Oregon has always been a timber producing giant on the world’s economic stage. We are the top lumber producer in the nation with approximately 5.5 billion feet of lumber produced per year. This accounts for 15 percnt of all timber production in the country. At this level of production, the timber industry usually employs 85,600 workers directly and countless more indirectly via construction-related jobs.
Despite these once strong numbers, this past year has shaken the timber industry to its core. Plants owned by Boise Cascade, Weyerhaeuser, and Hampton Lumber have cut their workers by as many as 100 employees at some plants due to the lack of demand for timber.
At the root of the problem is the downfall of the housing market and the resulting halt in home construction. According to those who are familiar with the timber industry, these current economic conditions are “the worst in history” and it is important for the public to understand the severity of the situation.
At the end of 2008, the Oregon Forest Industries Council met and its 50 timber related firms discussed solutions to the upcoming year. According to a report by the Argus Observer in Astoria, there has been “a 36 percent reduction in natural resource workers and direct manufacturing” in Grant County alone. This is combined with over a dozen mills closures around Oregon last year as demand for timber continues to plummet.
The overall economic effect of these events was compared to the “shutting down of Nike and Intel” by U.S. Representative Greg Walden during a community meeting in Elgin, Oregon.
The question at hand now is not one of conservation versus production as is usually the case. During times of economic distress, we do not have the luxury to debate such matters. The health of the timber industry is directly tied to the health of the housing market, and both are suffering terribly at the moment.
In the chain of housing production, the timber industry is the cornerstone. Until the housing market becomes stable, inventory liquidated, and new construction returns, there is not much hope for those at the beginning of this production chain. It is up to those who hold power in Washington and Wall Street to help kick start not just the auto industry, but also the timber industry.
When Wall Street titans or auto industry owners fall, they are happily house bound in million dollar homes, ones that were most likely constructed with Oregon timber. On the contrary, when Oregonians lose their jobs because of the economic climate, they too feel house bound, but their homes are likely much more humble. Their outlook? Hopeless.