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Klamath’s largest industry could be in major trouble
Timber has long been the largest industry in Klamath and Lake counties, and though it’s a far cry from Oregon’s 1980s high, the region appears to be better off than it was four years ago when the nationwide housing market collapsed. In terms of board feet , a common measurement of lumber production, Oregon’s south eastern coun - ties produced over 50 percent more lumber in 2011 than in 2008. Yet 2011’s rise brought figures to barely more than 20 percent of 1998’s apex.
“We’r e in pretty tough shape,” said Dave Schott, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industry Association. “There’s not much production left.”If we don’t utilize a greater percentage of our annual timber growth, Schott added, it could become catastrophic for both the forests and the industry.
Timber jobs pay well and are coveted in the community for economic and cultural reasons, and the mainstay companies of Columbia and Collins and Jeld-Wen still buttress the economy.Mark Slezak of Columbia Forest Products said his company employs 210 local workers — a good number, though well below the company’s peak of 400 in the mid-2000s.
“ Probably the biggest difference is that now we manage with extra overtime rather than extra people,” Slezak said. “ We’v e tried to skinny up and be as lean as possible.”Columbia manufactures cabinet-and furniture-grade hardwoods, Slezak said, with many of its logs drawn from Klamath and Lake counties and in California near Mount Shasta.
Yet just as silviculturists say that no single tree species can support a robust forest, no single aspect of timber can support a robust timber economy. That’s why the local timber industry is pursuing a blend of traditional and newer logging techniques, and new products such as biomass.Slezak said Columbia, for one, predicted fewer federal timber sales and more small diameter logs. “We saw what was coming,” he said. “Now we’ve moved away from needing federal timber — we’ve also been able to handle logs down to six inches for a long time.”
Also, since 2006, Columbia’s wood products have contained no added formaldehyde (though wood natura lly contains some). This became a state standard in California and Slezak expects a national standar d at some point in the future.Smaller mills and log cutters like Butch Wright have found work with local restoration projects. Wright logged over the years for large companies and has now also found a niche market milling juniper to make fence posts and furniture.
Though the local timber industry will never be what it once was, industry leaders say, it is already growing and evolving and will seek to continue doing so in years to come.dschwartz@heraldandnews .
Logs outside Columbia Forest Products near Klamath Falls.
A decade of slow lossesThe last decade has shown Klamath and Lake counties a steady decrease in employment in the two tell-tale timber industries — wood products manufacturing and forestry and logging. In 2001, Klamath County had 1,439 employees working in wood products manufacturing and 211 in forestry and logging. The total dropped to 954 and 144 in 2011. That’s a decrease of more than a third.
In Lake County, 2001’s 248 manufacturing jobs and 70 in forestry and logging dropped to 166 and 50 in 2011 — a 30 percent drop.
Sen. Wyden: Timber counties must consider raising taxesP O R T L A N D ( A P ) — Oregon’s struggling timber counties need to consider raising taxes, or find some other form of revenue, if they are going to get through the financial crisis that was triggered by the loss of federal timber subsidies, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden said.
Wyden raised the sensitive tax topic in a list of seven principles he made public last week, The Oregonian reported Tuesday.The document was designed as a road map for a 14-member advisory panel that Gov. John Kitzhaber appointed to forge an agreement that can be presented to Congress by the end of the year.
When timber harvests plummeted, reducing revenue shared with the counties, Congress approved direct payments to the counties. The last checks go out in coming months. The counties have been cutting services sharply and some could face bankruptcy.Panel member Doug Robertson, a Douglas County commissioner and chairman of a group of the timber counties, said raising local taxes “isn’t going to be a major topic of discussion.”
For more of the story, see www.heral dandnews.com .
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