For the first time in three years, the Clatsop Forestry Tour for Community Leaders was live on Oct. 26.

This tour has been going on for well over 30 years, and we were so excited along with 70 community leaders, elected officials, citizens, industry personnel and our Clatsop Forestry & Wood Products Economic Development Committee to hop on two school buses at the Bob Chisholm Community Center in Seaside and go into the woods.

The theme was Forestry is Climate Smart. Committee members meet many months before the event to lay out the tour. Many attendees have gone on this tour year after year, and there are also many attending for the first time. The committee works very hard to have each year fresh and new, and not just a rehash of prior tours.

I kick off each tour with an economic overview of this sector. Many people say this is a dying industry or not an important contributor to our economy, but nothing is further from the truth.

There are over 1,300 forest sector jobs in Clatsop County, contributing 6.3% of total employment. Historically, almost 30% of the county’s economic base is tied to this sector. The average wage is $70,599, well above the county average wage of $45,498. Clatsop County has the widest wage gap in Oregon between the average wage and forest sector wages.

Forest ownership is unique, with large private land at 56% of ownership, state and other public lands at 26% and small, private ownership at 17%. Federal forestland is almost nonexistent here.

One example of a very important employer is Hampton Lumber. The Warrenton sawmill, according to 2020 data, has 145 direct employees, with $13.3 million in direct wages and benefits. About $9.4 million goes to local transport and trucking businesses, $6.4 million to local logging businesses and $66.5 million in log purchase payments.

Hampton Lumber stands out as a shining example of an employer that not only provides hundreds of family-wage jobs, but is also a strong community supporter. Some recent examples include a $50,000 donation to Clatsop Community College for career technical education program development and a lumber wrap competition with winning students from Astoria, Seaside and Warrenton high schools receiving $15,000 for their school’s art and career technical education programs.

Some other examples in the natural resource industry of giving back include the Clatsop Working Watersheds Cooperative’s Warrenton High School Fisheries fundraiser, with over 500 in attendance and $125,000 raised for important and much-needed infrastructure improvements and expansion.

The Oregon Department of Forestry, Oregon State University Extension and Oregon Women in Timber revived and led the return of the sixth grade forestry tour, providing two days of forestry and natural resources education to over 300 youth from area schools that also included seventh and eighth graders who had missed out on participating due to COVID. I have indelible memories as a sixth grader at Star of the Sea School and taking a bus out to the tour, so you can see this is a long-standing event.

Lewis & Clark Timberlands staff serves on the North Coast Watershed Association, Necanicum Watershed Council and Lower Nehalem Watershed Council boards, facilitating projects on timberlands and building relationships with Indigenous voices through relationships with the Chinook Indian Nation.

There were four stops on the forestry tour in October, which covered post-salvage work, drone demonstrations showing how technology has really been a game changer in prepping land for harvest and so much safer for the employees, an overview of sustainable forestry and timber sales, and new harvesting systems.

Timber sales on Oregon Department of Forestry land were discussed in detail, as we have done in other presentations the Clatsop Forestry & Wood Products Economic Development Committee has given over the past year. The public is not aware of the importance of the forest product revenue to Clatsop County, with $19.1 million coming back to the county in fiscal year 2022. This funds schools, rural law enforcement, county roads, Clatsop Community College, the Port of Astoria and so much more.

Speaking of timber sales, there is a proposed habitat conservation plan, which, if it goes into effect, will have a devastating impact on our local economy. The Oregon Board of Forestry has been taking testimony for many months now, and I know firsthand from meetings I attend throughout the community that there is not an understanding how this will devastate our local economy for generations to come if enacted. A healthy and sustainable community is key, but the projected financial impact can result in as much as a 40% reduction in forest product revenue to the county and could cause major layoffs and business closures.

The request to the Oregon Board of Forestry is to come back to the table with an open and transparent conversation. I ask all the readers of this column to understand the real-world ramifications if this plan goes through, and understand there are other options that are environmentally vetted and sound.

Kevin Leahy is the executive director of Clatsop Economic Development Resources and the Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center.

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