It’s not exactly a return to the heyday of years gone by, but the northwest logging industry has reason to celebrate.
Two federal agencies are gearing up to allow more logging in Washington, Oregon and northern California. As correspondent Chris Lehman reports, you could see a lot more logging trucks rolling down the highway in the next few years.
Logging is noisy work.
Chainsaws are only part of the equation. A sharp whistle echoes across the valley in the Oregon Coast Range near the town of Gaston.
I ask Bob Luoto, the owner of the Cross and Crown timber company, what the sound means.
Bob Luoto: "The whistle’s what we call the yarder whistle, and that’s a command from the people in the brush that are setting the chokers to go ahead on the turn. You can hear the yarder accelerating right now and he’s pulling another turn of logs in."
And with that, a bundle of logs is dragged up the hill to be sawed into pieces and put on a truck.
It’s hot, dirty work, and Luoto knows it well. He’s been in the business for more than 30 years.
Now, Cross and Crown mostly logs trees on privately-owned land like this. It’s a change from the days when the company bid on abundant federal timber.
Bob Luoto: "Up until the late 80’s, early 90’s, we were logging 95 percent public land. As of right now, we’re logging probably 95 percent private. So I’ve seen a huge swing from one to the other."
The shift away from public lands came as environmental regulations put a chill on logging in the northwest.
Luoto’s company laid off nearly half its workforce.
Now comes news that the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management each plan to increase the amount of trees available for logging. It won’t be a return to the glory days, but it could be a boost to the timber industry. But Luoto says he’ll believe it when he sees it.
Bob Luoto: "I’m not holding my breath. If you want to put it that way, I’m going to have a wait and see approach."
That’s because not all the details have been ironed out. The BLM has plans to triple logging in western Oregon. The Pacific northwest region of the Forest Service is already well into the process of ramping up timber sales to a ten-year high.
Dominick DellaSala is director of the National Center for Conservation Science and Policy in Ashland, Oregon. He claims the impending volume of cut is “excessive” and would jeopardize fragile ecosystems.
Dominick DellaSala: "They’re opening up the old wounds of the 1980’s and 90’s timber wars. And that’s really unfortunate regardless of what side of the fence you’re on, nobody wants to repeat what took place in the 1990’s, and that’s what this administration is doing."
An upswing in logging may re-open old wounds, but some in the northwest are hoping it re-opens old checkbooks.
County governments get a cut of the cash generated by logging on federal lands. Some have felt a serious pinch as that once-reliable revenue stream nearly dried up.
The new proposals could mean millions of dollars for places like Jackson County in southern Oregon.
That’s the place that made headlines when it closed its libraries earlier this year due to a budget crunch. But County Commissioner C.W. Smith says don’t expect a turnaround any time soon.
C.W. Smith: "There will be some degree of a substantial ramp-up that has to occur in infrastructure on building facilities that can process lumber and wood, and that’s three years out."
That’s why Smith says he and other local government officials are lobbying for another extension of the Federal safety net payments that timber counties use to prop up their budgets. And while Congress decides whether to continue the hand-outs to counties, some lawmakers are questioning the Forest Service’s priorities.
Six Democratic members of Washington’s Congressional delegation allege that the U.S. Forest Service is spending too much money on logging, and not enough on road and trail maintenance. In a joint letter they say failing roads are eroding into streams and are also cutting access to recreation spots.