More logging won't fix broken timber machine.
The question of how to manage the O&C forest is much the same as the question of how to manage Lane County itself. Should it be run as a branch office of big timber, constantly stacking the deck for the benefit of the big boys? Or should it be run transparently, with fairness and integrity, lending a helping hand to the needy and aiding positive local businesses while holding a long focus on the broad public interest?
Much is written about timber "wars" in Western Oregon, playing up polarization between loggers and environmentalists. Lane County Commissioner Faye Stewart's Sept. 4 guest viewpoint seems to feed those stereotypes.
When I talk to people in Lane County, in almost any walk of life, I find something different. The great majority of us love this beautiful place, from mountains to sea, forested slopes and fertile valleys, where in 2013 one can still hunt or fish or simply commune with the wild on almost any given day.
When we talk about what we want Lane County to be like for our grandchildren, I've found we share a common vision. Most of us want this special place we love to be tomorrow much as it is today - to be able to share these gifts of nature forward to our children, and to theirs.
Our shared love of this place seems to get lost too often in the crossfire of contention over short-term "solutions." And frankly, a powerful few who seek to benefit unfairly at public expense sometimes go to great lengths to confuse the issues - doubtless with a very human sincerity of belief in their own justifications.
There are far too many claims about forest policy to address in a single viewpoint. That's why Rob Handy, Roy Keene and I have hosted nine public sessions of Conversations on the Forest to date, with a 10th coming up on Sept. 30.
From these conversations, here are a few key facts:
Jobs: By state of Oregon figures, from 2009 to 2012 the annual board feet of timber harvested in Lane County went up by 75 percent. During the same period, wood products employment in Lane County actually dropped by 15 percent.
The fact is, due to mechanization in the woods, automation in the mills and heavy exports, increased logging simply does not increase jobs.
County revenue: Weyerhaeuser Co. alone owns about 340,000 acres in Lane County, more than the Bureau of Land Management. We effectively receive a 75 percent severance tax on timber sales on the BLM lands, in the form of county payments. In comparison, on its vast private holdings, Weyerhaeuser pays no severance tax at all, no property tax on the trees, only a reduced assessment on the land itself, and a tiny symbolic harvest tax around 1 percent - all of which goes to forestry operations.
Big timber used to pay normal property taxes, and then substantial severance taxes, before they were quietly phased out by the Oregon Legislature.
The fact is, this huge free ride on taxes for big timber is a huge hit to timber county revenues - bigger in Lane County than we've ever gotten from O&C payments.
Mill closures: From 1980 to 2007, the number of sawmills operating across the western U.S. went from about 800 down to about 200. Over the same years, the average annual output per mill went from about 20 million board feet up to about 80 million board feet.
Overall wood production remained about the same, while smaller mills were replaced by bigger ones. As the timber industry consolidated, jobs declined and wages shrank.
Wildlife: At current harvest levels, with 24.4 million board feet coming off BLM O&C lands in 2012 just in Lane County, key forest indicator species including both fish and birds are declining rapidly.
The fact is, there is no ecological room for increasing logging, reducing buffers or cutting more big old trees. To stabilize Oregon watersheds, whether for wildlife or carbon storage, we need to be more environmentally sensitive, not less.
It's going to take a new approach to build an Oregon timber industry we can all be proud of - a timber industry that builds both natural and economic prosperity in rural Lane County. No one side holds all the answers. It will take loggers and tree-huggers working together to get to the place that we would all love to see.
With job growth in wood products failing, a third of our logs going directly overseas, industry free-riding on taxes, and our watersheds still declining, the Oregon timber machine is broken. Increasing logging - feeding more trees into an already broken machine - isn't going to fix anything.
Moving Lane County forward calls for more intelligent, far-sighted, and even-handed stewardship of major public and private holdings alike.
Kevin Matthews is a candidate for Lane County commissioner in the East Lane district.