After sharing more than an hour of negative forest economy stats, hope arose when Boise Cascade spokesperson Lindsay Warness changed gears and spoke of short-term and long-term timber monetary fixes afoot in the U.S. Congress.
The bad news can be encapsulated in the fact that 75 percent of Eastern Oregon lies within federal forest boundaries and, between 1986 and 2010 according to Oregon Dept. of Forestry records, timber harvests here have been reduced 95 percent. A harvest of 743 million board feet in 1986 has shrunk to 35 million board feet in 2010.
Lindsay Warness has been involved with the forest industry all of her life and is the daughter of John Warness, regional manager for Forest Capital Partners, of Boston.
The short-term solution Warness addressed is the amendment to the huge transportation bill on the national level that, in essence, would give rural timber communities a temporary, one-year reprieve from the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments plan that soon, once more, will sunset.
Andrew Whelan, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R - Ore.) in Washington, D.C. says, “Rep. Walden has received a commitment from the highest level of House of Representatives’ leadership that the matter will be funded, whether in the transportation bill or by another means.”
As proposed, that “fix” would fund timber counties by 95 percent of what they received last year in SRS payments, which in Wallowa County would amount to about $625,000.
The long-term “fix” Warness spoke of is called the Hastings Bill, HR 4019, which would mandate an annual minimum cut on USFS lands with 65 percent of revenue generated from those cuts given to counties and 35 percent to the federal government.
As pointed out at the Monday morning meeting by Bruce Dunn, chairman of the Wallowa County Natural Resources Advisory Committee, the bill, if passed, would create an inflow of money to the federal government instead of the more common outflow.
HR 4019, touted as a bipartisan bill, passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee Feb. 16 and next must be voted upon on the House floor.
One major aspect of the bill, as pointed to in Warness’s slide presentation, would be that forests would have to cut at least 50 percent of their average harvest between 1980 and 2000.
Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts says it’s not yet known how that formula would play out for Wallowa County. “From 1980 to 1994 were good years,” she said, “while 1994 to 2000 were terrible years.”
Walden press secretary Andrew Malcolm says primary goals of HR 4019 are both to provide a long-term solution to monetary woes of forest-dependent communities and to create jobs.
Whalen, who has been working with Walden and others on aspects of HR 4019 for five or six years, bluntly states, “The status quo is not working. Our forests are not only burning up, but are bug-infested. And it’s getting harder and harder to pass these extensions.”
Whalen’s empathy for Wallowa County and other counties under similar plights is strong. He points out that the large volume of public land in such counties is not taxable and now, with forest practices as they are, local governments are denied the right of deriving revenue from that land.
“It’s like you are left to find a way to get by,” he said from D.C.
The negative impact of a failure to harvest federal timber in quantity is widespread, said Warness during her slide presentation. She says in less than the past 20 years, more than 1,200 millworkers in this region have lost their jobs (not counting loggers and log truck drivers;) that 17 Northeast Oregon mills have closed their doors (highlighted by the fact that there no longer is one operational mill in Wallowa County) and school populations in the region have dropped by about 560 students.
Warness says Boise Cascade requires about 165 million board feet of timber annually to feed its five sawmills in the area.
Presently, 64 percent of that wood comes from local private timber, including Forest Capital; 22 percent from nonlocal federal harvests; 10 percent from nonlocal private timber growers; and 4 percent off of regional federal forests that encompass 75 percent of the land space in this region.
Speaking of the lack of adequately thinned federal forests regionally, Warness calls it “one huge tinderbox” and says “it discourages me a lot to see federal forests burning up and not a lot happening.” She compares the fire threat here to what is happening in Colorado.
She stated at the board of commissioners meeting that on a given year on federal forests in the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla, Malheur, and Ochoco National Forests that 50 percent of timber dies, 39 percent experiences density increase, and 11 percent is harvested.
One additional bargaining chip of a positive bent Warness told the county commissioners, members of NRAC, and a few others had to do with large forest collaboratives.
Such entities regularly bring representatives from the Forest Service, private industry, environmental groups, and others to bargaining tables to determine what is best for the forests.
According to Warness, many representatives from environmental groups are beginning to note the sad shape of national forests and are becoming more tolerant of changes in forest management philosophy.