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Mount Hood's unique economy

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Articles - June 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Mount Hood boasts the longest ski season in North America.
In the 1920s, loggers harvested about 25 million board feet of timber from the Mount Hood National Forest every year.  Between 1958 and 1988, the average annual harvest hovered around 300 million board feet. But economic declines and, ultimately, lawsuits in the late 1980s and early 1990s over habitat protection for endangered species like the spotted owl cut the forest’s output to a mere fraction of what it once had been. The allowable cut is now set at 64 million board feet, a number the Forest Service rarely attains.

According to Rick Acosta, a public affairs officer for the MHNF, 36 million board feet with an appraised value of $1.7 million were cut from the forest in 2010. Most of it fell under the Forest Service’s Stewardship Contract Authority, which allots a portion of timber sale receipts — $330,000 last year — for improving fish habitat and other restoration projects.

Further trimming the forest’s commercial timber output — or eliminating it altogether — would be just fine with some conservation groups, who would rather see the MHNF managed for its recreational and environmental resources.

“If there were any forest in the country that could have a management plan that is focused entirely on providing recreation opportunities and protecting ecosystems for things like clean water and carbon storage, Mount Hood would be it,” says Alex P. Brown, executive director of the Mount Hood conservation group Bark.

Others, however, say there’s room — and demand — to increase the forest's timber output.

Bill Wilkins co-owns Mt. Hood Forest Products, a sawmill just south of Hood River that employs 45 people and produces about 80 million board feet of housing lumber every year. About 2% of his logs come from the national forest; the rest come from private lands or some other form of government land. Before the spotted owl suits, he says, the ratio was almost the exact opposite.

“In our opinion, we went from a managed forest to a completely unmanaged one,” says Wilkins, who also co-owns mills in Washington and has been in the business for nearly 40 years. “It’s gone way too far the other way.”

The drop in housing starts has hit the wood products industry hard, and Wilkins says an overall shortage of logs combined with Chinese competition for logs from private land has compounded the situation. Though he doesn’t foresee any uptick in the harvest in the MHNF any time soon — the Forest Service has no plans for it either — he says an increase would be a boon to the local economy.

“We would love to see a reasonable amount of harvest,” Wilkins says. “We only run one shift here right now, but if people started building houses again and the logs were available, there’s no reason we wouldn’t add a second one.”



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