Timber!? Will cry echo again in Oregon? Yes - and no

Timber!? Will cry echo again in Oregon? Yes - and no »Play Video
Still image captured from video shot by KVAL News in Eugene

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. - In the hilly countryside east of Cottage Grove, Rod Surcamp settles in for another day at the office.   

He's been a logger close to 40 years.

"Yep, about third or fourth generation," Surcamp said.

Last year was rock bottom for his company, with his small crew working just every other week. 

Things are only slightly better now.

"It's just the way it is," Surcamp said, "so I try not to be frustrated by that."

Surcamp isn't alone: State forestry economists said the Oregon timber cut has hit historic lows. Harvest levels last year dropped 20 percent from 2008 to 2.75 billion board feet, the lowest since 1934.

The people who track the numbers at the Oregon Department of Forestry said there's some room for hope. The numbers this year indicate a slightly higher timber cut in Oregon.

But industry watchers said a major recovery won't begin until next year - or later.

"I don't think the industry is banking on any sharp bounce up," said Jon Anderson, president of wood products industry publication Random Lengths, "but gradual recovery again at kind of a pace we've had."

"We think that things are not going to get worse," says Roger Rutan, vice president of marketing at Timber Products, Inc. in Springfield.

He's been tracking the trends of the industry for the past 15 years. 

Rutan told KVAL News, "We see 2011 as having some improvement and just about every housing start-forecast  that we've seen shows exactly that." 

He said other steps need to be taken.  Green building and other environmental practices in construction should be accelerated.  Rutan said there needs to be better promotion of Northwest forest products by groups such as the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. 

A desired plus: boost timber production on federal lands.

Environmentalists want that done with caution.

"You know, we used to clearcut our public lands just like the private lands.  Luckily we've almost stopped that," said Doug Heiken of Oregon Wild.

Heiken said it's good that timber is not "king" anymore - because a more diversified economy means a quicker Oregon recovery when the national economy dips into recession.

However, for the short term, Heiken said thinning projects in former clear-cut sales (on public forest lands) can help boost jobs.

"We need to thin some of these areas.  We need to grow larger trees.  We need to get more diversity back into our forests," Heiken saidk "so there's a role for the timber industry to play."

For his part, Rod Surcamp thinks better times will return for he and his crew.

"It's an important part of the economy," he said, "so I think it will come back at some point."