The Oregon Department of Forestry’s recent announcement that the timber harvest from Oregon lands topped 4 billion board feet in 2013 was good news.
The news was welcomed with particular enthusiasm by Linn County commissioners — indeed, by county officials throughout the state — because it means the counties collect a larger amount in timber payments. From August 2013 to May 2014, Linn County received payments of about $2.3 million.
As timber harvests increase on state lands, so do the payments to counties — and, these days, every additional dollar helps.
But the other shoe — significant increases in timber harvests on land owned by the federal government — has yet to drop. Much-ballyhooed deals to slice through the entanglements surrounding our federal forest remain stalled in Congress — no big surprise there, considering the overall impotence of our current congressional session. In the meantime, rural communities that depended on a sustainable and responsible harvest of lumber from federal forest lands continue to languish.
And federal forest land badly in need of thinning languishes as well, increasing the risk of devastating fires. (The current fire season, as perhaps you have noticed, is shaping up as another budget-buster.)
The federal government did propose logging some Southern Oregon forests that were swept by wildfire last year. Environmental groups have gone to court to block the plans; the groups say two dozen northern spotted owls are at risk.
Meanwhile, private landowners in the area started logging operations as soon as the fires were contained in September.
News of the state timber harvest is especially welcome, not just on its own terms but as an additional bit of evidence of economic recovery, albeit a recovery that still seems sluggish. The 4.2 billion board feet harvested in Oregon marks a 12 percent increase over 2012, and it’s the first year in seven when the harvest has topped 4 billion feet. The timber harvest bottomed out at 2.7 billion board feet in 2009, about the same time that the construction industry in Oregon pretty much had slowed to a crawl.
The numbers add up to good news for Linn County, but other Oregon counties — their landscapes dominated by federal land — don’t get to share equally in this bounty.
No one realistically expects the timber cuts on our federal lands to approach anything like the levels of the 1960s and 1970s. But no one benefits from essentially locking up our federal forests to logging — not our forests, not our counties and certainly not the people in those counties who used to be able to count on those lands for their livelihoods. (mm)