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.

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.

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.

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.

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