The cranes onboard the Achilles Bulker were in full swing at the Port of Astoria Thursday as logs were brought to be picked up at Pier 1 and loaded on the bulk carrier destined for China.

The harvested logs were at their last stop in Clatsop County, which has 1,719 people employed by the forest sector, or about 11.5 percent of county employment.

The message for community leaders watching: the timber industry is important to the local and regional economy.

The group was given a glimpse of the county’s forest sector for the annual Community Leaders Forestry Tour put on by the Clatsop Forestry and Wood Products Economic Development Committee. The tour included stops at an active timber harvest operation, a dry sort yard run by Westerlund Log Handlers and the Pier 1 export facility.

At the end of the tour, the group of more than 50 heard from Mark Gustafson, president and co-owner of Gustafson Logging in Astoria. He spoke about the logging industry and what it has meant to him and the local economy.

“It’s a business and an occupation that gets in your blood ... I can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said. “People ask me, ‘When are you going to retire?’ My response is, ‘When my son fires me.’” He said his father, who started the company in 1974, kept going until he was 79.

“I’m hoping to be the same way. It’s great to be out there.”

Key sector

Kevin Leahy, executive director of Clatsop Economic Development Resources (CEDR), also gave an overview of the economic impact the forest sector has on Clatsop County, pointing out that nearly 30 percent of the county’s economic base comes from the industry and interrelated jobs.

For a look at an active timber harvest, school buses took the group from the Clatsop County Fairgrounds to a 72-acre unit owned by Lewis and Clark Oregon Timber and managed by The Campbell Group. The unit, northeast of Walluski Loop, consists of streams and power lines overhead, an example of some of the challenges to a logging operation.

Representatives from The Campbell Group expressed their tendency to do more than what is required by Oregon Forests Practice Act, which imposes rules for timber harvests on private forestland.

“There’s a lot of data that goes into which stand we’re going to harvest,” said Sam Sadler, a logging supervisor. “We go above and beyond on almost every unit that we harvest.”

An extra number of trees, for example, will be left near streams as a buffer, he said. The harvest is certified, representatives said, by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a program that promotes “responsible forest management.”

Jesse Browning said his father’s company also seeks to minimize the environmental impact. J.M. Browning, owned by Jay Browning, is carrying out the 66-acre harvest.

“It’s our livelihood and we want to see it keep going,” said Jesse Browning, the foreman of the operation. “We care about the environment.” He said he is invested in seeing logging be sustainable because he wants his son to continue the family occupation.

“We’ve always tried to utilize every piece of wood and get everything out,” he said about letting nothing go to waste.

Big operation

From the active harvest, the tour continued to Westerlund Log Handlers’ dry sort yard in Lewis and Clark area. At the yard, bark is stripped from the logs and converted to biomass. Hemlock, spruce and Douglas fir are sorted at the yard before being loaded on trucks for the export facility. Barcodes are attached to the logs so that the company knows exactly where they are in process.

“We know where every single one is,” said Roger Nance, Westerlund’s managing director.

Nance said between 1,200 and 1,400 truckloads will be conducted to fill the cargo ships arriving at the Port of Astoria to pick up logs. At the export facility, 3.8 acres are used at Pier 1 to stack the logs headed overseas. For the relatively small facility, Nance said it is doing well comparatively.

“I think we’re probably moving more per square foot than anybody,” he said.

The longshoremen of International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 50 load between 4.8 to 5 million board feet onto the ships, Nance said. At the facility, 50 workers with Westerlund bring the logs to three gangs of stevedores operating the cranes and strapping down the cargo. Nance said that because of the export facility, the local longshoremen contingent has increased since 2010.

“We’ve been able to double the size of the local hall to about 23 or 24 members,” he said.

At $35,000 a day in longshoremen labor, Nance said Westerlund has used Pier 3 to keep additional stacks nearby so the gear is continuously working and able to lift a load every six minutes into the bulk carriers.

Nance said that the logs Westerlund is loading right now are primarily being used for a boom in construction along China’s coast.

“A big myth is that these logs are being processed and manufactured, which is taking away from jobs, and those products are coming back here,” Nance said. “That’s not the case. The product that we’re moving here is all building material.”

The impact of timber harvests on local government was also touched on as the tour wrapped up at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds. According to the County tax assessor’s office, timber tax revenue for 2012 amounted to $11.7 million. Clatsop County schools received nearly $6 million in timber tax revenue for 2012.

“Balance is key,” said Leahy. “Working together to provide more family-wage jobs in Clatsop County is everyone’s responsibility while protecting our environment. ... The forestry sector is a key contributor to our local economy and to that vision and goal.”



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