Timber rebound likely, loggers, foresters say
Timber may be down, but itís not out.
By Patrick Lair

Albany Democrat-Herald

September 25, 2008

That was one of the messages during an all-day Linn County Leaders Forestry Tour that took place Wednesday in the Cascade foothills east of Sweet Home.

"A lot of people think forestry is dying," said Rick Fletcher, a forester and professor with OSU Extension Service. "Timber isnít what it used to be, but the base is still there."

The event was hosted by the Linn County Board of Commissioners, the Society of American Foresters and the OSU Extension Service to raise awareness about todayís timber issues and what the future may hold.

About 60 representatives from local schools, businesses and timber organizations visited private timber lands, a seed orchard, Riverbend County Park, a stand of old growth and the Weyerhaeuser/Santiam Division sawmill.

One of the things they learned is that the timber market is in a slump and itís directly related to the housing bubble having burst.

"Our prices are at low right now," said Mike Melcher, owner of Melcher Logging in Sweet Home. "Log values are probably down 25 to 30 percent."

He said most of the timber he harvests is used to build homes. When homes arenít being built, prices drop and landowners stop cutting the wood.

"Itís hard right now to get out and find projects that people want to do and make it pay," said Melcherís son, Scott.

Experts projected 1.7 million home starts nationally for 2007 but only 1.1 million came to pass, Fletcher said.

Foresters are confident the market will pick up again, but when that might happen is anybodyís guess.

One of the problems with waiting for an upturn is that when workers canít work, they go somewhere else.

When the workforce dissolves and equipment is not maintained, the skills needed to manage the forests are lost, Scott Melcher said.

"If we donít have a high-quality workforce and high-quality loggers, we canít even begin to be good stewards of the land," he said.

Despite the sour economy, timber remains a $250 million per year industry in Linn County, Fletcher said.

Advancements in mechanization of logging equipment have meant that more of the wood can be used, and for more purposes.

Mechanization has also taken more workers off the ground, which has lowered the number of accidents and also insurance premiums.

Cascade Timber and other companies have made great strides in seed development, Fletcher said, which might make the forests more diverse than they originally were.

Logging companies are also looking at ways to use excess slash for biomass harvesting.

"Our industry is going to suffer until the economy gets sorted out," Fletcher said. "But I feel good about where weíre at. Itís a long-term endeavor."