About 50 people filed into a yellow school bus and headed up forest roads near Rock Creek for Douglas Timber Operators’ annual forestry tour Thursday. The tour featured a survey of Roseburg Forest Products timberlands.

Private forestland owners and people from the Bureau of Land Management, local lumber companies and other businesses such as Northwest Community Credit Union, heard presentations from timber company officials about forestry practices.

DTO hosts the event to give community members a deeper look into the industry that has defined the Douglas County economy for decades, according to executive director Matt Hill.

The industry, which has been gradually declining since the 1980s, constantly faces political and economic challenges as the state becomes less rural and the Oregon Legislature enacts more environmental regulations. But Hill said this year’s tour came at a particularly significant time as the Legislature considers bills that timber executives across the state have said would be devastating.

Some companies are already planning to shift operations out of Oregon. Last week, Portland-based Stimson Lumber CEO Andrew Miller announced plans to lay off 40% of the company’s workforce at its Forest Grove mill — 60 people — and move some operations to Idaho. The announcement comes as several other large layoffs at other mills have already occurred this year.

In Douglas County, Glendale-based Swanson Group announced in March that it would close its Glendale mill. The company said all of the mill’s employees were transferred to two of the company’s three other facilities.

As the tour bus snaked up the gravel roads, Hill turned on the intercom every few minutes to discuss topics including the state’s Forest Practices Act, managing for fires and the history of the timber industry in the region. State politics only came up a couple times.

“Regardless of where you stand, it’s important that people know the facts and really think through the science of these things, and what they’re trying to achieve on the landscape,” Hill said before referring to House Bill 2656 — a bill in the Legislature that would ban clearcutting, road-building and the application of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers in watersheds that contribute to public drinking water systems.

“These are things coming out of the minds of Portland legislators who’ve probably never been on one of these tours,” Hill said. “We’ve got nothing to hide. We want people to come out here and ask the tough questions. This is the place to have those discussions about what makes sense.”

Proponents of the bill say it’s designed to protect thousands of Oregonians’ public drinking water systems, many of which in have in recent years seen an increasing frequency of toxic algae blooms often attributed to the the affects of climate change and runoff sedimentation from clear-cutting.

At the first stop on the tour, people gathered around a stand that was cut in February and replanted. Roseburg Forest Products Land & Timber Manager Mark Wall dug up Douglas Fir sapling.

“At this stage, it’s all about getting the tree’s root system well established,” Wall said pointing at the tree’s small root system.

After fielding multiple questions about planting practices from private timberland owners who were interested in using the knowledge on their own land, Wall led the group down to a riparian buffer between the cut and Rock Creek. The required 60-foot buffer helps filter sediment and other materials from runoff and shades the stream, cooling water temperatures for fish that require cold water.

“You don’t see any old-growth trees here,” Wall told the group. “Sixty years ago, this buffer was clear cut. The rules and science have all come around since then.”

Wall said in an interview it’s a “double-edged sword” from a business perspective to believe in the Board of Forestry’s mandate to base all decisions on science.

“If the science comes back and says, ‘we need 300-foot buffers,’ for example, we have to accept that,” he said. “Conversely if the science said that herbicide spraying or buffers are too big, you have to accept that too. That’s how the Board of Forestry is set up. As an industry, and I can speak specifically for Roseburg, we support a lot of different scientific and research projects.”

Looking out over the patchwork of timber stands at different stages of life, people on the tour were excited to be there.

“So many interesting facts,” said Daniel Jerome as he looked at an active logging area up the road from where the group stopped to talk about salvaging timber from the February snowstorm.

Jerome is from Haiti and graduated high school from Umpqua Valley Christian School in 2013. He’s visiting for a month and staying with J.R. Adams, log buyer at Roseburg-based Nordic Veneer Inc., while he studies for a Master of Business Administration at a college in Alabama.

Asked whether he’s considering going into the forest products industry, Jerome said he isn’t sure. “You never know, but if I find an opportunity, I’ll definitely go for it. I do love Oregon.”

News-Review city reporter Max Egener can be reached by email at megener@nrtoday.com and by phone at 541-957-4217. Or follow him on Twitter @maxegener.

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City Reporter

Max Egener is the city reporter for The News-Review. He has a master's degree from the University of Oregon, and is an avid skier and backpacker.

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