By Rebekah Rast — In 1988, the booming timber industry in Oregon harvested 8,743 MMBF (million board feet) of wood. In 2010, the amount harvested was less than half at only 3,227 MMBF.
For comparison, in 2009, Oregon Business cited Bob Ragon, executive director of Douglas Timber Operators, as saying that over the last two decades Oregon and Washington states have lost 35,000 jobs in the timber industry.
Why? A restriction on logging due to the Endangered Species Act protection afforded the Northern Spotted Owl and hard economic times resulting from somewhat dwindling demand for timber have made it difficult for the industry to survive. But as restrictions on this industry abound from federal and state governments, counties in Oregon are learning the hard way that this industry is indeed vital to their way of life.
Sixty percent of forestlands in Oregon are owned by the federal government and the resulting government interference in the name of “protecting” forest land has diminished those county budgets that depend upon logging revenue.
Fox News reports that Oregon’s Lane County faces a $100 million budget deficit and recently released 92 inmates from its jail due to revenue shortfalls. This follows the elimination of 64 positions in the county’s Sheriff’s Department.
The fact that 54 percent of the county’s land is owned by the federal government makes it easy to see why the county is in such a fiscal disaster. The government doesn’t pay taxes on the land; therefore the county receives no tax revenue. And due to the protection of the Northern Spotted Owl, loggers are not able to harvest any timber, which was the main revenue source for Lane County.
However, in an attempt to give a reprieve to those in the logging industry during the spotted owl debate, then President Bill Clinton initiated a form of payout to loggers for not timbering the forest land. Lane County was receiving $50 million a year in timber payments. This year it will get $10 million.
Lane County is now home to loggers who aren’t allowed harvest timber and criminals who received a get-out-of-jail-free card. Not the ideal situation for a financially strapped county.
“We keep hearing from the mouths of Obama and his administration that job growth in the U.S. is a priority, yet at the same time they are destroying the timber industry and devastating entire communities of people who depend on this business for their livelihood,” says Bill Wilson, president of Americans for Limited Government (ALG).
Those in the timber industry have a special skill set and are able and ready to work. These are the workers who clean up the air by planting many more new and younger trees than they remove. They keep forest clean and healthy, which helps to prevent forest fires. They help maintain habitats where wildlife can thrive, including the endangered Northern Spotted Owl. These people care a great deal about the environment — it is their livelihood.
Lane County Commissioner Sid Leiken told Fox News, that instead of Washington, D.C. telling “Lane County, you’re not important,” he’d like to see the U.S. Forest Service resume timber sales. “If we would just put the forest back to work,” he said, “I just think about the employment that would happen, let alone the revenue that would come into Lane County.”
There is an industry right in the backyard of Lane County that is ready and able to create much-needed revenue. But that land is being held up by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile the cash-strapped county is letting its criminals walk out of jail because of this anti-forestry ideology and that is the real crime.
Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and NetRightDaily.com. You can follow her on twitter at @RebekahRast.