A quiet revolution is sweeping across Oregons forests. The stability that timber companies provided communities for more than a century is vanishing. Sawmills and the family-wage employment they have provided are a vanishing species.
On the east and west sides of Oregon, old assumptions about the timber industry are no longer applicable. This economic earthquake affects regional employment as well as the kind of philanthropy on which communities rely.
Shifts in forest land ownership lie at the heart of this transformation. Vertically-integrated companies such as Weyerhaeuser have abandoned that model. Now they are focused on land sales and home construction, not forest growth and lumber manufacturing. In their place are more anonymous organizations that go by the acronym TIMO. That stands for timber investment management organization.
Over the past 12 months, reporters at seven newspapers of the East Oregonian Publishing Co. have gathered information about the forest land ownership transition in their markets. Our reports come from Wallowa, Grant and Umatilla counties in Eastern Oregon to Clatsop County in Western Oregon and Pacific County in Southwest Washington state.
Here are the elements of our story.
Weyerhaeuser in 2009 sold its timber lands that comprise one-fourth of Clatsop County. The new owner of this huge parcel is Campbell Group LLC, a so-called TIMO that manages land for anonymous owners such as insurance companies and pension funds. Weyerhaeusers sawmill in Warrenton was sold to Hampton Affiliates, which has plans to reopen.
More than a dozen sawmills once operated in Grant County. Today there is one. Communities such as John Day and Prairie City struggle to forge a new relationship with the U.S. Forest Service. There is surprising collaboration between loggers and the green lobby. Its all about forest health and the economy.
Wallowa County forests provide an enormous amount of recreation and a big segment of the economy disappeared when the last of the countys sawmills disappeared in 2007.
John Shelks Ochoco Lumber Co. mill in Prineville is buying logs from as far away as Idaho.
Boise Cascade has kept the 70-year-old mill operating in Pilot Rock, giving new life to an important Umatilla County industry. Down the road in Boardman, a new plantation forest has grown up providing fiber and logs in a new manner.
In Pacific County, Wash., Weyerhauser has long been the largest employer. In February, Weyerhaeuser sold 40,000 acres, about one-third of its original Pacific County holdings. The companys mill in Raymond, Wash., is presumed to be endangered.
With environmentalists and timber operators linked arm-in-arm, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden has introduced legislation designed to thin Eastern Oregon forests and provide wood for mills. Advertised as a forest health initiative, the Wyden bill seems to signal that both ends of the timber policy spectrum appear to recognize that gridlock is not healthy for communities or the ecosystem.
Ecotrust of Portland has created a Forest Resources Fund, to buy forest lands and use that resource to feed sawmills.
The city of Cannon Beach in 2010 purchased 800 acres of forest from Weyerhaeuser to protect the towns watershed.
As forest land ownership splinters and shifts, the dominance of industry giants is waning. The future is difficult to forecast, but new players are taking ownership stakes. With the reality of climate change, incentives for carbon retention and reforestation are appearing, and they will multiply in the years ahead.
Our reporters have taken a look at many aspects of Oregon forestry in this section as this important state industry moves into a new era.