Rediscovering the NW timber harvest


Two opinion pieces this week from Oregon writers, one in the Wall Street Journal and one in the Oregonian, provide a valuable perspective on the importance of the timber industry to Northwest communities.

James L. Huffman, dean emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, writes in the Journal that the spotted owl recovery plan released in June by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service won’t work.  Instead, it’s just another chapter in 20 years of bad decisions over the owl.

In the early 1990s, when the spotted-owl controversy reached its peak, people desperate to save their jobs and communities joked about having spotted-owl barbecues. Today it seems that the joke is on those who believed science always has a solution.

And even assuming the spotted owl can be saved, is there no cost too high? How many millions of acres of forest must be abandoned? How many rival birds must be killed? Would anybody really notice if barred owls displaced and interbred with every last spotted owl in the Northwest?

For most Northwesterners it was never really about the owls anyway. It was about preservation, in some pristine state, of some of the planet’s most productive forests versus the management of those forests to serve the interests of mankind. But even preservation proves to be an elusive goal as forests age and debris accumulates to feed the next forest fire.

Rather than more of the same — or spending millions to shoot the more aggressive barred owl – the federal government should rethink the way it looks at forestland and endangered species, Huffman writes.

The spotted-owl saga provides convincing evidence that it’s time to re-examine our objectives and methods in species protection, followed by appropriate amendments to the Endangered Species Act.

Robert S. Smith, the president of Peregrine Private Capital Group in Portland, says in an Oregonian op-ed that “environmental hubris” should not stand in the way of Oregon taking advantage of its status as “one of the best places on Earth to grow trees.” From an economic perspective, the value of the timber harvest is too great to leave behind in a state with 9 percent unemployment.

This is Oregon. What do we do better than anyone else? We grow trees. So let’s put the “folks” back to work and make some real money harvesting trees and processing lumber.

Time is of the essence. Douglas fir logs rose 19 percent in price in the fourth quarter of 2010 alone. This will only be exacerbated by this year’s tsunami in Japan. Once ports, roads and power are working there again, demand for lumber and plywood will explode. Supplying Japan’s rebuilding needs will be a global undertaking. This could employ much of rural Oregon for years to come.

The supreme irony here is that in the wake of the Great Recession and disillusionment about jobs and the future, Oregon is actually in a position to have one of the nation’s best economies rather than one of the worst.

What we need to do is to shake off the chains of an old, failed ideology and forge a new business paradigm based on Oregon’s rich natural resource endowment and burgeoning global demand. We have what the world wants.

The comments section of both the Journal op-ed and Oregonian op-ed are also quite vigorous — on both sides of the debate.