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An uncertain future: Storm leaves timber glut

FRIDAY, DEC. 28, 2007

SALEM, Ore. – The damage caused to coastal forests during a Dec. 2 storm has left public and private forest owners with a glut of logs in an already dismal timber market.

“This is going to put an awful lot more volume out there,” said Tom Savage, district forester for Oregon Department of Forestry’s Astoria district.

Judging from aerial surveys, the damage was particularly severe within 10 miles of shore, with Clatsop County being particularly hard hit.

The number of snapped and uprooted trees is estimated to be greater than after the December 2006 storm that knocked down roughly 20 million board feet of timber in the Clatsop State Forest alone, he said.

That amounted to about $17 million dollars of salvageable timber, said Ron Zilli, assistant district forester for the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Astoria District.

Exactly how much revenue can be derived from the most recent blowdown remains to be seen.

On Oregon Department of Forestry land, affected stands will be sold to the highest bidder, who will pay loggers to extract fallen trees, explained Zilli.

Existing stands that have been put up for sale will need to be reappraised to assess whether they’ve retained their value after the storm, he said.

Planned thinning projects will also need to be re-evaluated, since wind gusts may have rendered the operations unnecessary, said Zilli.

As for private landowners the outlook is even more complicated.

The price for softwood framing lumber has dropped since May 2004 to about $260 per thousand board feet, according to Random Lengths forest products information service.

Log prices have fallen accordingly, which has left forestland owners questioning the economic sense of salvage efforts, said Michael Bunch, president of the Clatsop chapter of the Oregon Small Woodlands Association.

“We lost about 500 trees,” said Bunch, “That’s a big hit to a small woodland owner.”

Given the already slow demand for logs, Bunch is also worried that local timber prices will take a further plunge when salvaged wood starts arriving at the mills.

If the weather is conducive, however, there may still be a lot of time for Douglas firs to be salvaged. As long as the wood remains moist, it’s not as prone to decay, said Zilli.

Of course, the actual situation on the ground is still being assessed, so splintering and other defects will also determine how much timber is salvageable, said Savage. “We don’t know what the marketability is,” he said.


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