Seneca Scholarship Runner Up

The Seneca Scholarship

Forests: The Social and Economic Lifeblood of Oregon

By Oliver D. Lemley

Natural resources have been a vital part of Oregon’s history and timber is no exception! Wise stewardship of these resources is in the best interest of all Oregonians. My aim is to highlight the evolution of forest management practices that have led to current practices within the timber industry. Additionally, I would like to draw attention to legislative threats to the rights of private land owners to manage their woodlands as they see fit.

In support of the aim of my paper I have organized my work into three main sections. I will begin with a brief historical overview of the development of the timber industry in Oregon. Along with this general history, I will include some of my family’s history that ties me directly to the timber industry. Next, I will compare and contrast current management practices on public and private lands. As I compare public and private forest management trends, I will focus on both the economic and ecological impacts. The final section is dedicated to the legislative threats facing private woodland owners. This section will focus on Oregon House Bill 3226 and the devastating impact it will have on woodland owners if passed.

Soon after Europeans discovered Oregon, people began to realize the value of Douglas Fir Timbers as spars and masts in the shipbuilding industry. However, the forest’s true potential wasn’t realized until the early 1800’s when the first sawmill was opened in the WillametteValley (Logging). Soon after the opening of the first mill, lumber exports began to such places as China, Australia, and Hawaii.

The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed most people in Oregon to claim 160 acres of land to live on and use for whatever agricultural purpose they chose i.e. logging. This incentive was the catalyst for some of my family moving to Oregon. They were loggers and saw millers in Michigan and other Great Lakes States. The old growth timber in the Great Lakes Region was becoming scarce and they saw Oregon as the new timber frontier. They came to Oregon to continue in their chosen occupation. The life they led was challenging and filled with difficulties, and Oregon in the 1800’s was still a mostly unsettled, rugged land.

My family has worked almost exclusively in the timber industry. Some have driven log trucks. Others have been timber fallers. Some have even owned logging companies and sawmills. From cruising timber to selling lumber, my family has been involved in every aspect of the timber industry. To borrow an old phrase from Roseburg Forest Products, “We’ve got sawdust in our veins.”
In the late 1930’s, there was a noteworthy shift in the philosophy of forest resource management as the theory of sustained yield was applied to Oregon land grant forests to ensure they would be around for the future (Logging). Following this action, in 1941 Oregon began requiring that logged lands be replanted. Throughout the 70’s more laws were passed mandating responsible forest practices to preserve wildlife and ensure the ongoing health of our forests.

Current management practices differ greatly between public and privately owned lands—producing different economic and environmental impacts. In the past, state and federal lands were a major source of timber which produced a significant amount of revenue for the government and its programs—such as schools. The steady supply of timber created good paying, long-lasting jobs which led to a strong economy. The strong timber industry had a beneficial impact on the whole state.

Unfortunately the timber industry came under a fierce, relentless attack in the 1980’s. The endangered species act was employed as the means to attempt to cripple the timber industry in the entire Northwest. In the name of protecting the northern spotted owl and a few other lesser known species, timber sales on state and federal lands became very restricted. By the mid 1990’s logging on National Forest Land was virtually unheard of. The shift in management practices have obviously been detrimental to our economy, but there have also been negative environmental impacts as well.

Most of negative environmental impacts due to management practices on state and federal lands involve fire. The absence of logging on public lands has led to a buildup of fuels. Once a fire gets started it is much more difficult to suppress due to the abundance of fuel in the unmanaged public forests. According to Patrick Skrip, Regional Manager for the Douglas Forest Protective Association, the Stouts Fire in the summer of 2016 cost more than 50 million to fight. Along with this expense, it was estimated the damages exceeded 150 million dollars. Much of this fire burned through National Forest land. Had the land been managed differently the costs might not have been so great. As Mr. Skrip stated, “Hoping you don’t have a fire is not a strategy.” Managing the buildup of fuel would have reduced the intensity of this and other fires.

Forest fires tend to happen during the summer months when atmospheric conditions prevent the smoke from dissipating into the atmosphere. Instead this smoke tends to linger in the valleys and create great health hazards, especially for people with asthma (Barnes). The slash burning taking place after logging is carefully executed to ensure the public is not exposed to these health hazards.

There are benefits people can derive from public lands. Most People use these lands for recreational purposes such as camping, hunting, or fishing. These lands, managed by the BLM or USDA Forest Service, are wonderful retreats for humans and animals alike. The big, old-growth trees make excellent habitat for some types of animals and provide shade for family picnics. Public lands also hold many natural wonders. Some of the wonders in my area are the South Umpqua Falls, Aker Rock, and Diamond Lake. There are certainly benefits to publicly owned lands, unfortunately these are not economic benefits.

Private forest lands are managed quite differently. Most are owned by large corporations such as Seneca Jones Timber Company and are primarily used for producing timber. Naturally this is good for the economy. In Douglas County alone the timber industry is responsible for about 20,000 jobs either directly or indirectly (Employment). Without the timber from private lands many of these jobs wouldn’t exist.

Technology has impacted every aspect of our society. Resource management is benefitting from the advancements in technology as well. The GPS systems in use today help land owners with surveying their land. Along with the advanced mathematical modelling, technology is allowing landowners to maximize their return on timber lands by harvesting at the optimum time (Barnes).
Fire suppression on private lands are benefitting from the use of computer monitoring systems. The DFPA employs numerous cameras linked to computers to look for signs of smoke in the forest. This method has proven instrumental in detecting fires before they get big (Skrip). These specially programed computers recognize the color of smoke against the sky. If a camera thinks it sees smoke, it alerts a human monitor to confirm it as smoke. If it is smoke, he alerts fire fighters. This system is so effective that only a small fraction of fires get big enough to pose a threat to either forests or people.

Logging has always helped with the cause of fire prevention. The cleanup after a logging operation significantly decreases the amount of fuel available to start forest fires. While slash burning has been at the center of some controversy, it does benefits the environment by restoring nutrients back into the ground (Morgan).

The practice of clear cutting has been under attack for decades by environmentalists seeking to villainize this practice which has a role in sound, resource management. It is the most cost effective method of logging. Landowners want to reduce their harvest cycle times and clear cutting helps accomplish this by ensuring young trees receive the sunlight they need to thrive and grow more rapidly (Barnes). Without clear cutting, trees would take longer to grow and that would mean a longer wait between harvests.

Thinning or select cutting, by comparison, will be less productive and less efficient. This harvest method can result in a unit of trees that are good for nothing more than chips. Wise resource management seeks to maximize profits from available resources and chip making is not a high-income way of logging. It is also been confirmed that if you have to haul trees 50 miles or more for making chips you start to lose money (Morgan).

Pacific Rivers and the Center for Sustainable Economy have obtained the support of Representative Holvey, who on February 28, 2017 introduced House Bill 3226 in the Oregon State Legislature. This bill is another attack on the rights of private landowners to manage the resources they own, within the boundaries of the Oregon Forest Practices Act, to provide the greatest economic benefit. “Private forest owner are knowledgeable owners and it isn’t government’s place to micromanage” (HB 3226).

If passed this bill would have devastating consequences for private woodland owners. This bill seeks to put the State in the position to micromanage all forestland (HB 3226). Logging operations would become much more costly as formal management plans would have to be developed and then approved at the discretion of the State Forester (Barnes). As Rick Barnes, President of Oregon Small Woodlands Association, stated during my interview, this bill gives total autonomy to the State Forester. On Thursday, March 30th Rick is testifying before the State Legislature against this bill that would financially ruin many small woodland owners.

This measure would also increase the required buffer zones between creeks and logging units. One of the most impacting changes proposed is a required 100’ buffer around intermittent streams. In some areas this would virtually eliminate any possibility of a profitable timber harvest—some lands would be restricted to logging only ridgetops.

The fees and other added costs of managing private woodlands would decrease property values and drive many companies out of business (Barnes). These regulations are detrimental to our way of life in rural Oregon. The Oregon Public Broadcasting site hosting “The Oregon Story” issues the challenge: Our task now is to consider how we use and manage our natural resources in the next century. Our decisions will affect Oregon economically, culturally and environmentally. This is our challenge, and our opportunity, and will inform the legacy we leave to future generations. (The Oregon Story: Logging)

While the intent behind this statement is a call to accept a different economic path for Oregon—one where forest resources are of little economic importance—I believe this challenge should be embraced by proponents of the timber industry to fight to preserve the autonomy of private woodland owners regarding the management of the resources they own.
Without privately managed forest resources the Timber Industry in Oregon will become history.

Works Cited
Barnes, Rick. Personal interview. 27 March 2017.
“Employment and Wages by Industry.” State of Oregon–Employment Department,
HB 3226 Forest Management Plans. Oregon Citizens Lobby.
Morgan, Susan. Personal interview. 22 March 2017.
Skrip, Patrick. Personal interview. 19 March 2017.
“The Oregon Story: Logging.” OBP, logging/