The volume of timber cut from Northwest national forests is increasing due to collaborative planning and growing state involvement in logging projects, according to an Oregon forest supervisor.
For example, the Willamette National Forest — Oregon’s foremost timber producer and a regular top contender nationally — aims to generate 100 million board-feet in 2020, up from about 75 million to 80 million board-feet in 2018, said Tracy Beck, the forest’s supervisor.
Last year, 66 million board-feet were harvested from the forest, according to federal statistics.
Contrary to the common belief that federal logging projects are being tied up in litigation, lawsuits have only been a filed against a handful of the hundreds of projects in the area, Beck said at a recent timber industry tour in Corvallis, Ore.
“We’re winning most of those cases,” he said. “I really feel like collaboration has helped keep us out of court.”
Collaboratives are groups, such as nonprofits, that help steer the federal government’s thinking on logging and thinning projects and build agreement among the timber industry, environmental groups and others.
Another recent tool that’s expected to increase timber volume from national forests is the “good neighbor” authority granted by Congress in 2014 that allows state governments to carry out projects on federal land.
While such logging projects are still subject to federal environmental laws, states have more flexibility with contracting rules and are able to carry out projects more effectively, said Mike Cloughesy, forestry director of the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, which organized the tour.
Federal contracting regulations are more complicated and have set wages for certain jobs — such as road crews — whereas state regulations allow for more cost-efficiency, he said.
Earlier this year, Oregon lawmakers approved $500,000 for the Oregon Department of Forestry to assist with the planning and implementation of projects under the “good neighbor” authority.
As ODF increases its capacity to manage such projects, the Willamette National Forest hopes to eventually reach about 120 million board-feet in timber volume, said Beck, the forest’s supervisor. The forest is estimated to produce about 1 billion board-feet a year in new timber.
At roughly 650 million board-feet of timber harvested in 2018, the Forest Service region that includes Oregon and Washington this year achieved its highest volume in two decades, he said.
“The future looks bright,” Beck said.
The OFRI tour, held on Oct. 19, included a visit to new mass timber buildings under construction on Oregon State University’s campus using cross laminated timber and mass plywood, which are pre-fabricated panels that allow for the efficient assembly of multi-story wooden structures.
The group of about 50 lawmakers, government officials and industry representatives also walked through long-term research plots at OSU’s McDonald-Dunn Forest that analyzed different harvest and reforestation methods.
The university harvests about 7 million to 9 million board-feet a year from 15,000 acres that include the McDonald-Dunn and surrounding forests, said Steve Fitzpatrick, director of research forests at OSU’s College of Forestry.
Managing the forestland presents unique challenges due to the high volume of tourists and the proximity to residential homes, which can lead to controversies and compromises over forest management, he said.
“You get the full range of emotions, from ‘Well, it’s your property’ to ‘I’m going to sue you,’” said Fitzpatrick.