California logging drops sharply, wood imports up

By Don Thompson

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO – Logging in California has dropped 60 percent over the last 15 years, even as the fast-growing state consumes more imported timber, figures being released Thursday show.

The California Board of Equalization timber tax records show 1.66 billion board feet was harvested last year, down from 4.67 billion board feet in 1988.

The state now gets a record 70 percent to 80 percent of its wood from other states and overseas, projected the California Forest Products Commission, the industry advocacy group releasing the figures.

That’s a virtual reversal from the roughly 75 percent of in-state lumber production the commission estimated for 1988, based on production, consumption and the state’s population.

Logging during that period dropped more than 90 percent on public land and 40 percent on private land, the tax records show.

The release comes as the U.S. Forest Service advances a plan to triple logging in 11.5 million acres of national forests in the Sierra Nevada, and hurries to log beetle- and drought-killed trees still standing in Southern California after last fall’s record wildfires.

The commission, like the Forest Service, argues much more logging is needed to trim the fire threat, though environmental groups dispute logging away from threatened communities.

It also comes amid the debate over the loss of American jobs overseas. Citing industry sawmill closure figures, the commission projected the decline in logging has cost 15,000 forestry jobs in California since 1988. More than 80 sawmills have closed, with fewer than 50 remaining. The closest sawmill to the San Bernardino Mountains is 250 miles from the massive stand of dead and dying trees there.

Many of the logging and mill jobs are now overseas, where environmental standards for timber harvests are often weaker, said commission President Donn Zea.

He criticized government policies that have nearly doubled the cost of timber harvest permits the last five years. In just that period, the number of permits has dropped 30 percent and the acres harvested by half, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection figures.

The commission cited estimates the state’s forests are growing at the equivalent of 2 billion board feet each year, or enough wood for 130,000 homes.

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California Forest Products Commission: http://calforests.org

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