The good news and the bittersweet news


The news sounds great: West Coast log and lumber exports went up by 79 and 83 percent in the first six months of this year, according to the U.S. Forest Service. But as this Oregonian story points out, reaction to the news isn’t that simple. Yes, China’s building boom means big business for West Coast lumber producers, but forestry advocates point out that increased exports are bad news for Pacific Northwest lumber mills.

Foreign log buyers are willing to pay $650 per thousand board feet, while Northwest mills struggle to pay $500 to $550 per thousand board fee, said Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council in Portland. That leaves mills more dependent on timber from public land.

By law, logs from U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Oregon Department of Forestry lands cannot be exported. But those agencies aren’t providing enough timber to keep local mills operating consistently, Partin said.

“Domestic processors are caught in a real lurch right now,” he said. “It’s very important to keep domestic sawmills going right now. We’ve been asking the BLM and Forest Service to ramp up (timber harvest) programs and deliver more raw material, or we’re going to see more downsizing.”

According to Partin, “these private timber owners have to go to bed with themselves every night and ask if they’re doing the right thing or not. Log exports wax and wane. If we lose domestic (lumber) processors and exports drop off, private companies won’t have anyone to sell to in the future.”

In other, less bittersweet, news, a new coalition of timber industry leaders has formed to advocate for more active management of federal forestland. The Federal Forest Resource Coalition will push for more federal timber sales, Forest Service funding and issues around endangered species, according to the Capital Press.