This has been a promising week for the West Coast timber industry. First, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that creates a new tax on timber sales. Instead of timber industry regulation being paid for by fees on timber companies, like many other states, the regulation will be paid for by a tax on lumber buyers.
From the Los Angeles Times:
California timber companies supported the change because it eliminates a financial advantage for out-of-state operations, which didn’t need to pay the fee.
“This bill makes our company more competitive with out-of-state businesses and strengthens our industry,” said a statement from Red Emmerson, president of Sierra Pacific Industries, the state’s largest timber company. “Governor Brown’s leadership brings California the first major reform to the timber industry in decades, improving California’s business climate for years to come.”
In Oregon, the state’s congressional delegation joined with state and local leaders to convince the U.S. Forest Service to increase its timber harvest in Eastern Oregon in order to save a 29-year-old sawmill from shutting down. The mill, Malheur Lumber Co. in John Day, was considered critical because the nearest mill is 112 miles away. Without Malheur, restoration projects and harvest in the Malheur National Forest would be much more difficult and expensive.
The coalition of groups that supported saving the mill, including Gov. John Kitzhaber and some environmentalists, said the mill will also preserve much-needed jobs in rural Oregon.
One big caveat: The deal could end up saving the Malbeur mill only temporarily. All the parties involved say a more lasting solution – likely a longer-term increase in the state’s timber harvest – is necessary.
To ensure that Malheur Lumber survives more than a few more months, Oregon needs more say in the management of federal forests that make up the majority of the state’s timberland, said (U.S. Rep. Greg) Walden, a Republican whose district includes John Day.
Legislation proposed by Walden and U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, both Democrats, to create public trusts to manage former Oregon & California Railroad lands would be one step in that direction. The proposal would give the state more control over forest management in those areas, a concept Walden favors beyond O&C lands.
Steve Forrester, the president of the East Oregonian Publishing Co., which publishes the Capital Press and other Northwest papers, said just the fact that the mill has been saved temporaily is reason for encouragment.
Rather than shrug off another mill closure in an industry with a long history of them, a growing cadre of leaders is recognizing the need for this mill in John Day. They are pushing to find ways to assure its continued operation.
That the dialogue is happening at all is heartening.
In order to improve forest health and meet their harvest goals, federal officials need mills like Malheur to be open and operating, Forrester says.
Forest communities are uniquely positioned to play a key role in the work needed to protect a national treasure, our federal forests. The powers that be — the feds, the state and the public — need to decide whether mills such as John Day’s will be allowed to partner in that work, or whether that community will be relegated to making sandwiches for firefighters.