by Rep. Sal Esquivel (R-Medford)
Increasing State Timber Harvests Will Create Jobs for Rural Oregon
Oregon’s most abundant resource, timber, is being underutilized. This lack of productivity has hurt Oregon’s economy and our rural communities. The federal government owns 60 percent of Oregon’s forest land, and many in Southern Oregon understand that Washington DC does a very poor job managing our forests. Timber harvest on federal lands has declined, leading to high unemployment in rural communities.
As Co-Chair of the House Agriculture and Natural Resource Committee, I have been working to advance measures that allow Oregonians to responsibly utilize our natural resources to improve our economy. While the Oregon Legislature can do little to affect federal timber policies, we can act to properly manage our state forests and put rural Oregonians back to work.
Under current law, the state only permits harvests on 60 percent of what’s allowable under the Forest Practices Act. With so many Oregonians out of work, I am one of many legislators who believe these harvesting levels are too low. House Republicans, in particular, have introduced legislation for the 2012 session that would increase both sustainable harvesting and job creation on these state lands.
Our measure would direct the state to increase harvest levels on state forests to 85 percent of harvestable timber, this measure can create jobs and generate new revenue for local governments. This represents a modest change to Oregon’s current policy, and the increased harvesting would continue to fall within Forest Practices Act guidelines. This solution would provide a reliable supply of timber and create real living wage jobs in communities across the state.
Normally, state forestry policy is established by the Governor and officials within the Department of Forestry. In recent years, the state has kept these harvesting levels low partly to appease the powerful environmental community. These policies have come at the expense of rural Oregonians who consistently suffer higher unemployment than their city counterparts.
Legislative action is necessary whenever state policies cause economic hardships for many of our citizens. The Legislature must act because higher harvestings levels are allowed under current management practices, but the State Department of Forestry has failed to adopt policies that manage state forest lands to achieve the greatest permanent value and put people back to work in the woods.
Once implemented, timber harvested on state land under our bill would account for less than 3 percent of all timber harvested in forests across the state. This is a very small and sustainable amount. In addition, the bill would provide a reliable supply of timber and create real living wage jobs in communities across the state. As the federal government continues its gross mismanagement of federal forest and O&C lands, our measure will increase tax revenues for counties, cities, and even increase funding for education.
As the Legislature moves toward adjournment of the 2012 session, we should do everything we can to create jobs for Oregonians. Any broad job-creation strategy that doesn’t include leveraging Oregon’s abundant natural resources will fail to help rural Oregon– precisely where jobs are needed the most.