Of Clatsop County’s 529,000 acres, nearly 94 percent is forested. Forestry, although diminished from its historic highs, remains about a third of Clatsop County’s economic output.

Thursday, the county’s forest products industry touted its contribution to the economy and the environment to a cast of local and regional politicians, bureaucrats, businesspeople and agency heads during the 24th annual Community Leaders Forest Tour.

The tour was organized by the county’s Clatsop Forest & Wood Products Economic Development Committee and funded mostly by members of the forest industry.

Oregon has about 79,000 forest sector jobs, said Kevin Leahy, the director of Clatsop Economic Development Resources and an economic development expert in the county, and Clatsop County has 2.2 percent of those, or more than 1,700 jobs.

“At an average wage of about $65,000, that’s an annual payroll in Clatsop County of $111 million,” Leahy said.

The state and county own 28 percent of the timberlands in Clatsop County, with a restriction on exports of unprocessed timber, and the remaining 72 percent are privately owned, split between large and small landowners with no restrictions on export.

Clatsop County’s timber harvest went from the most recent low of 132,677 board feet in 1989 to a peak of 417,336 in 2008, according to state economists. Meanwhile, though, employment in forest products dropped 27 percent in that same time frame. Economist pointed to increased exports, productivity and changing uses of harvested lumber as reasons for the drop.

One of the largest employers in the county is Warrenton Fiber-Nygaard Logging, the first visit on the tour.

The buses provided by Astoria School District left the First Baptist Church and wound their way through the log-sorting yard of Warrenton Fiber-Nygaard Logging at the end of the city of Warrenton’s Tansy Point. The buses stopped next to a large wood chipper and an export dock where the company pumps wood chips onto barges heading to Georgia-Pacific at the Wauna Mill and Weyerhaeuser and Capstone in Longview, Wash.

“It takes three shifts to fill this barge,” said Martin Nygaard, founder of Warrenton Fiber Co., motioning toward a wood-chip hauler from SDS Tug & Barge.

The company’s been located at Tansy Point since 1986, leasing the facility, a naturally dredging port that allows 42 feet of depth, enough to handle docking ships. The company has been trying to buy the facility from the city of Warrenton in exchange for building it a new public works facility on Dolphin Avenue, said Nygaard,.

The company, said his grandson and co-owner John Nygaard Jr., employs more than 140 people, chipping wood for paper products, contract logging and constructing roads.

After Warrenton Fiber, the buses snaked up a logging road off U.S. Highway 26 to a Lewis and Clark Oregon Timber LLC stand between Cannon Beach and Seaside. It is managed by Campbell Global, formerly known as the Campbell Group, which administers about 140,000 acres in the county. Except for the 10 to 12 mph winds, the forest was quiet. Logging has stopped recently because of the extreme fire danger from easterly winds and below 30 percent humidity turning the North Coast into a tinderbox.

“Managing a forest is more than just the occasional clearcut you might see from town,” said Sam Sadler of Lewis and Clark, standing in front of a recently logged tract of land.

The company, he said, tries to add value to the land and be a good steward, immediately replanting, opening the land to recreational uses, leaving buffers around streams and limiting the use of herbicide. An example he gave was Lewis and Clark’s involvement in the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a nonprofit that attempts to link responsible environmental behavior and sound business decisions. The initiative independently audits the land logged by Lewis and Clark’s hundreds of contractors.

“We apply herbicide on the ground, by hand,” said Mary Beaver, who works for Campbell Global and Lewis and Clark managing logging activities. “There’s no confusion. If you see water, you stay away from it.”

Loggers carry around laminated note cards showing which invasive trees to remove and which optimal wildlife trees to save. Membership in the SFI, said Beaver, makes Lewis and Clark and Campbell look better and opens the companies to new customers who have higher standards about where they get wood.

Forest companies typically grow on a 40- to 50-year cycle, said Barry Sims, a forester for Trout Mountain Forestry. His company also manages nearby land in the Ecola Creek watershed owned by the city of Cannon Beach, which he added has a goal of growing old-growth forest, up to 140 years old. The city’s land ownership in the area, he added, has jumped from 60 to 1,000 acres over time, and it keeps looking for opportunities to add more land.

These forest tours “help us have a mutual understanding of the issues that are going on out in the woods,” said state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who followed the tour in her Blazer, and in rougher areas, a golf cart provided by Astoria Golf and Country Club. State Rep. Deborah Boone was also on the tour, along with representatives for U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and Sen. Jeff Merkley. Johnson said, as difficult political issues arise around natural resources, people need to seek out the facts.

During lunch, at the end of the tour and after a visit to the Teevin & Fisher Quarry in Seaside, attendees heard from Katie Voelke, of the North Coast Land Conservancy, and Jesse Jones, of the North Coast Watershed Association, who both talked about the restoration economy bringing in public and private money to improve natural habitat.

“Campbell group is one of my favorite partners,” said Jones, adding that in recent years there’s been $50 million spent on restoration.

Restoration work, added Voelke, has also solved issues facing the region, such as the removal of a levy and the flooding of the conservancy’s land at Circle Creek, which helped relieve persistent flooding along U.S. Highway 101.

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