BY DAN COOK
Above: The D.R. Johnson Lumber Company closed its Prairie City dimensional lumber mill in 2011, citing a lack of log supply from nearby federal forests.
// Photo by Mike McMurray
Below: Little Beaver Creek Tree Farm, just west of Forest Grove, Washington County, is one of several forest properties owned by Anne and Richard Hanshu.
// Photo by Oregon Forest Resources Institute
In John Day last August, the Ochoco Lumber Company was looking for allies to help keep its milling operations open. Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild, was there to lend his support. Pedery had spent years at odds with timber companies. In eastern Oregon, however, a consensus around forest management has been building among politicians, wood products companies, environmentalists and local communities. Pedery is among those on the conservation side (including the Nature Conservancy) who believe an increased timber harvest on federal lands will lead to healthier forests. So he was happy to ally himself and his organization with the timber company.
But in western Oregon, prospects for such a coalition remain dim. “There will continue to be this knock-down, drag-out fight in western Oregon over the logging of large- diameter trees,” he says.
Most people associated with the attempts to balance logging and environmental concerns in Oregon’s forests agree with Pedery: Progress will be made in the east while gridlock will prevail in the west. That there has been any movement at all toward a consensus can largely be attributed to the efforts of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. He has persistently pushed for federal legislation to open up federal forestlands to more timber harvesting.
Now, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, he has the power to steer a groundbreaking forest-management bill first introduced three years ago through the committee and onto the floor of the Senate. There, chances are good that it will be positively received. If Wyden can drive his plan, called the “Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection, and Jobs Act,” through the legislative process, Oregon may at last have a road map for where the state’s wood products industry is headed. But the likelihood is that the drama will unfold very differently in the two halves of the state.
The efforts of Gov. John Kitzhaber must be recognized as well. Kitzhaber has become the champion of timber interests and rural communities ravaged by the industry’s decline. He has offered a “menu” of actions and policies designed to lead to increased harvesting, especially in the west. But Kitzhaber’s strategy remains more a theoretical range of options than a concrete plan. While it has inspired hope in the hearts of many who advocate for more felled trees, it has yet to take any actionable shape.