The lumber industry in harvesting the virgin timber of the United States has created temporarily thriving industrial centers and prosperous communities. Almost invariably, however, timber cutting on the area economically tributary to any one center has proceeded at such rate that the available supply has been exhausted in one, or at most in two generations. Cutting at a rate many times in excess of the current annual growth has developed a migratory industry.
The "cut-out and get-out” system of harvesting forest resources means liquidation of lumber and logging companies, vanishing pay rolls, dwindling dependent industries, poverty-stricken dependent agriculture, and curtailment of transportation facilities. The community economy breaks down. Tax revenues fail, bonds become default, and social disintegration rapidly develops. Homes are abandoned and the population moves to some undeveloped field. This system of timber exploitation, “wilderness—boom town—ghost town", has been repeated wherever timber production has been an important factor in the industrial life.
It is entirely practicable and possible, however, for communities dependent on forest resources to attain raw-material-resource stability comparable to that enjoyed by agricultural communities close to large centers of population. But permanent stability can only be insured by annually harvesting a forest crop on the area tributary to any one center, equal to the quantity of timber grown on the entire area the same year. The annual growth on the average for the entire area must replace the quantity of timber cut. Sustained-yield forest management has as one major objective the maintenance of permanent communities by securing an annual production adjusted to annual growth, or the sustained-yield capacity of the land.
Natural conditions in the Pacific Northwest are extremely favorable to the sustained-yield management of forest crops. Initial growing stocks are still available in many locations. The annual rate of growth is very rapid and yields per acre are large. The territory required to yield sufficient timber on a sustained-yield basis to maintain a prosperous community unit here is relatively small as compared with other sections of the country. The tree species are aggressive in reestablishing themselves after lumbering, where proper cutting methods are used. Adequate fire protection can be secured at reasonable cost. Douglas fir, the principal tree species, is very resistant to both insect and disease attacks. The simplest form of management can be practiced in most of the territory without impairment of the productive capacity of the soil or decrease of the annual growth rate per acre.
With the exception of a few communities dependent upon national-forest sustained-yield units, practically none of the logging and milling industry of the Pacific Northwest is now on a sustained-yield basis.
The State of Washington ranks first in amount of timber cut, with Oregon second, the combined normal annual cut being about 10% billion feet. It is estimated that approximately 65 percent of the payrolls depend on the lumber industry. The indirect contribution in sustaining the railroad and other public facilities, as well as agricultural development, materially increases this amount. The community prosperity in both States is directly related to the lumber cut. A low cut indicates a depression.
On account of the location of large timbered areas within a reasonable rail haul of cheap water transportation, manufacturing facilities are concentrated and are the basis of the prosperity of the larger towns and cities, favorably located with respect to export markets and transcontinental railroads.
Cutting in Washington and Oregon has been largely confined to areas tributary to good transportation facilities, especially to the Puget Sound and Columbia River territory where the quality of the timber is high. The original supply of timber was so large that highly industrialized and stable communities dependent upon this resource were developed. The sawmill industry utilizes chiefly old-growth Douglas fir, spruce, and cedar, and the cutting of stands of mixed species has resulted in a waste of usable material estimated at 2½ billion feet annually. With the exhaustion of this particular class of material, it is generally recognized important changes will occur.
The original stand of privately owned coniferous timber in the Douglas fir area in Washington may be roughly placed at 450 billion feet. The resource survey recently completed by the Forest Service places the remaining quantity of private timber in this State at 123 billion feet, or about 27 percent of the original stand. There is 121 billion feet, in some type of public ownership, State or Federal. It is significant, however, that out of the total of 244 billion feet only 101 billion feet of old-growth Douglas fir, spruce, and cedar is left uncut. With a normal annual cut of some 6 billion feet, it is plain that the supply of material which is the basis for the present sawmill industry is not inexhaustible. The supply of pulp timber still available is relatively in a much more favorable situation. Since the use of a thousand board feet of timber in the making of pulp and paper products utilizes the services of 5 men as compared with 1 man in the sawmill industry, the development of this phase of the industry may greatly prolong the life of the communities dependent upon forest resources. The possibility for sustained-yield units based on a production of lumber is greatly restricted by the cut-out condition of the original stands.
While certain sections of Oregon are in a condition comparable to Washington, there still remain large areas where sustained-yield units can be established. Agricultural lands are favorably located with respect to these forest areas. Some existing communities can be expanded and a permanent ideal combination of industrial and agricultural development attained. In some areas possibly new communities may be required. With approximately 28 percent of the remaining timber stand of the United States located in Oregon, considerable expansion is inevitable there. Each industrial center would include sufficient forest area to furnish the estimated annual supply of forest products. Permanent towns with better living conditions would be justified.
The choice when the vast timber stands of Oregon are exploited on a large scale, will be between a financially sound development which will sustain permanently a considerable population and a relatively high standard of living, or the exploitation of the timber resource on a boom basis with a flush period of prosperity followed by financial and social wreckage.