Oregon logger fights for respect, hopes for upturn

Fri May 16, 2008 1:38pm EDT
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By Adam Tanner

RIDDLE, Oregon (Reuters) - With prices of commodities rocketing upward, it is a great time to be a producer of oil, gold, corn and many other natural resources. Not so for U.S. timber companies, which are experiencing a slump amid a slow housing market and often hostile public.

In recent years, environmentalists have continuously battled timber firms, especially those seeking to thin out national forests in dazzlingly verdant states such as Oregon.

One of those on the receiving end of such economic and public relations woes is Paul Beck, timber manager of Herbert Lumber company. The company with more than $30 million in annual sales processes "old-growth" trees 100 years old or more in the nexus of American sawmills in Riddle, Oregon.

"We've done a really poor job of educating people on what we are doing out there," Beck said during a day-long tour of his company's mill and public forests where they have cut. "Very few foresters have a clue about public relations."

"I want to save the earth. The goal is the same; it's just how we get there," said Beck, whose 1947-founded company specializes in Douglas Fir lumber for door skins, window panes, moldings, paneling and timber-framed houses.

A fourth-generation sawmill worker who comes across as a reasonable person rather than anti-tree fanatic, Beck says because the United States has long fought natural fires, many of its forests are overripe with fuel and need thinning.

"There is more forested land today in Oregon than there was 150 years ago, I'll guarantee you that," he said. "There is plenty of wood; they are just not willing to harvest it."

In recent years environmentalists have warned that America and the world are rapidly losing their forests to logging, and they have enjoyed many legal victories blocking projects. In 2006 a U.S. appeals court stopped one Herbert Lumber project to protect small nocturnal rodents called red tree voles.   Continued...

<p>A hand rests on an oak tree waiting to be cut for firewood at Atlantic Firewood in East Windham, Maine in this September 7, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>