Oregon is faced with a devilish choice: cut badly-needed funding for schools or continue cutting forests too quickly and forget about protecting wildlife? Here’s the back story…

Two years ago, Oregon’s legislature told the state’s Department of Forestry (ODF) to raise the cut rate on state lands, the better to boost revenues in an era of budget shortfalls. (In Oregon, as in Washington, timber sales on state lands go to pay for schools and a few other state-funded projects.) The good news is, the plan worked—more money rolled in to government coffers.

The bad news is, the plan worked—cutting on state forests boomed. Actually, it boomed to much, according to a new report released by ODF. As the Oregonian puts it, "cutting is about 30 percent more than the forests can sustain if they are to bolster populations of salmon, elk, spotted owls and other species."

Oregon’s predicament is especially frustrating because of the perverse incentives attached to logging state lands. In Washington, which has a similar problem, the incentives are actually connected to the state constitution, making it very difficult to extricate gutting our natural heritage from paying for our children’s future. I believe Oregon’s laws function the same way.

There may, however, be a fix: FSC certification for state forests. (And yes, I realize that I sound like a broken record on this issue.) It’s very possible that green certified wood can command higher market prices. (Oregon’s recent foray into sustainable certification doesn’t count—it’s only a smokescreen. As is Washington’s.)

On the other hand, the upshot of FSC labeling could very well be less logging, but more money per board foot. Plus, there is a whole array of other benefits. We just need to prove it.

What we need is an economic study to prove that the FSC label can actually increase revenues. We need a full-cost accounting that weighs the benefits against the initial costs of certification. The only one I know of, performed by ECONorthwest, is helpful but not extensive enough to prove the point.

So if anyone out there happens to be an economist with a heap of free time on your hands…