According to this article yesterday in the Puget Sound Business Journal, timber cutting in Oregon and Washington’s national forests was up by 50 percent in 2004, as compared to 2003. In 2005, cutting may be even more rapid. The article implies that increased cutting on public lands will also increase jobs in the forest sector. But that’s not necessarily true.

Cutting in Washington’s national forests declined dramatically in the wake of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan—and the overall timber harvest declined too, though less precipitously. But according to a Washington Employment Security Department report, from 1992 to 1998, "employment has been relatively stable in forestry services" ("forestry services" is the largest sector of forestry). And, in fact, from 1981 to 1998, total forest sector employment actually increased by 2.6 percent, despite overall declines in logging.

Weirdly, the reverse can also be true. Just as less logging does not necessarily mean fewer jobs, so more logging does not necessarily mean more jobs. As this recent post on timber industry growth points out, because of new technology investments, more cutting has not brought many more jobs. What’s more, in Oregon, as in Washington, the economic importance of the forest industry (and other resource extraction industries too) is waning.

All of the above to say that the old saw about increasing logging to create more jobs may be more myth than reality. But now may also be a good time to consider a new way to manage our public forest resources—one that’s good for both workers (and the larger economy) and the environment.

  • Local environmental groups, such as Washington Forest Law Center and Washington Environmental Council, have argued that the state should adopt Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on state lands. The FSC label means that timber harvesting is more ecologically concientious, and that jobs are both local and stable. FSC labeled wood can also command a higher price in the marketplace because some consumers may be willing to pay more for certified lumber. You can read my case statement for FSC certification here (it’s a pdf).

    Maybe it’s time to consider pursuing FSC certification for national forests. For years, environmental groups have pushed—unsuccessfully—for zero cutting in national forests. But with the cut rate rising again, partly as a result of the Bush administration’s "Healthy Forests Initiative," maybe it’s time for environmentalists to consider a negotiated truce, one that both the industry and greens can live with: FSC certification.