More Logging and Biomass Burning Won’t Solve Job Woes

–  by Rob Handy, July 6, 2014, Register Guard

During my tenure as a Lane County commissioner, I watched Lane County’s timber harvest rise from 337 million board feet in 2009 to 590 million board feet in 2012, reported concisely by the state Department of Forestry. In spite of this huge surge, a 75 percent increase, I never witnessed the often-predicted surge in jobs or revenues.

What I did witness was a distinct increase in clear-cutting, especially in the forests closest to Eugene. That was accompanied by rural residents in Triangle Lake being contaminated from the aerial spraying of forest poisons and by the degrading of such public waters as Quartz Creek, a vital McKenzie River tributary.

I also noticed how increased burning of logging slash made the valley murky with smoke. Ironically, the Seneca biomass energy facility I contested, instead of reducing slash burning, has degraded our air quality further by increasing its allowable pollution!

Yet our sheriff and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, an industry lobbying organization, say in their June 15 guest viewpoint that with increased logging, “Clean air and water are a given.”

Their column says, “A lower harvest means fewer jobs.” That claim — that jobs are connected to harvest levels — isn’t supported by the facts. The Oregon Department of Employment reported that 142,100 total nonfarm jobs in Lane County in 2009 declined to 141,800 jobs by 2012. During that same period, logging nearly doubled. Yet even wood products manufacturing jobs, reported at 3,300 in 2009, remained at 3,300 in 2012 in spite of the harvest surge.

Logging went way up, yet jobs went down. Why is there this disconnect between timber harvest and jobs?

A large part of the private timber harvest leaves Lane County, much of it ending up in Asia. Weyerhaeuser, the county’s largest private landowner, controls more forestland than the federal Bureau of Land Management. The timber giant, along with some other large industrial forest owners, is a major log exporter.

Could large increases in logging without increases in local employment be due to log exports? Why don’t our leaders research and publicly discuss this disconnect between increased logging and decreased employment?

Comparing harvest volumes with Oregon Department of Revenue figures shows a similar disconnect in timber harvest taxes. In 2011, Oregon’s private forests accounted for 77 percent of Oregon’s total timber harvest, with most of the volume coming from industry lands. Yet the private forest contributed only 11 percent to the total reported timber harvest revenues. Public lands accounted for 23 percent of the harvest, but paid nearly all of the collected revenues, a whopping 89 percent!

Why don’t our state and county leaders examine this disconnect as well? Inequitable property and harvest tax exemptions are being given without fair review to private forest owners — especially to large owners of more than 5,000 acres, who no longer have to pay a harvest “privilege” tax. The Revenue Department reports this one subsidy, granted in 1999, costs us nearly $60 million a year.

Given the entitled way in which the timber industry and its friends demand more logging, one would think they were big contributors to our economy. Yet the Department of Employment reports wood products manufacturing jobs constitute only 2 percent of Lane’s overall nonfarm employment. State economists show this industry’s contribution to Oregon’s gross domestic product being equally small, only 2 percent.

We won’t fairly and justly resolve the supposed “problems” of timber supply, jobs and revenues until the private forest is held just as accountable as the federal forest. To keep more logs, jobs and money at home, Lane’s large corporate forest owners need to be taxed for their fair share.

In private industry’s constant demand for more public timber, our rights of ownership have been overlooked just as is the collateral damage from industrial logging. Our more protected and still heavily timbered federal forest, so coveted by industry, belongs to all of us, including future generations. And in Oregon, beyond the forest industry’s locked gates, we the people own the water, fisheries, wildlife and clean air as well!

Let’s remind our leaders that corporate timber doesn’t directly vote them into office or pay their salaries. The federal logging increase they so narrowly pursue is not fair to the majority of us and, if granted, would serve mostly to benefit only a wealthy few.

Rob Handy, a Lane County commissioner from 2009 to 2013, prepared this essay with technical assistance from Our Forests, a nonprofit forest research institute not funded by timber harvesting.

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