Salvaged lumber sales slumping after devastating wildfires

Medford, Ore — While fire crews are hard at work on this summer’s wildfires, a new issue is emerging in the land scarred by fires in previous years.

“We’ve got to speed up the process, it’s horrible,” said David Schott with the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association.

The devastation from forest fires often lingers long after the smoke has cleared.

“At some point, as time goes by, the wood deteriorates to the point where it’s not useable,” said Schott.

One solution to preserve the forests and promote regrowth, is to salvage the burned trees left behind.

“Let’s put it to good use. let’s get it through our mills and use that money to create jobs and to pay for replanting our forests,” said Congressman Greg Walden.

That was the plan for more than 4,000 acres of the 191,000 acres burned in the Chetco Bar fire in the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest last year.

This summer that plan has seen little support from the timber industry it relies on.

“What happens is the timber cracks checks, rots, gets bugs in it, and if you put it on a lathe, it has a propensity to explode,” said Schott.

Eric Burke with the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest says time is of the essence when readying damaged wood for sale.

“One of the things that we battle with there is when a fire burns and salvage happens you have a certain amount of time before that wood is decayed to a point where it’s not economically recoverable,” said Burke.

In 2018 the Forest Service offered 27.8 million board feet of salvage wood for sale.
Nearly 100-percent of it was sold.

This year they’ve offered 17.6 million board feet, but so far only 11.5 million has been sold.

“Lumber prices are really down, it’s been a real slow year, last year at this time there were probably 80% of what they are now,” said Schott.

The salvage process on the Chetco Bar Fire was slowed by low snow levels, government furloughs and environmental regulations.

“We’re reaching the time period where the wood is starting to decay beyond recoverable amounts, we had success in 2018 because it was shorter in that time period of when that wood was rotting,” said Burke.

That said, many of the lots are still up for grabs, it’s just a matter of who is willing to take a chance on our natural resources, before it’s too late.
“It’s a gamble, whatever happens,” said Schott.

The Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest Service is holding another sale for just over 4,000 acres burned by the Chetco Bar fire on August 20th.

Matt Jordan is the Chief Meteorologist for KOBI-TV NBC5. Matt joined the NBC5 weather team in 2014 after a year as a reporter and anchor in Alexandria, Louisiana. His experience with the severe weather of the Deep South and a love of the Pacific Northwest led him to pursue a certification with Mississippi State University as a Broadcast Meteorologist. You can find Matt working in the evenings of NBC5 News at 5, 6 and 11 as well as online. Matt also has a degree in Journalism from the University of Oregon. In addition to being passionate about news and weather, Matt is a HUGE Oregon Ducks fan. When not rooting for the Ducks or tracking down the next storm over the Pacific, Matt can be found outdoors in the Oregon wilderness with his wife and their German Shepherd named Stanley.
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