By Amy Grotta, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Columbia, Washington & Yamhill Counties
“What’s with all the logging going on?” is a comment I’ve heard more than once recently. Rural residents of northwest Oregon seem to be noticing an uptick in timber harvest from their industrial neighbors over the past year or so. I wondered whether these observations were simply anecdotal, or if they signaled a rebound from the recession, or if they were evidence of a more historic rise in harvest rates. So I decided to dig into some local data on recent forest ownership and harvest trends.
For this discussion, I focus only on harvest statistics on private lands – and I will further distinguish between private industrial (i.e. large timber companies) and private non-industrial (i.e. small woodlands, or family-owned forestlands). I looked at data for the three counties I work in.
Did you know that Columbia County ranks #1 among all Oregon counties in terms of the percentage of privately owned forest land? 94% of all the forestland in Columbia County is privately owned – with about two-thirds of that land owned by industry and one-third by small woodland owners. In both Washington and Yamhill Counties, roughly 70% of the forest land is privately owned with the balance in state or federal ownership; the private land is about 50/50 industry/small woodlands (plus a fraction in Yamhill County in tribal ownership). Across the three counties combined, forest industry owns 56% of the private forest land, small woodlands account for 43%, and the remaining 1% is in tribal ownership. These figures come from the Oregon Forest Resources Institute and can be found on the Know Your Forest website, http://knowyourforest.org.
The data shown in the next chart come from the Oregon Department of Forestry and illustrate a few further points about timber harvest trends in this part of northwest Oregon.
First, and most obviously, we see that the vast majority of timber harvested in these counties is on industrial land. In any given year over the last thirty, industrial forest owners account for between 69 – 92% of the total private harvest volume, while the amount coming from small woodlands (NIP on the graph) is between 7 – 31%. Since forest industry owns only 56% of the private forest acres, we see that more volume per acre is harvested by the timber industry on an annual basis than by small woodland owners.
The data support some assumptions often made about small woodland owners; for instance, that they typically use less intensive harvest practices such as partial cuts or longer rotations than industry. Some small woodland owners, especially those with the smallest acreages, do not harvest at all. Another interpretation is that small woodland owners’ harvested acres tend to be less productive on a board-foot basis, in that they are less fully stocked or more dominated by non-commercial material. A combination of all of the above is likely.
Second, we see that harvest rates fluctuate a lot year to year, but patterns are evident. Harvest volume dropped dramatically in the recession, and though it’s been rising rather steadily since then, it had not yet reached pre-recession levels by 2014. Small woodland owners, whose harvest behavior as a whole tend to be very price sensitive, were more affected by the recession – those were the years (2007-09) when they made up the smallest percentage (6-7%) of the total private harvest. And since the recession, small woodland owners’ harvest rates have rebounded more quickly than industrial rates. In fact, in 2013, a year of relatively high log prices, small woodland owners’ share of the three counties’ total private harvest reached 25%, a level not seen since 1993.
Finally, there have been some differences among the counties in terms of forest industry harvests, as the third chart shows. Specifically, in Columbia County industry harvests rose rather sharply in 2014, to the highest level in a decade, whereas industry harvests in Washington and Yamhill Counties dropped that year. Industry patterns are driven by many factors including changes in corporate ownership. In 2013, the dominant industry owner in Columbia County, Longview Timber, was bought by Weyerhaeuser. Aggressive harvesting often follows a purchase in order to reduce the debt load incurred by the purchase. Small woodland owners are really no different, in that often timber is harvested to finance the buyout of a family member.
Data for 2015 were not available at this writing. Given what we know about harvesting behavior, what might we predict? Log prices in 2015 were down overall from the year before. So, small woodland owners’ harvests might have dropped as well. On the industry side, the “uptick” noticed by many, noted at the beginning of this article may well play out in the data.
A final note: this analysis addresses only volume, and says nothing about value. Fortunately for small woodland owners, volume isn’t the end of the story. The practices espoused by many small woodland owners alluded to earlier (i.e. longer rotations) can lead to a higher value product, as long as there are markets for that wood.