In Oregon lumber towns, a popular bumper sticker reads, "Spotted owl tastes like chicken."
the boardrooms of some of the nation's largest forest products
companies, the rare bird has laid a golden egg. The scarcity
brought about by the federal protection of the endangered owl
helped double the value of many corporations' vast private timber
Despite predictions of disaster for
the industry after federal logging was reduced in Oregon to protect
endangered species, profits of the 12 largest publicly traded
forest products companies in the Northwest were up 43 percent in
1994 compared to 1993, the Oregonian reported.
think the spotted owl ended up serving the companies quite well,"
says timber industry stock analyst Val Jensen of Jensen Investment
Management in Portland.
Predictions about the
effects of environmental regulations scared the market into a
perceived shortage, according to Burrle Elmore, editor of Random
Lengths, a Eugene-based newsletter that tracks wood prices. As a
result, prices almost doubled between 1990 and
The millions of acres of private
timberlands held by corporations such as Weyerhaeuser and
Willamette Industries became very valuable. Net income for
Willamette Industries nearly quadrupled from 1991 to 1994. For
Weyerhaeuser, net income rose from a $101 million loss in 1991 to a
$589 million gain in 1994.
The irony is not lost
on Andy Kerr, director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council.
"They should send us a thank-you note and a big check," he
Small is not
But what enriched some large
corporations has crippled smaller, independent mills that still
depend on federal logs. In April, the Cone Lumber Co. announced
that it would lay off 60 workers and shut its 109-year-old mill in
Goshen, south of Eugene. The Zip-O-Log mill in Eugene let 24 of its
54 workers go last year in response to a dwindling supply of
Paul Ehinger, a Eugene timber
industry consultant, says more than 150 mills in the Northwest have
closed since owl restrictions were put in place and reduced federal
timber harvests to 5 or 10 percent of their peak
But the owl can't take all the blame. Log
exports, an inability to adapt and competition with larger
businesses and Canadian and southern U.S. mills are also big
R.B. Cone, president of Cone Lumber,
says competition with raw log exporters helped push his mill over
the edge. Because of the weak dollar, the Japanese can come in on a
federal timber sale and outbid all the local mills, according to
Smaller mills also have trouble competing
with the high-volume efficiencies and market power of the big
corporations. Cone says he thought about converting his mill from
hemlock logs to more available Douglas-fir, but decided his small
operation would get beat out by the big operators. "We would really
be a small fish in a big pond," he says.
adjustment of the timber industry away from public logs is a
healthy trend, ONRC's Kerr says. With federal logs more expensive,
the demand for recycling used wood and paper into innovative
products has increased, he says, and wood products companies are
redefining themselves as "fiber companies' that depend on a variety
of raw materials.
Willamette Industries has
pioneered this adjustment with a new particle-board plant that
harvests "urban wood waste" for two-thirds of its raw materials,
company spokeswoman Cathy Baldwin says. The plant employs 98
workers. Meanwhile, Weyerhaeuser is recycling record levels of
paper to feed its pulp operation.
companies, the creative companies, are the ones that are going to
survive," Kerr says.
While corporations adjust to the changing
market and reap big profits, many workers are left
Some of the workers that Cone Lumber
laid off were second-generation employees with 30 years at the
mill. "We sure feel bad for the employees," Cone
Lane County has lost 700 lumber and wood
products jobs since 1991, according to Brad Angle, a regional
economist with the Oregon Employment Division. Although employment
levels held steady last year, Angle estimates the sector will lose
350 jobs in 1995.
Since 1991, the county has
added many jobs in the service, high-tech and RV manufacturing
industries, and unemployment has fallen to 5 percent, says Angle.
But many are either lower wage jobs or are beyond the reach of
former millworkers who lack training or live in rural areas where
few new jobs have been created.
corporations point to jobs lost to owls, they may have actually
added jobs in 1994 to respond to increases in lumber prices, says
Angle. The jobs don't show up in the employment statistics,
however, because many workers were hired through temporary
companies that pay less and offer little job security, he
Although still far above their 1980s
levels, lumber prices have begun to fall from their 1994 record
high. Analysts are concerned that timber corporations will be
tempted to over-harvest their private lands to cash in on
short-term profits. "The hue and cry is that timber is a renewable
resource," analyst Jensen says. "But the truth be known, they're
trying to make their profits right now just like anybody else."
Environmentalist Kerr says the over-harvesting
has already begun. "Greed is greed, and that's exactly what they're
But if greed is the driving factor in
the wood products industry, why don't the big timber corporations
lobby for less federal logging to drive the value of their private
timberlands even higher? The smaller mills still "addicted" to
federal timber are the ones pushing the hardest for dramatic
increases in salvage logging, says Kerr.
whether federal logs are available or not, the big corporations are
positioned to reap big
version of this story appeared in the Eugene Weekly in Eugene,
Oregon, where Alan Pittman works as a staff