Leaders of Oregon’s rural counties are right to be worried by the state’s emerging Western Oregon State Forests Habitat Conservation Plan. It has the potential to further shrink the amount of timber available to make lumber, plywood and other wood building materials, costing more good-paying jobs and local tax revenue.
Statewide politicians talk a lot about the future of the timber industry and how innovations such as mass plywood panels and cross-laminated timber are the building materials of the future. They even supported Oregon State University and its New Advanced Wood Products Laboratory.
But then they turn around and undertake projects such as the Habitat Conservation Plan, which will reduce the supply of timber from state forests. The 3-year-old conservation effort is aimed at protecting habitat for birds, fish and other critters that are or could be protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. In the process, they would take an estimated 60% to 62% of state forests off the table for logging.
Such a plan would allow incidental “take” of protected species as long as it was followed.
That’s the upside.
The downside: An analysis estimates the timber volume from state forests would plummet from 250 million to 300 million board-feet a year to about 175 million board-feet.
That would damage the industry, cost well-paying jobs and further reduce the logging revenues the counties receive from the state in lieu of the state paying property taxes.
These counties have been financially strapped for years. According to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, between World War II and 1989, Oregon’s annual timber harvests were 7 billion to 9 billion board-feet.
In 1986, for example, 4.9 billion board-feet came from federal land, 225 million board-feet came from state land and 3.1 billion board-feet came from private land.
In 2017, the total harvest dropped by about half to 3.8 billion board-feet, 78% of which came from private land, 13% came from federal land and 9% came from state land.
That’s why the timber industry and county officials are so deeply concerned about any plan that could further reduce the supply of timber from state land and take jobs away from working Oregonians and knock a bigger hole in the economies of rural counties.
State officials say they are working to minimize the damage to rural counties. They say such a plan will not only protect threatened and endangered species but provide “regulatory certainty” to the timber industry.
That’s fine, but one message from the state’s leaders also remains certain: they like everything about the timber industry — except for the part that involves cutting down trees.