Timber harvests improve from worst year ever

In Columbia County, harvested board feet increase by 10 million
by: Spotlight file photo CUTTING DOWN, MOVING UP — Private logging activity near Rocky Point Road is clearly visible from the road. The state reports that timber harvests were up in 2010 after a disastrous 2009.

The state's timber harvests rebounded in 2010 after a record low the previous year, driven by a buying boom in China, according to an annual report by the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Harvests increased for every forest ownership class except for the Bureau of Land Management, accounting for a total of 3.2 billion board feet and a 17 percent increase over the 2009 numbers, state timber economists say.

In Columbia County, the amount of timber harvested rose at a rate less than the state average, going from 113 million board feet in 2009 to 123 million board feet in 2010.

But loggers say their situation remains far from optimal. After all, 2009 saw the worst logging output since the Great Depression.

'Anything would be better over 2009,' said Archie Dass, a Vernonia logger, who's worked in the industry since 1953.

He estimates he saw a 2 percent profit in 2010 but considers the year a wash. Most of his profit went back into the upkeep of his equipment.

In 2010, he offloaded the majority of his log shipments to companies that sell overseas, primarily in Japan. Because of regional mill closures and rolling shutdowns - during which mills go offline temporarily - he rarely sells logs domestically anymore, he said.

'Most of the domestic mills are so few and far between that we'd have to send logs to Eugene to get them to the closest mill,' he said.

Gary Lettman is the principal forest economist for the state of Oregon. He says state loggers will see continued growth in timber sales, but only if there's a rebound in the housing market.

For the time being, Asian markets are keeping Oregon's timber industry from tanking completely. That is a result of policies outside of the state's control.

Instead, it's due to Russia's increase to its export tax on logs in 2007, which has in turn furthered demand for American logs in countries such as Japan and China.

'What's driving this are the overseas markets,' Lettman said.