford Mail Tribune. June 29, 2015. http://www.mailtribune.com/article/20150629/NEWS/150629621
6 “[Roseburg Forest Products] officials hope the move [to Springfield, Oregon] will make the company more attractive for young employees, particularly millennials, said Kellye Wise, the company’s senior vice president of human resources and labor. Drawing such workers to Dillard or the nearby city of Roseburg, has proved difficult.” Eugene Register-Guard March 4, 2016
7 April 7, 2003: Paul Ehinger, a Eugene-based timber consultant said “volume is good, but the prices stink” in the current wood products industry. One bright spot, he noted, is that annual new housing starts in the United States are remaining in the 55 million range. “but by the same token the ability to grow trees and produce lumber is outstripping the market.” Steve Swanson, president of Roseburg-based Swanson Group, said the structural panel market “is being bombarded by both foreign and domestic products and to some degree by increased imports from Canada, which has just had an ever-increasing effect on plywood”. Roseburg News-Review.
8 September 26, 2003: Ford said many factors influence the success of the timber industry, including housing prices, weather, the war in Iraq, and California political upheavals. Roseburg News-Review
9 May 4, 2004: The stagnant economy, the struggling softwood plywood market and competition from lower-grade products caused RFP to lay off 450 workers at its Dillard complex. Last fall RFP closed down its Green plywood plant, idling another 225 employees. The layoffs represented 18 percent of the company’s work force. Roseburg News-Review.
10 March 3, 2006: Heavy labor and unskilled jobs are being eliminated across the board in the timber industry, making way for high technology machines with high production outputs. “it’s pretty much a gradual progression of what type of jobs we’ll have in the mills and what type of jobs we will eliminate with technology,” RFP’s Hank Snow, vice president of human resources, said. Today an into the future, Snow said the timber company will hire skilled craftsmen and skilled operators who have a better understanding of math and electronics. “This is a very competitive industry. This is worldwide competition.” said Lindsay Crawford, vice president of manufacturing at RFP. Roseburg News-Review.
11 May 13, 2008: At a Roseburg Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Allyn Ford says the wood products industry can expect the current economic downturn to last at least another year. Fueled by the collapse of the subprime home mortgage industry, housing starts have dropped from 2 million to 1 million, he said. “Demand for our lumber and these products drop 35 to 40 percent. Roseburg News-Review.
12 May 10, 2011: A poor housing market, cautious banks and Chinese competition for logs plagues Douglas County’s timber industry, Roseburg Forest Products President and CEO Allyn Ford said Monday at the annual Roseburg Chamber of Commerce “State of Timber” address. This was Ford’s eighth annual address. “When the housing market recovers, Ford said, “it will be a challenge to find enough skilled workers.” Roseburg News-Review.
13 May 19, 2011: “Nobody is building houses. It’s simply a matter of economics. We can’t just keep stacking our product in warehouses” the company’s vice president of human resources, Hank Snow, said today. When the round of layoffs ends, the company will have shed 230 to 240 workers. County Commissioner, Doug Robertson, said the layoffs were evidence the county’s timber-reliant economy was “headed in the wrong direction.” “It’s clearly a signal that things aren’t getting any better.” Besides the housing slump, wood-products manufacturers have been hurt by having to compete with China for logs, Robertson said. Roseburg News-Review