Newspaper series on forestry goes off track


The East Oregonian Co., which owns seven small newspapers in the Northwest, started a series of articles this week called “Fate of Our Forest.” The stories examine the changing face of the timber industry in Oregon and Washington, and we appreciate the coverage. Unfortunately, the newspaper company has already had its share of inaccuracies and distortions in the series.

Here are a couple examples:

One of the company’s papers, The Chinook Observer in Pacific County, Wash., took a look this week at the changing face of land ownership in the county, including the timber companies that are among the county’s biggest landowners.

But the Observer tried to make it sound like timber companies are trying to get away with something:

On the other hand, the recent purchaser of much of (Weyerhaeuser’s) hemlock forestland in the county, John Hancock Life Insurance, now is 16th on the list of biggest property owners in the county. Though it paid $126 million for the land, it is valued at only $2,312,800 due to a state law that grants timber companies an exception to the prevailing rule for everyone else that requires property assessments and taxes to be based on full market value.

In fact, John Hancock will be taxed on the full value of the land. Like all companies, when the timber is harvested, Hancock will have to pay forest harvest excise tax to the state. The Washington state timber industry as a whole paid $23 million in forest harvest excise tax, a significant boost to state coffers.

The Observer, in two other stories (here and here), also gives a lot of ink and quotes to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) forest certification system and its adherents. The paper tries to paint the FSC standard as the future of the industry, even while it admits “FSC-certified wood is not big business yet and may never be.”

It’s true that the market for sustainably harvested wood continues to grow, but FSC is a small and minor standard. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standard is the leader both nationally and in the Pacific Northwest, by a large margin, and yet the Observer never even mentions it.

A newspaper series can’t provide an accurate depiction of an industry if it ignores the realities of the business on the ground.