As the 40-year timber veteran cited in Andy Kerr’s Jan. 3 guest viewpoint, I am cautiously optimistic the next two years will offer new opportunities to bring balance to federal forest management.
With better management and proactive policy changes, our leaders have the ability to create and support family-wage jobs, conserve natural resources, maintain access to public lands, restore forest health and protect our drinking water. We believe it’s better to actively manage our forests for the future, for multiple uses and benefits, rather than locking them up and walking away.
Far from being “Big Timber,” Oregon logging companies are predominately small, family-owned businesses. We are trained in the latest, science-based forestry practices and continually invest in cutting-edge equipment and technology.
In fact, a large majority of Oregon’s municipal drinking water comes from actively-managed watersheds that utilize modern timber harvest and resource-protection methods.
As loggers we are proud of what we do, and proud to work in an industry with an average annual wage of $49,200, compared to $45,000 for all Oregon employment. We’ll continue to provide the renewable and sustainable materials that support our communities and make civilization possible.
Yet Kerr is eager to re-ignite the timber wars. After all, that is good business for the environmental conflict industry, and useful for soliciting contributions from anonymous benefactors.
But replaying the 1990s will not fix the socio-economic problems in rural Oregon.
It will not help rural counties that are on the brink of fiscal insolvency, nor will it meet the needs of our public lands. Oregon loggers do not cut more trees than what grows naturally. We don’t even cut “old growth” on federal lands, so maybe it’s time to leave Kerr and his tired rhetoric behind.
I am cautiously optimistic because our political leaders can no longer ignore the costs of hands-off forest management. The current approach has failed our citizens, forests and wildlife. Our federally owned forests have become overgrown and vulnerable to high tree mortality, which contributes to unnaturally severe wildfire, disease and insect infestations. Last October the Oregon Forest Resources Institute reported there are more than 350 million standing dead trees across 14 million acres of federally-owned forests within the state.
According to OFRI’s data, forests in the National Forest system have a timber harvest rate of just 8 percent of total growth, but have a mortality rate of about 55 percent.
Meanwhile, private and Native American forestlands, which have the highest timber harvest rate at 71 percent of total growth, have only 9 percent mortality.
More than 70 percent of the standing dead timber on federal lands is on non-reserved lands open to harvest. If Kerr chooses to sit in a tree to “protect” it, there’s a good chance that tree is already dead. And if the forest burns, the wildfire can emit up to 100 tons of greenhouse gasses, aerosols and particulates per acre. Most of Oregon’s forest sector companies, from logging to primary and secondary manufacturing, do not operate at capacity. The reason is not lack of demand. It now takes one tree every year for every man, woman and child to meet their needs for paper, packaging, fiber compounds, lumber and panel products.
Rather, it is because most companies cannot secure a long-term source of wood fiber. The real legacy of Kerr’s forest policy is to outsource timber jobs and products to other countries, rather than having locally sourced timber responsibly harvested and manufactured here at home.
A modest increase in timber harvests on federal land will enable companies to add shifts, invest more in equipment and technology, and create more opportunities for the scores of businesses that service the industry. A reliable fiber supply would also secure Oregon’s position as a leader in the development of advanced wood products.
For example, cross laminated timber, sourced from small- and medium-diameter trees, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon and requiring significantly less energy to produce than concrete or steel.
We need modern federal forest policies that are responsive to the needs of our ever-changing economy and environment. The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service need the policies and resources to better manage our public lands, support wildlife populations and adapt our forests to drought and changing climate conditions.
Bringing balance to federal forest management will also create family-wage jobs where they’re desperately needed in rural Oregon, and generate revenues to support basic public services such as law enforcement and health care. Kerr can continue to look to the past, but it’s time for our leaders to look forward with policies that recognize 21st century forest management.
Jim Geisinger is executive vice president of Associated Oregon Loggers in Salem.