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Timber harvests return to 2006 level


Oregon harvest exceeded 4 billion board feet for the first time since the recession

Since the recession, Crook County economic development leaders have tried to diversify local industries and reduce the community’s dependency on wood products.

As it turns out, the wood products industry has shown the most progress locally and based on recent timber harvest trends, that growth could continue.

In 2013, timber harvests in Oregon reached a level not seen since 2006, exceeding 4 billion board feet. The milestone marked the fourth consecutive year of harvest increase in Oregon from a recession-low total of 2.72 billion board feet in 2009, and also represented a 12 percent increase over 2012 harvests.

The largest increase in harvest came from non-industrial private forestlands where harvests rose 61 percent to 511 million board feet.

“This is most likely due to small forestland owners taking advantage of higher prices as a result of a still-strong export market in 2013,” said Brandon Kaetzel, principal economist for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Harvest numbers were not as strong on federal forestlands, with BLM lands experiencing an 11 percent increase Forest Service lands seeing a 6 percent bump.

Work has taken place at the county and national level of government to promote more active forest management on federal forests, which would likely include greater timber harvests. Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe and Crook County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren lead an ongoing forest collaborative that includes timber executives and environmental groups. Their goal is to find a way to manage a portion of Ochoco National Forest land and harvest trees in a manner that will appease both camps and prevent litigation.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) is pushing forest legislation that is intended to boost active forest management and enable more logging.

Whether the recent timber harvest numbers will translate to local economic growth is hard to determine. Crook County Economic Development Manager Russ Deboodt considers the milestone exciting news for the region, and he noted that the local wood products industry is going strong.

“Certainly, Woodgrain and Contact (Industries) have seen success over the past several years,” he said, noting that Woodgrain has set a goal of employing 300 people by the end of 2014.

“You would attribute that to housing,” he continued. “I know our local contractors have been very busy over the past several months with several types of construction.”

However, since Prineville no longer has an operational sawmill, he could not quantify how much the harvest increase will directly affect the community.

Damon Runberg, Central Oregon’s regional economist for the Oregon Employment Department, agreed that the wood products industry has shown improvement, and he is not surprised by the development.

“Those counties that have historically been dependent on wood products have been doing really well,” he said. “Those historical industries in rural communities are still major players.”

Employment Department data for June showed that Crook County gained 60 jobs in one month, with 40 jobs gained in wood product manufacturing.

The local job gains are the latest in a trend that stretches back several months. The employment department reported that Crook County job growth was the fastest statewide in the past year.

“What is going on in Crook County is substantive,” Runberg said.