Timber Jobs: A Boost for Oregon’s Economy

By Karla Kay Edwards

In today’s economy everyone is looking for ways to create jobs and increase revenues. That includes Senator Ron Wyden, who has drafted the Oregon Forest Restoration and Old Growth Protection Act, which would manage Oregon’s federally owned forests tree by tree instead of as a sustainable landscape. Though his goals to improve forest health while providing jobs in our rural communities is well intentioned, it will only create more bureaucracy while jeopardizing forest health and our rural communities’ livelihoods.

As the leading lumber producer in the U.S., Oregon has the opportunity to stimulate the economies of rural communities which depend on forestlands for jobs and revenue generation. Currently, the federal government owns 57% of Oregon forestland but contributes only 7% of the yearly timber harvest (versus privately owned forest, which constitutes 37% of Oregon forest and 85% of the yearly harvest). There is definitely need for more active management to improve the health of our federal forest.

Better forestland management designed to prevent further infestations of insects and disease, as well as assisting with forest fire protection, could stimulate economies throughout rural Oregon. But this can’t be accomplished through legislation focused on individual tree size and age instead of on the landscape as a whole.

Unfortunately, Senator Wyden’s draft legislation would add to the bureaucratic process and essentially halt the approval of all current and future timber harvest. If the Senator wants to help, he should ensure that current timber contracts are fulfilled and that an appropriate level of funding is provided for active local forest management.

Karla Kay Edwards is Rural Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute. She has held positions of leadership in numerous organizations focusing on agricultural and rural industries and issues, including the Fresno (California) Farm Bureau, Washington Cattlemen’s Association, and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.