Timber Industry Distorts Information to Exploit Our Forests

Timber Industry Distorts Information to Exploit Our Forests

- by Samantha Chirillo, July 11, 2013. Source: Register-Guard

Swanson supposedly states just the facts regarding Oregon's forests and industry, but instead distorts them. Swanson is connected to the Swanson Group, a family that owns mills dependent on public timber.

Her bias may be expected, but her name-calling is childishly rude. Educated, employed, property-tax-paying, law-abiding Oregonians like Susan Applegate and Patty Keene, whose June 6th guest viewpoint triggered Swanson's response, aren't "extremists" or "radicals." They just don't believe the unsupported claims the timber industry cares for the best interests of Oregon's forests and people. 

Swanson was more careful not to call some things what they really are. Her opinion never used the word "logging." When timber industry supporters say "manage," what they're really talking about is logging. Managing forests can be as benign as preserving wilderness. When "management" is focused on cutting and hauling away merchantable trees, it's more honestly called "logging."

Industry claims our public forests are sick and diseased and that they need more logging to make them healthy again. On the contrary, it's because they’ve been logged less and have larger, older, more fire-resistant trees that they are robust, valuable and coveted by the timber industry. U.S. Forest Service data shows the industry's forests in Oregon being logged faster than they're growing. The forest growth surplus Swanson speaks of is on our lands, not theirs. What's wrong with having a surplus?

The 86,000 Oregonians reported by Swanson as working in the "forest industry" is more than twice the number reported by the state Employment Department.

Swanson quotes other "facts" from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. This organization is also biased heavily in favor of the timber industry. Created by the Legislature in 1991, Oregon Revised Statute 526.640 says "The Oregon Forest Resources Institute shall enhance and provide support for Oregon's forest products industry." The state Department of Revenue shows that OFRI is funded directly with forest products harvest taxes, benefiting directly from increased logging.

The legislative findings for establishing OFRI say, "The state of Oregon recognizes that the forest products industry is one of the largest industries in the state." This is not factual. The Employment Department's 2013 Industry Employment Forecast shows today's timber industry accounts for three percent of Oregon's payroll employment and contributes only two percent to 2020's projected employment. Most job growth is predicted to be in wholesale and retail trade, professional and business services, leisure and food service, and health and education.

OFRI's legislative findings say, "The welfare of the state is largely dependent on the health and vigor of the forest products industry." Again, not factual. The state Department of Economic Analysis reports that today's wood products industry contributes only one percent to our Gross Domestic Product.

In Lane County, Oregon's biggest timber producer, the wood products industry is not even one of the top 10 employers. Has this industry achieved more employment from recent logging increases? Not according to state Department of Forestry and Employment Department data. Lane County's logging levels increased 57 percent from 2009 to 2011. In this same period, Lane experienced an 11 percent drop in wood products employment. None of our political leaders, obsessed only with increasing federal logging, have publicly mentioned this obvious disconnect.

The increasing export of unprocessed, "raw" logs, also ignored by politicians, may explain the disconnect.

Based on Forest Service data, beginning in 2009, log exports to Asia have increased steadily from the Northwest, particularly from Oregon, which may be exporting as much as one third of its annual harvest as raw logs rather than as finished lumber. A billion board feet of raw logs were exported out of Oregon in 2011 alone. OFRI claims that there are 28 jobs created for every million board feet of logs Oregon's workers process. Multiplied times a billion board feet, OFRI's inflated employment numbers imply that as many as 28,000 wood products jobs may be exported annually.

Lane County is particularly hard hit from log exports since one of the region's largest raw log exporters, Weyerhaeuser, is also Lane's largest private landowner, with about 340,000 acres. Weyerhaeuser controls more forestland in Lane County than the BLM does. The company gets huge property tax exemptions on the value of its standing timber. ORS 321.259, the legislative finding granting this exemption to private forest owners, says "The interests of the state, its citizens and future citizens are best served by taxing policies that encourage...millage of timber products within Oregon."

Where's the outcry about raw log exports from Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. Peter DeFazio, and others promoting their agenda to increase timber supplies, revenues and jobs?

Contrary to Swanson's claims, the timber industry and its politicians seem to either distort or ignore the facts to justify further exploitation of Oregon's forests and people.

Samantha Chirillo of Eugene is a research consultant.