SEASIDE -- "Forests are not static," U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, said to a group of three dozen at the Best Western in Seaside Saturday. "So if you fail to act, that's an action in and of itself. The forest doesn't stop."
Walden, who was in town for the Dorchester Republican Conference, visited the Seaside timber summit to discuss the state of the state's timber industry from his vantage in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Seaside Chamber of Commerce organized the event to help draw attention to what Susan Huntington, the chamber's executive director, said was an important issue for the Seaside area.
"We have a problem here in Clatsop County and you're going to hear about it," Huntington said. "We count on timber here, but we don't always understand what's going on."
Huntington has a personal connection to the timber industry: her father, Harvey Bones, who was in attendance, is the former CEO of Mountain Fir Lumber Company.
"Everything I learned about timber I learned from him," Huntington said.
Mountain Fir folded in 1992, closing its two sawmills and three chipping plants, because of a lack of access to federal timber, which many in the timber industry saw as a direct result of the listing of the spotted owl as a threatened species.
Walden opened his remarks about Oregon's timber industry with a simile that illustrated the importance of cultivating Oregon's top natural resource.
"I look at forests like I look at a garden," he said. "You can throw a lot of seeds out in a row, but if you don't go back and take care of it, it kind of gets out of hand, and that's what's happened to our federal forests in many respects."
Walden was frank about the state of Oregon's timber industry and just how far it's fallen.
"In 1980, we had 405 mills open; now we have 105," Walden said. "We've lost 300 mills in 30 years and 30,000 mill jobs."
For Dave Ivanoff, the vice president of resources for Hampton Lumber and a former employee of Bones' at Mountain Fir, the summit came at the perfect time.
"The timing of this meeting is incredibly fortunate because in the next six months the Department of Forestry and the Board of Forestry are going to be trying to develop a new forest development plan," Ivanoff said, "and you as leaders in Clatsop County have an incredible opportunity to make your voices known and influence the policy going forward."
Hampton CEO Steve Zika told the gathered crowd that the companies' mills were operating at 70 to 75 percent capacity - not because of a lack of demand, but because of a lack of timber. He said the dearth of timber could be chalked up to two main challenges.
"Our first one, and it's not a surprise to people here in Oregon, is environmental litigation," Zika said. "The other challenge that we face besides environmental litigation is the log exports. ... Because of the log exports and the litigation, we have the highest log costs in the world."
Zika said that public timber is especially important, because unlike private timber it cannot be exported.
Ivanoff has been intimately involved in the process to revise and update the forest management plan for Northwest Oregon that was instituted in 2001.
Ivanoff is one of eight members of the Alternative Forest Management Stakeholder Group, which was created by the Board of Forestry in the fall of 2013 and has been meeting to discuss possible alternative management proposals for Northwest Oregon forestland.
The Hampton vice president has submitted one such proposal, which he calls the "70/30" forest management strategy.
Ivanoff's "70/30" strategy is a zoned approach that would designate 30 percent of state timberland for "intensive conservation values," as Ivanoff put it, and the remaining 70 percent for sustainable production of timber under the Oregon Forest Practices Act (FPA).
Under the current regulatory framework of the FPA, according to Ivanoff, roughly 17 percent base is currently managed specifically for conservation values.
The 13 percent increase to Ivanoff's proposed 30 percent would increase conservation areas in Northwest Oregon by 66,000 acres, which "represents a present-value opportunity cost of $300 to $400 million," Ivanoff writes in his proposal.
The "70/30" approach would, "on an annual, sustainable basis, increase timber production for the three North Coast districts ... by 80 million board feet a year to about 262 million from the 182 that they're doing now," Ivanoff told the summit. "That's going to produce, at a minimum, somewhere between 27 and 30 million dollars, year after year after year."
At its most recent stakeholder meeting, Feb. 10, Ivanoff unveiled an updated version of his "70/30 plan," which he originally conceived of in 2010.
Ivanoff's proposal, which was one of four alternatives at the meeting, received the most support at the recent meeting, he told summit attendees.
Gov. John Kitzhaber mentioned using a zoned approach at a 2011 Board of Forestry meeting, Ivanoff said, and the Hampton representative believes that a zoned-approach forest management plan is gaining traction and could work for the state.
"This truly is an 'and-and' approach," Ivanoff said. "We can dramatically increase harvest levels and we can increase conservation outputs with this kind of approach. It's clear that retention of the status quo is not sustainable from an economic, social or environmental perspective."
As far as Ivanoff and Zika are concerned, Northwest Oregon has the capability to increase timber production and thus cash flow to the state's Common Schools Fund simply through a revised management plan and collaboration with the Department of Forestry, the Board of Forestry, environmental stakeholders and the general public.
Ivanoff finished his remarks on a personal note.
"I made up my mind in 1992, when Mountain Fir went out of business because of the listing of the spotted owl, that I was never going to be passive when I see forces that are trying to unravel this industry around which I'm incredibly proud," Ivanoff said. "We know how to grow and harvest wood fiber in this state, in the Pacific Northwest, better than anywhere in the world, and we can do it in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner."
This story originally appeared in Daily Astorian.