By Roy Keene
In an announcement titled “DeFazio Fights to Save Timber Jobs,” our congressman notes his resistance to BLM budget cuts. He says, “Reducing the amount of marketable timber the agency is able to offer in fiscal year 2011 by 45 million board feet will cost 500 to 600 timber jobs.”
Figures compiled by Forest Service economist Debra Warren show 1,100 million board feet of raw logs exported from the Northwest in 2010. This year’s first quarter exports, at 390 million board feet, are double the 191 million shipped in 2010’s first quarter. Ironically, three times more timber than DeFazio is trying to save from BLM’s annual budget shortfall now leaves the Northwest every month.
The Business Insider website comments that, “While Canada has drastically raised lumber shipments to China in recent years, the U.S. has instead expanded exportation of logs to Chinese sawmills and plywood manufacturers.” Unfortunately, domestic mills can’t compete with the prices China pays for logs. Interestingly, when the Russians began charging tariffs to protect their forests and mills, China increased its purchase of raw logs from our less protected shores.
Driving through Coos Bay, my wife, who was born and raised there, was shocked to see the volume of logs awaiting ships. Heading back to Roseburg on Highway 42, we counted more than 20 log truck loads and a half dozen chip trucks rushing toward the port. A Menasha Campbell company representative, defending log exports in a Coos Bay World newspaper opinion, claimed that a 5.5 million board foot shipload of logs “creates more than $1.7 million worth of economic activity for the Coos Bay area.”
By comparison, how much economic activity would the Roseburg area enjoyed had these logs been milled in Douglas County? With the passing of HB 3575 in 1999, large forest owners of more than 5,000 acres, like Menasha Campbell, no longer pay timber harvest tax and comparatively little property tax. This makes industrial log exports a double whammy for the county of origin.
There are substitution loopholes in log export restrictions that allow some companies or their affiliates who export their own timber to also purchase ours. And, although federal logs (except for Port Orford cedar) can’t be exported outright, they can be shipped as minimally processed products. Cut into slabs or cants, chipped or pulped — pseudo processing that employs far fewer workers than milling lumber — federal logs end up over seas. These loopholes help explain industry’s demand for more federal timber when there’s so little domestic lumber demand.
Ignoring the export elephant in their midst, Oregon’s politicians are buying into a mythical timber famine to justify non-sustainable increases in public timber harvesting. Before stuffing federal sale programs with more historically cheap timber, our delegation should address not only log exports, but the huge uncut volume of federal timber already sold and held under contract.
Timber Data Company in Eugene tracks public timber sales. Its 2010 summary shows 500 million board feet of Oregon’s Bureau of Land Management timber sold but uncut. Add this to nearly 400 million feet of uncut state timber and 1,200 million feet of sold and uncut Forest Service timber. Over a half billion board feet of this volume is held by Southern Oregon operators. In total, there’s more than 2 billion board feet of sold but uncut public timber held under contract in the Northwest!
In spite of this enormous volume of potentially available timber and soft domestic lumber market, industry is collaborating with well-paid scientists and token environmental groups to lobby for increased federal logging under the guise of “restoring forests and jobs.” The reality is that global timber corporations are exploiting the forest and people of the Northwest like a Third World resource center. To honestly restore forests and jobs, this inequity needs to be resolved by stopping the largest loss first — the untaxed and unrestricted export of raw logs.
In 1990, U.S. Rep DeFazio implored President Bush to resolve domestic timber shortages by invoking the Export Administration Act. This would have eliminated log exports from all public and private lands. Oregon’s delegation should ask Obama to do what Bush wouldn’t — invoke this act. Keep the huge volume of Northwest timber already harvested or sold here at home.
Stop or restrict raw and pseudo-processed log exports so Oregon’s timber workers can significantly swell their ranks to meet the world’s increasing need for high-quality wood products. Over the long run, it would be a tremendous win-win for Oregon’s forests and work force!
Roy Keene is a forest consultant and private timberland broker based in Eugene, who has lived in and routinely works in Douglas and Coos counties