Oregon's forest sector remains a resilient and vital contributor to Oregon's economy, according to a comprehensive economic study published today by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. The sector could create thousands of new rural jobs, given the right market conditions and a dependable supply of raw material.
Even as the nation emerges from the Great Recession, one in 20 Oregon jobs depends on active management of forests and the manufacturing of forest products – some 76,000 people. Total annual sector wages were $5.2 billion in Oregon in 2011, according to the study. An additional 37,000 Oregonians are at work supplying and servicing the sector.
The forest sector is the most important part of the economy in North Coast region of Oregon – which includes Clatsop and Tillamook counties. The presence of the Tillamook State Forest and private forests have kept the sector vital and stable, more so than in areas that have relied on federal timber. The forest sector accounts for 10.5 percent of region's employment, according to the report.
The sector's overall impact on the state's economy last year was $12.7 billion – nearly 7 percent of the state's economic base. That wealth was brought to the state as the sector supplied lumber and finished products, such as doors and windows, to a flagging U.S. housing sector that peaked at 2.3 million housing starts in 2006 and plummeted to 478,000 in 2009.
"The U.S. housing market has not rebounded as quickly as it typically does after recession," said Tom Potiowsky, director of the Northwest Economic Research Center at Portland State University, and a member of the team that collaborated on the report. "But housing starts nationally are on the rise, and this is a good sign for Oregon – especially our rural areas."
The report sounds a note of caution, calling for a high-level review of federal forest policies that have reduced harvest from public lands to record lows. This lack of harvest, combined with a century of fire suppression, has created unnatural conditions in the federal forests. They are ripe for insect infestation and catastrophic fire. If the federal forest health crisis is not addressed, Oregon could experience more mill closures, as well as the kind of wildfire disasters seen in other Western states, the report states