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Loggers got scant help as industry toppled

  Loggers and their communities were left out in the cold during the collapse of timber cutting on federal lands in the late 1990s. This is the conclusion of a recent study of the Northwest Economic Initiative, launched in tandem with President Clinton’s Northwest Forest Plan in 1994.

The study, produced by a nonprofit California think tank, Forest Community Research, found that much of the promised $1.2 billion in federal aid was available only as loans that out-of work loggers and struggling businesses had little way to pay back. The jumble of agencies managing the money lacked expertise in worker assistance, so many dollars never reached those who needed them most. And many job programs aimed at training ex-loggers to use computers and restore damaged forests never got beyond the pilot stage.

Part of the problem was that the economic initiative, created in just six weeks, came too late, according to the report’s lead author, Jonathan Kusel. Technological advances and other market forces had already displaced loggers before Clinton’s new forest protections kicked into gear. “The reality was that the problem was far more entrenched than anything exclusively related to the Northwest Forest Plan,” says Kusel.

Another report due this spring in the Journal of Forestry finds that 60,000 Oregonians worked in the wood-products industry in 1990. By 1998, more than half of them had left the industry, and almost half of those disappeared from the job rolls altogether — probably moving out of state, retiring or remaining unemployed.

President Clinton’s Northwest Economic Initiative is now largely dissolved; the Bush administration has included no funding for it in its proposed 2003 budget.