Last month Oregon Governor Kitzhaber took two significant actions directly targeted at improving conditions for the forest products sector. This is meritorious in that the forest products industry has been generally left to its own devices over the last few Oregon administrations — just a sunset industry with an inherent controversial raw materials base. Not in my opinion and, apparently, our state leader has a refreshed approach to the role of forest products in Oregon’s economy.

First, Governor Kitzhaber issued Executive Order No. 12-16 asking that the Department of Administrative Services identify at least two construction projects to highlight the use of wood in non-residential projects and to investigate the use of wood in the renovations of state government buildings. The order asks that the Department of Forestry work with other organizations to check out green building certification systems to make sure they adequately reflect the social, environmental, and other benefits of Oregon wood. The Governor’s order also asked the Business Development agency to work with other organizations to accelerate the commercialization of new wood products and to work with other agencies to develop a plan to increase the market for Oregon wood products for presentation to the 2013 Oregon Legislature. Check out the Executive Order. This is great direction from Salem.

Secondly, the Governor convened a group of county officials, forest products industry representatives, and conservation leaders to once again address the age-old issues facing the O&C counties in Oregon. The O&C Act of 1937 set aside about 2.4 million acres of federal forest land in 18 western Oregon counties for the economic benefit of those counties. Not much timber harvesting is going on today due to environmental lawsuits and litigation gridlock, so the economic benefit has shrunk dramatically with no way to economically diversify federal forestland and Uncle Sam doesn’t pay property taxes to the counties. Not a good situation.

The Governor’s group is charged with building on existing proposals to develop recommendations to improve the financial stability of the counties and ensure adequate sources of timber to support local mills and associated jobs, but still meet Oregon’s water and land conversation goals. A tall order…

Governor Kitzhaber expects the group to take their recommendation to the Oregon delegation and Congress early next year. A worthy but daunting assignment for the group and as noted by the Governor, “We are not under any illusion that this will be easy…” No kidding. There have been chairs at this table before, but at no time in history has the need been greater to create a solution that creates jobs and helps restore critical services in our rural communities.

Governor Kitzhaber says, “We have the right people at the table to get this done.” Let’s hope so because the status quo isn’t something Oregonians should accept.

Steve Zika
CEO, Hampton Lumber