Study: Timber aid money best spent developing community pride,
vision, says $600,000 study - reports the $1.2 billion
spent "didn't achieve the promises made, was misused by 'carpetbaggers'
who showed up in communities to take advantage of the money
"Overall, the initiative had some stunning successes," said Jonathan Kusel, executive director of Forest Community Research of Taylorsville, Calif., which did the study. "But it's important to say it didn't work everywhere, and it didn't work all the time."
Kusel said about 60 percent of the money went to hard infrastructure, such as water and sewer lines, 20 percent to industrial parks, and 3 percent to soft infrastructure, such as leadership training and strategic planning. Other funds went to small business development.
Money spent on the jobs-in-the-woods program and retraining were not consistently tracked, he added.
The study also found that many of the mill shutdowns and economic woes affecting timber towns began years before environmental lawsuits and the Northwest Forest Plan sharply reduced logging on national forests.
The Pope and Talbot mill that employed 500 in Oakridge, for example, shut down in 1985, six years before court orders shut down logging in spotted owl habitat.
The initiative grew out of the 1993 Portland Forest Summit, where President Clinton gathered representatives of government agencies, the timber industry, environmentalists and timber towns to discuss ways to deal with the disruption of the timber industry.
Lawsuits by environmental groups shut down logging in national forests west of the Cascade Range in Washington, Oregon and Northern California to protect habitat for the northern spotted owl, a threatened species.
To settle the lawsuits, the U.S. Forest Service adopted the Forest Plan, which cut federal logging by 80 percent to protect habitat for spotted owls and salmon. The plan has never fulfilled its promise of a steady, though reduced, supply of timber.
The Clinton administration cobbled together $1.2 billion in grants and loans from various sources, which was funneled through the states to local communities, which decided how to spend it.
"There should have been more money focused on people rather than communities and infrastructure," said Tom Brumm, former intergovernmental relations manager for the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department who also advised the study. "But a lot of the programs they gave us really did work well."
He noted that local leaders in Sweet Home, Ore., were successful in developing a diversified economy and new identity, with new industrial capacity as well as a music festival and a campground.
Oakridge, however, has yet to see the full benefits of a new industrial park on the old Pope and Talbot mill site, he added.
Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council, a timber industry group, remained critical of the initiative.
"In just about every community we saw the arrival of carpetbaggers -- people that showed up to take advantage of the government handouts," said West. "As soon as the gravy train left town, they were gone too."
What saved some towns was a downturn in the Asian economy that shut off log exports to Japan, leaving more for local mills, he said.
The $600,000 study was financed by federal, state and private sources. It compiled case studies of 31 communities in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
The study was not able to compute a total number of jobs or how much income was generated by the initiative. Funds spent on the jobs-in-the-woods program and retraining for wood products workers were not consistently tracked.
"The jobs-in-the-woods program and retraining efforts didn't achieve many of the promises made by the (Clinton) administration," Kusel said.
Funding for jobs in the woods -- which included projects such as thinning and watershed restoration projects -- was shortlived, and the Forest Service was not prepared for a new role melding ecosystem restoration with social and economic development, Kusel said.
Retraining programs often failed because there were few companion
programs giving people money to live on while they prepared for new
careers, or to give them basic skills, said Karin Berkholtz, rural
policy coordinator for the Washington state Office of Trade and Economic
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