A new study of the contributions and potential of the Oregon forest sector reaffirms the importance of our forest resources to the economic well-being of our citizens and our environment.

The study illustrates why we need to set aside old conflicts and embrace a common vision as the Oregon Business Plan suggests in calling for a statewide forest sector strategy.

The Oregon Forest Resources Institute commissioned the study, which evaluates opportunities to compete in a global market and build on a vision for environmentally, socially and economically sustainable forest management.

"The forest sector continues to be an important part of Oregon's economy," notes E.D. Hovee, one of the study authors. "It is especially critical to the prosperity of rural Oregon."

The forest sector directly provides 85,600 jobs in the state, 4 percent of Oregon's employment, industrial output of $12.6 billion and wage income of $3.5 billion. The average wage in the primary products sector is $49,800 - 45 percent higher than the state's average.

Based on the forest sector's relatively high job multiplier, the sector produces more than 190,000 total direct and indirect jobs - 9 percent of state employment.

More importantly, with increases in sustainable harvest, another 45,600 to 76,800 direct and indirect jobs could be added, the bulk of them in rural Oregon where family wage jobs are in short supply.

Opportunities for improved economic contributions center on:

• Acceptance of intensive forest management on lands identified for wood production, complemented by other management objectives (e.g. wilderness, older forest habitat and recreation) on other forestland.

• Primary producers employing state-of-the-art technology to top-end products for a broader customer base, creating a market premium.

• Secondary value-added producers encouraged to come or to expand in Oregon - backed by abundant in-state raw materials and a supportive infrastructure.

• Complementary "cluster" relationships between the forest sector, high tech, manufacturing, and other economic sectors leveraged to enhance economic growth in Oregon.

• A statewide conservation strategy integrating forest sector and other economic priorities.

The challenge in the wake of timber supply restrictions on federal lands and rapid changes in technology is that global production is expected to outpace demand, placing more cost pressures on Oregon's forests.

Oregon's strengths in meeting these challenges include some of the world's most productive forests, strong forestry infrastructure, market proximity and environmental performance.

Offsetting these strengths are the effects of reduced harvest - down by over half since the mid-1980s, high production costs and management of political risk.

Building on the Oregon Board of Forestry's Forestry Program for Oregon and the Oregon Business Plan's Forest Sector Initiative, the Hovee study calls for:

• Recognizing the need for special emphasis on the Eastern Oregon forest sector, addressing issues of declining employment and infrastructure as well as fire and habitat management.

• Understanding the implications of forest growth in excess of harvest, both for increased harvest potential and for increased risk of uncharacteristically intense wildfire.

• Working with federal agencies to restore forest health and fire resilience and to meet other management objectives.

• Researching a forestry-based Brand Oregon marketing initiative and opportunities for larger logs and biomass for small logs.

• Supporting stream protections that encourage active management and wood production while protecting water quality, fish and wildlife.

Keep in mind what can happen if forest management is no longer economically viable. Pressure can mount to develop private forestland, which may result in permanent loss of environmental benefits. This is happening in other states.

To move forward, the first step is defining a common vision for Oregon's forest sector by gathering all parties with an interest in enhancing the contributions of our forests to our economy and quality of life.

Such a step will set us on the road to better management of our forests with the support of Oregon's residents seeking the economic and social benefits of a stable forest sector while protecting the environmental values that Oregonians cherish.

• This column was submitted by Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

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