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Timber Firms Accused Of ‘Back-Room’ Deals Congressman Says Companies Trying To Weaken Log-Export Ban While Domestic Mills Are Hurting

Associated Press

Rep. Peter DeFazio is renewing an old fight with Northwest timber companies that export logs at the expense of domestic mill jobs, accusing them of a furtive attempt to undo a 1990 ban on shipments from public lands.

A trade group representing several of the largest companies in the region, including Weyerhaeuser Co. and Plum Creek Timber Co., is behind the “ill-advised bid” to undermine the law and expand exports, the Oregon Democrat says.

“It has come to my attention that your organization has been involved in a back-room effort to significantly weaken the 1990 law banning log exports from federal and state lands in the Pacific Northwest,” DeFazio wrote this week to the Washington Citizens for World Trade in Port Angeles, Wash.

“Your attempt to quietly weaken the ban … is outrageous at a time of scarce public timber supplies and represents a sneak attack on Northwest timber workers and their communities,” he said.

DeFazio, whose western Oregon district is heavily timber-dependent, argues it makes no sense to ship logs from public lands to premium markets overseas, most often Japan, when U.S. mills are crying for raw materials - the same argument that won imposition of the ban in 1990.

About 1.6 billion board feet of unprocessed logs harvested on private lands were exported from Oregon and Washington last year - mostly from Washington state ports. No figure was readily available for the amount of private-land timber made available to U.S. mills, but traditionally one in every four trees cut in the Northwest is exported unprocessed.

About 700 million board feet of timber were sold from federal forest lands in the two states during the same period. That timber, plus a lesser amount harvested on state lands, also was available for domestic processing. No figures were immediately available for state-land harvests last year.

The trade group tried unsuccessfully this month to persuade members of Washington’s congressional delegation to introduce a budget-bill amendment that would relax the raw-log export restrictions, DeFazio said.

If approved, the amendment would have created “a huge loophole in the current log export ban,” he said.

It would have allowed “a few huge log-exporting companies to continue to ship their logs overseas and use the profits to outbid domestic lumber mills for scarce federal timber supplies,” DeFazio said.

Jerry Hendricks, executive director of Washington Citizens for World Trade, said his members have been at odds with DeFazio for some time because he has wanted to ban exports from private lands as well as public lands.

“Peter’s mischaracterizing quite a bit of our position,” Hendricks said this week.

The amendment backed by the group would only make good on the original intention of the law to allow public-timber buyers to continue exporting private-land logs under certain circumstances, he said.

DeFazio “has had a goal of banning private log exports for a long time,” he said. “Essentially, we see this kind of position as a back-door way to try to ban private-log exports.”

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