What's happening in the forest sector?

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

Sawmills are key to forest restoration

I was deeply saddened by the recent announcement of the impending closure of Ochoco Lumber Company’s sawmill in John Day.

Following last month’s announcement, I saw an editorial in the Blue Mountain Eagle newspaper, which serves Grant County. The writer struggled to make sense of the loss felt in John Day, a community surrounded by national forests. That struggling sawmill has been a steady supplier of lumber for decades. The writer noted that if the pending loss of 75-80 jobs were in Portland, it would be a Big Deal. The writer went on to note that the consequence of the loss is exponentially larger to John Day.

I have participated for three years on the state’s Federal Forest Advisory Committee’s Implementation Working Group, convened by the governor’s office and Oregon Solutions to support local collaboratives whereby community consensus can be reached on ways to restore eastside forests. These processes work slowly. But we believed it was a good omen when $2.5 million in federal funds was extended to support the Blue Mountain Forest Partners Collaborative for this purpose. And now this.

The loss of this sawmill — a tragedy for the John Day community — is also a blow to the future health of those forests. Without that mill, the small-diameter logs from forest restoration efforts will have to be trucked to Lakeview or Gilchrist — 210 miles or 190 miles, respectively, and both about four-hour, one-way drives. Probably not feasible, especially with today’s fuel prices.

Without sawmills located close to areas needing thinning, there’s no economic engine to make restoration economically viable. It is the lumber that will help pay for this work. Ironically, the mill closed because there is not enough timber to keep the mill open, even though it is located within eyesight of a sea of forests needing attention. 
We can’t afford to lose any more mills in eastern Oregon.

Paul Barnum
Executive Director

Family forestland ownership brings toil and reward

Owning family forestland is worth the hard work.But believe me, it’s no picnic. I’ve gained new respect for tree-planting crews.

I discovered this while replanting a section of our 89-acre woodland this past winter. My husband, Rex, plus my father and I, spent two weekends planting 1,600 Douglas-fir seedlings on about six acres.

On four cold, wet and dark February mornings, we headed out to our property in the Coast Range near Mist. We pulled on raingear, loaded our tree bags with seedlings and grabbed planting shovels. After a while, we developed a rhythm: Pace distance, notch hole, plant seedling, tamp soil. Repeat.

On and on we worked, stopping only long enough to gobble our sandwiches with cold hands. At dark we returned home, grateful for warm showers, and collapsed into bed. The next morning, we got up and did it all over again.

After four days of this regimen, my bones were tired and my muscles were sore, but my conscience was clear.

Despite the hard work, owning and managing forestland is deeply satisfying. There are both “hard” and “soft” benefits:

• Firewood for us and my parents, and ferns for our yard
• A stream of timber revenue as part of our retirement income
• The satisfaction of seeing the tangible fruits of our labor mature into trees
• Family bonds that grow stronger working side by side
• A peaceful refuge to enjoy deer, elk, birds and wildflowers
• An inheritance for our children

Above all, we’re happy to keep our forestland green. We don’t want to see forestland taken out of timber for other uses. And we’re happy to contribute to Oregon’s economy. It’s why we work in the forest industry.

While I may complain about the work, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

But next time, I will consider hiring a planting crew!

Kathy Storm 
OFRI Business Manager

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