Timber companies could use the help - Editorial

Timber companies could use the help - Editorial

It doesn’t make sense for some Oregon timber companies to carry out contracts they have to harvest timber on Bureau of Land Management land. Demand has fallen. Timber prices have fallen.

Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Democrats, are stepping in to help out. Merkley introduced and Wyden co-sponsored legislation last week titled The Forest Harvest Opportunity Act. It would allow companies with existing contracts to harvest timber to wait up to three more years to harvest. That way, they can harvest when demand exists and prices improve.

Five years ago, the Oregon forestry industry could expect to get a lot more for harvested timber. One way to look at it is the Random Lengths Composite Price. The price for framing lumber was $235 per thousand board feet in October. The yearly average in 2004 was $404 per thousand board feet.

The housing downturn has meant much less demand. That has meant fewer jobs in wood products. Oregon’s state economist wrote in his economic forecast last week that the wood products sector is projected to lose jobs at a rate of 20.8 percent in 2009 with a further decline of 4.5 percent in 2010. This bill wouldn’t necessarily stop that decline, but it might better enable timber companies to weather it.

Marc Siegel, a spokesman for Merkley, says there are about 90 contracts with the BLM that could be altered because of the bill. Most of them are in Oregon. They are timber sales contracts — not for fire hazard reduction. The Forest Service can already apparently make such changes to contracts without an act of Congress, Siegel said. And after these extensions are hopefully put in place, Merkley is going to try to ensure the BLM can do the same.

The bill is a welcome one. It’s bad enough to look across Oregon and see only a few working sawmills, when 15 years ago there were clo