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Facts show Oregon's forests abundant, vital.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Jan Swanson

The guest viewpoint in the June 6 Register-Guard by Susan Applegate and Patty Keene is rich in irony and even richer in fiction. Their unfortunate portrayal of the timber industry and Oregon's forests couldn't be further from the truth.

Where managed properly, our forests are as abundant, healthy and renewable as ever. Oregon has retained 92 percent of the forests that covered the state in 1850. Since Europeans first arrived here, Oregon has only lost 8 percent of its forestland to human development.

According to the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, timber harvests for decades have remained at levels far below the annual growth of our forests. In fact, forest growth is estimated at 6 billion to 7 billion board feet per year. There is nearly as much wood growing in Oregon today as there was in the 1950s, at the very peak of historical timber harvests.

With current harvest levels at 60 percent of total annual growth, we can sustainably harvest more trees without coming close to reaching our forests' natural growth rate.

It's amusing, yet sad, that Applegate shares the story of her ancestors who came here to find a better life in southern Oregon. It's ironic that previous generations of Applegates didn't arrive here to chain themselves to trees, but to harvest them for the benefit of her ancestors. If Applegate and her extremist friends were around back then, perhaps her family would be suffering just as many rural families are suffering today.

Contrary to the yarn Applegate and Keene are spinning, the timber industry and forest practices have evolved significantly since her father wielded a gas-powered chain-saw. Thanks to advances in forest science and technology, it's possible to expand timber harvests without degrading the environment. Forest management practices are critical for preventing catastrophic wildfires as well as protecting soil quality, wildlife habitat and water supplies.

There is virtually no harvest of old-growth trees in Oregon today, and for every young tree that's harvested, more are planted and grown. Extreme environmentalists like Applegate and Keene oppose this kind of management, especially in federal forests that have become overstocked, unhealthy and more vulnerable to fire, insects and disease.

The truth is that nobody cares more about the health and future of our forests than the people who depend on them for their livelihoods. These livelihoods are under constant threat, due to conflicting federal forest policies and a system that allows radical groups to sue and profit from other people's misery.

Applegate and Keene may be correct about the growth of high-tech industry in urban areas, but rural Oregonians are less fortunate and are being left further behind. The closure of the Rough & Ready mill in southern Oregon is just the latest blow to citizens who have few employment and economic opportunities on the horizon. Federal forest reform is one of the few solutions that can lift rural communities out of this endless cycle of poverty.

The distortions in their column are an insult to the 86,000 Oregonians who work in forestry today, and the thousands of unemployed rural Oregonians who would love to have a high-quality, family-wage job in our forests and mills. They casually dismiss the economic devastation that our rural communities are experiencing, and they reject the contribution that forestry-based businesses continue to make to Oregon's economy.

For example, in addition to supporting a large workforce, these "greedy timber barons" provide an average wage of $49,800, which is 45 percent higher than Oregon's average wage. Maybe this wage is too much for Applegate and Keene, who ironically claim to use wood products every day. Applegate and Keene's brand of extremism contributes nothing toward a civil and honest conversation about managing Oregon's most abundant and renewable resource. They are entitled to their opinion, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

Jan Swanson's family has managed its own timberland, mostly in western Lane County, for three generations.
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Title Annotation:Guest Viewpoint
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Jun 25, 2013
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