Here are opposing viewpoints by Andy Kerr — mentioned in an earlier comment by Larry — and by Jim Geisinger, long-time head of Associated Oregon Loggers. I have known of both men for nearly 25 years and have sat through presentations and had conversations with each. I will admit to a strong bias here, based partly on the positions of each person, but mostly what I perceive to be their character. Jim I have always found to be truthful, straightforward, honest, and humble; my experiences with Kerr have been mostly the opposite and one of the key reasons I have had little to do with him (except read some of his stuff occasionally or read the captions under his picture in the newspaper) for the past two decades. Also, I really dislike very much that he presents himself as a “conservationist” when he is far more an “obstructionist” than anything else. Regular readers here have heard my Animal Farm thoughts on the preservationists who hi-jacked the conservation label several years ago (Andy being a leader in that department, too), but Kerr isn’t even a preservationist — more like an opportunist with his eye out for photographers and loose change. Based on personal experience, I don’t think he is a very honest or ethical person either, and will leave it at that. With that being said (I know several of you here are not big fans of logging either), please try and keep an open mind when considering these two opinions. BZ
Despite timber supplies, future is bright for Oregon loggers
Andy Kerr’s memory of the events leading to the downsizing of Oregon’s forest products industry and his vision for its future could benefit from a strong dose of truth and reality.
First, the principal cause of the industry’s downsizing over the past two decades is the reduction of timber coming from our federal forests, plain and simple. Timber harvest levels in Oregon have been reduced by half as a result of the efforts of Mr. Kerr and his colleagues in the environmental movement. Nearly all of the reduction has occurred from federal forest lands. The industry is half the size it once was. The math is pretty simple.
What would happen to our high tech industry if we reduced its supply of silicon by half? What would happen to Nike if its supply of rubber was cut in half? What would happen to agriculture if we took away half of its farmland? Take away an industry’s basic raw material needs, and it won’t exist anymore.
Second, Mr. Kerr believes the sole motivation for our industry existing is that nasty goal of making a profit. Well, last I checked, most American homes are made of wood. In fact, almost every human being on the face of the earth uses a wood product every day in some shape or form. People use and demand the products the industry makes. But back to Mr. Kerr’s point, the reason most businesses exist is to make a profit. I don’t think I have met a business person whose goal is to lose money. Businesses that make money pay taxes to fund our government. Those that lose money don’t pay taxes. It is a novel system.
Third, Mr. Kerr is just flat out wrong in his assumptions about the future of the logging industry. While tremendous advances have been made in logging technology and the use of mechanized systems to harvest timber in the safety of an enclose cab, this is technology that is applicable to gentle slopes. The fact is that the mountainous terrain, so prevalent in our state, will always require the use of yarders and the crew necessary to run them. Including workers setting chokers and chasing logs in the brush. The demand for loggers with yarder capacity is higher today than ever.
Associated Oregon Loggers, Inc. represents 1,000 logging companies and businesses associated with the industry (yup, there are that many left). They are exclusively small family-owned businesses typically managed by the second, third or fourth generation of family owners. They are largely located in rural communities. They are certainly part of our state’s history, but they are also an important part of its future.
Mr. Kerr’s credentials as an environmental activist are beyond reproach. But his self-anointed credibility as an expert on the complexities of the forest products industry, its history and its future is not. The net result of his and his follower’s activities over the past two decades has been the demise of half the forest products industry due to our federal forests being placed off-limits to forest management; the destruction of rural communities across the state; the insolvency of many counties; and the increase in catastrophic wildfire on federal forests. Perhaps it is time to give credit where credit is due.
Jim Geisinger is Executive Vice President of Associated Oregon Loggers, a statewide trade association representing some 1,000 member companies engaged in the harvest and sustainable forest management of Oregon’s 30 million acres of forestland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Andy Kerr: Antiquated politics for an innovating Oregon timber industry
Written by Andy Kerr
Not by those pesky conservationists (I was one) who back in the day said clear-cutting two square miles per week of Oregon’s ancient forests had to stop, but by some politicians seeking a political solution for the Oregon timber industry of the past rather than that of today, let alone the timber industry of the future.
Let’s examine evidence from 1995 (the first full year of the Northwest Forest Plan, which ended the timber wars as we had known them) and 2012 (the last year for which comparable data is available):
• Oregon softwood lumber mills — 94 in 1995, 54 in 2012, a decline of 43%.
• Oregon wood products jobs — 46,200 in 1995, 25,500 in 2012, a decline of 45%.
• Total Oregon jobs — 1,428,200 in 1995, 1,638,300 in 2012, an increase of 15%.
• Oregon logging and milling jobs — 3.23% of all Oregon jobs in 1995, 1.56% of all Oregon jobs in 2012, a decrease of 52%.
• Logging and milling jobs per million board feet of logs cut — 2.04 logging and 7.91 milling jobs in 1995, 1.52 logging and 3.52 milling jobs in 2012, declines of 26% and55% respectively.
• Milling capacity of Oregon softwood sawmills — 5,842 million board feet of lumber in 1995, 7,237 million board feet of lumber in 2012, an increase of 24% (with 43% fewer mills).
Counting facilities and jobs, the Oregon timber industry is about half as big today as it was when the Northwest Forest Plan went into effect. Counting milling capacity (appetite for logs), the Oregon timber industry is about a quarter larger today than in 1995.
Automation will continue to take its toll on both the number of mills and jobs. To the timber industry, jobs are just a cost of doing business; the reason it does business is profit.
What workers there are in the more-automated Oregon lumber mills of the future will more likely be wearing a technician’s white coat than a blue-collared shirt. In the woods, automation means more workers operating joysticks inside air-conditioned cabs than setting chokers.
More of the remaining 54 mills will close. Nine remaining Oregon lumber mills have a business model that requires the milling of large logs from large trees that come from old forests. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Reps. Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden all oppose logging such forests and agree the social license no longer exists to log older forests on federal public forestlands.
The evidence is clear: The Oregon timber industry of the future will have an increasing appetite for logs but provide fewer jobs to help people put food on their tables. In both absolute and relative terms, the Oregon timber industry is declining as compared to the rest of the Oregon economy.
Yet many Oregon politicians want to dramatically increase clear-cut logging on federal public forestlands. It doesn’t make sense to throw more tax monies and public assets at an industry in inevitable transition.
Today it takes five acres (about five football fields) of clear-cuts per year to produce one timber job. As industry automation (pronounced “innovation”) continues, it will take even more clear-cutting to produce each of a smaller number of wood products jobs.
What about those current and future Oregon jobs that depend on clean water, abundant wildlife, and scenic beauty?
Andy Kerr (www.andykerr.net) consults for conservation organizations across the West that seek to protect wildlands, wild waters and wildlife. He received more than his allotted 15 minutes of fame (or infamy) during the Oregon Timber War I. He splits his time between Ashland, Ore., and Washington, D.C.