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Monday, March 23, 2020

Timber Unity Isn’t

A small number of rural residents who are funded by timber and fossil fuel corporate money have been able to amplify their voices beyond their size. They claim timber unity is their goal, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The corporate founders behind Timber Unity have spent millions on high-priced attorneys to prevent their workers from having safe and decent work. They have fought several unionization efforts at their mills. It is difficult to understand how they can claim to speak for a group whose rights they routinely seek to impinge.


Their current crusade is to fight the State’s effort to invest in a future for the next generation of Oregonians. They are targeting any and all efforts to reduce carbon pollution in Oregon. This should not be too surprising since they have close ties to the 11 Republican Senators who walked out to stop the bill last year and again this session. These 11 Senators received more than 65% of their funding from corporations, including fossil fuel giant Koch Industries.

While cap-and-invest isn’t the most enlightened approach to mitigate carbon pollution, it is a method that should be supported by moderates of both political parties. The approach is a compromise, just as Obama’s Affordable Care Act was a compromise. In both cases, the compromise was rejected and weaponized by groups funded by the those who stood to lose billions on Wall Street.
Instead of blocking all efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution in Oregon, Timber Unity should be asking their corporate donors how much they have invested in next generation low-carbon logging and transportation equipment. How much money taken from our rural communities have these corporations invested in research to reduce waste in the industry or to design and manufacture new products, such as lam beans and other composite products that have a much lower carbon footprint than comparable non-renewable building products? 

Most small, mom-and-pop log-trucking operations barely earn enough to pay off their trucks, let alone feed their families and provide top quality health insurance. The same timber corporations that do not have enough money to pay their workers and their contractors a living wage seem to have almost limitless funds when it comes to protecting their own business interests.
Instead of fighting to destroy the future for their children, Timber Unity should be exploring ways to bring their industry into the 21st century. Sweden already has an all-electric log-truck prototype in the works. There already exist advanced studies on pre-commercial thinning to improve forest resilience, which will be required to protect our forests as the fire season expands. Who is doing research to determine which tree species can adapt to the warming climate and which cannot?
Timber Unity’s sole purpose appears to be focused on allowing timber company owners to continue to exploit rural communities and workers. The cruel trick is that instead of preparing these places for the future, Timber Unity is locking them in a past that is not sustainable. By not focusing on the future, Timber Unity is denying the science and the reality. Distressed forests are more vulnerable to bug infestations and forest fires. By alienating urban consumers, they condemn their communities to the dustbin of history.
This doesn’t have to be the only path to take. Adaptive forest management and sustainable forest management, including forest certification, offer the ability to not only plan for the future but also to adjust to it before climate change makes the adjustment for us. Is there a way to monetize carbon credits so that the payments to delay harvest are shared equitably with all stakeholders, not just the shareholders? Could carbon sequestration funds be used to create resilient forests and a forest workforce that can return to doing what they wanted to do in the first place: be good stewards of the land for their children and grandchildren?
Oregon families, both urban and rural, need a viable forest-products industry, one that looks forward and invests in the future of new forest-management approaches, new technology and most of all, a new deal with their timber-dependent communities and workers. We know the timber industry can impress Wall Street. The real question is: Are they committed to supporting Main Street?