What's happening in the forest sector?

Forest-sector recovery dependent on markets and timber

Forest products have long been an economic engine for the state. As a state agency charged with public education about the forest sector, it’s one of OFRI’s core competencies to lead a deep dive into the sector’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.

In October, OFRI published its assessment of the economic impact of Oregon’s forest sector. Titled “The 2012 Forest Report,” the 200-page study is the most comprehensive look at sector employment and economic impact in nearly a decade.

The findings may surprise you. For starters, the sector directly employs 76,000 Oregonians who earn, including benefits, a collective $5.2 billion. Another 37,000 people are dependent on the sector, providing it with services and supplies.

To be sure, the Great Recession has taken a toll. As new home construction tumbled from a high of 2.3 million housing starts nationally in 2005 to fewer than 500,000 starts in 2009, Oregon wood products manufacturers cut production. The sector lost 14,000 jobs and $527 million in income. But the housing market is slowly coming back; current data from the U.S. Census Bureau puts new residential housing starts at about 750,000 nationally.

The loss of jobs has been felt hardest in rural areas. Statewide, the sector accounts for 6.8 percent of the economy – $12.7 billion in total economic output. But in some rural areas, the sector represents well over 10 percent of a county’s economic output, employing hundreds of people. In northwest Oregon and southern Oregon, for example, one out of every 10 jobs is tied to the forest sector – twice the state average.

Although the feeble housing market has taken its toll, the new study found that there’s another force restraining the sector’s recovery: timber supply. The federal government manages nearly 60 percent of the forestland in this state, but contributes only 12 percent of the harvest. Conversely, private forestland owners manage 34 percent of the forestland but contribute 75 percent of the harvest. Even allowing for the fact that federal land is not as productive as private, the ratio is badly out of balance.

It’s no surprise, then, that one of the five recommendations of the study is to “Reassess and reshape policies for Oregon’s federal forests.” If Oregon’s rural areas are to fully emerge from the current recession, if they’re ever going to be financially independent, then state leaders must find a way to increase harvest in our federal forests – not only to supply raw material to sawmills and put people back to work, but also to manage our forests for ecosystem health and protect them from wildfire.

A summary of the study can be found at TheForestReport.org, where it is also available for download.

For the forest,

Paul Barnum
Executive Director

Select and plant trees as summer fades and leaves blaze

As fall colors blaze, it’s a good time to plant trees.

That’s right. Though spring brings new growth, October and November are optimal months for planting in Oregon. The heat of summer has faded, but the cold of winter is still a month or two away. The soil is still warm enough and moist but not soggy.

Ready to plant? It’s time to select a tree.

Fortunately, you can grow a diversity of trees here. In fact, Oregon supports 30 native coniferous species and 37 native species of broadleaf trees. There are iconic Doug-firs and ponderosa pines. And for fall color, we have bigleaf and vine maples, quaking aspen, black cottonwood and western larch.

But the most common and striking fall colors come from non-native trees, often seen planted beside streets and in yards. The pioneers knew this. In fact, many of Oregon old homesteads featured beautiful hardwood trees brought west in covered wagons.

Two of my favorite introduced shade trees are scarlet oak and red maple. These beautiful trees, native to the Midwest and eastern United States, handle our climate and soils well, are relatively pest-free and provide striking color shows.

But beauty is only one consideration in selecting a tree. Other factors include:

  • Size at maturity: Make sure you know how big a tree will grow. A big tree can provide shade and privacy. But, if not given adequate room, it can foul overhead wires, spoil views or crowd a house.
  • Speed of growth: Trees grow at different rates. Can you wait?
  • Sun and shade: Evergreens provide year-round shade. Deciduous trees blocks summer sun yet let in winter sunlight.
  • Color: Trees such as maples, scarlet oak, sweetgum, or for smaller spaces, dogwood or vine maple, show a fiery palette in the fall.
  • Upkeep: Trees need care and maintenance, particularly during the first three years after planting. Some trees require more love and care than others. Don’t forget raking!
  • Site: Make sure the tree will thrive in your location’s microclimate, considering factors such as light, temperature, wind, rainfall, elevation, soil composition and soil moisture.

Want more information? Here are some great tree-related resources:

  • OFRI’s online tree guide is a concise collection of Oregon’s native trees.
  • The National Arbor Day Foundation offers a searchable database, glossary, tree-care blog and more.
  • The Oregon Department of Forestry, Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program provides a wide assortment of online publications, printed materials and videos from ODF, Oregon State University Extension, the U.S. Forest Service and other state forestry agencies.

As you enjoy the turning of the seasons, take a look around at our urban and rural forests. Think about the pioneers who brought you some of these amazing fall colors. And remember, it’s all about planting the right tree in the right place.

May the forest be with you.

Mike Cloughesy
Director of Forestry

Photos: Scarlet Oak and Red Maple

Some trees never seem to change; others change a lot

I moved to Portland in the late 1970s and went straight to work in a downtown office building. The Bus Mall, as it was known then, was fairly new. Red brick sidewalks lined the streets where public transportation was routed to give downtown a new focus. I’m told that in the 1960s, downtown Portland was much like other cities’ downtowns: dying from neglect and lack of interest. But business and civic leaders here had already laid the foundation for transformation, and planting trees was part of it.

The mall already seemed like a good idea to Portlanders; although I remember wondering if those spindly little sycamores planted there would make it. It seemed unlikely at the time.

Portland has changed a lot since then. Decrepit buildings have been removed, others renovated, scores of new buildings have changed the skyline, light rail rumbles past my office every few minutes and some of those little sycamores are now 50 feet high.

Back then, to get away from the hubbub, I frequently would walk the South Park Blocks while on lunch break. The lovely tall elm trees there seemed eternal. Most were planted in the 1870s; they didn’t change much year to year during the 1970s.

During July of this year, The Oregonian ran a front page feature on those elm trees, warning citizens that the tree-canopied South Park Blocks will be changing. Many of the trees are sick, rotted and generally unsafe. One recently fell, hitting someone, and another did serious damage to an old church steeple along the park. The city took notice and began inspecting them. The result is that many will come down, although not all at the same time. Time to replant!

I remembered that story as I walked through the South Park Blocks just this week. Sure enough, I saw a crew downing one and I found another closely cropped stump awaiting the grinder.

South Park Blocks stump grinding

Urban forests make me optimistic. The trees may grow slowly but they provide a lot of pleasure to city folks, whether we realize it or not. Now, I wonder if a young fellow back in the 1870s felt the same way I did, as he watched workers carefully plant the elm trees in the South Park Blocks.

This reminds me of the old proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” I’m thankful for the foresight of others. I’m also thankful that our state laws require reforestation after harvest.

David Kvamme
Director of Communications

(Photo credits: left, The Oregon Historical Society; right, The Oregonian)

Jobs in the woods

Flying back from family visits in Sacramento last week I could see from the airplane a substantial portion of Oregon’s 30.5 million acres of forestland. Not all of it, but quite a lot.

As we flew up I-5, I couldn’t see the invisible borders for timber-based counties, but from my perch I could see some of their cities and towns. As bad as the Great Recession has been for Oregon’s urban areas, smaller communities were hit sooner, harder and with longer lasting effects.

Because of the linkages between the urban and rural economies in our state, it’s been housing and forest sector-related employment that often led Oregon out of past recessions. That hasn’t been the case this time. Housing starts crashed nationwide from a high of 2.3 million starts in 2006 to a low of 478,000 starts in 2009. Currently, we’re limping along at about 750,000 housing starts per year on an annualized basis, or about half of what economists and others believe is a sustainable replacement rate for the United States.

Sawmills and other sector infrastructure have fallen the past few years, casualties of the recession. However, the forests have continued to grow and some mill owners have reinvested in their mills, betting that the economy will improve. One key to Oregon’s participation in the rebound will be greater access to federal timber, which encompasses about 60 percent of all forestland in the state.

There is growing recognition that millions of acres of our publicly owned forests, especially in eastern and southern Oregon, would benefit from active management to thin, remove biomass and supply sawlogs in order to restore forest ecosystem health. Many of the skills needed for this work are similar or identical to those jobs we think of automatically, but there are many more.

Restoring healthy forests requires foresters, research scientists, timber cruisers, and wildlife and fisheries specialists. It needs administrators and truck drivers, engineers and road graders. That’s still scratching the surface because it takes nursery employees, electricians, equipment operators, mechanics and tree planting crews. It requires lumber graders, electric generation technicians and paper mill employees. It takes accountants, attorneys, sales staff, government regulators and those who work to comply with the law.

As Oregon’s economy begins to recover, it’s not just loggers and millwrights in small towns who will benefit. All of us will benefit from a renewed forest sector. And so will our forests.

For the forest,
Paul Barnum
Executive Director

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