By ORVILLE ESTEB
For the Capital Press
BATTLE GROUND, Wash. -- I was wondering if you'd like to give your readers a better insight into the timber industry in southwest Washington.
I've been a logger and small timber owner for 35 years with about 500 acres, and I've been trying to survive in these hard times along with everyone else. We're not immune from the same pitfalls farmers suffer but also we seem to have our own problem areas specific to timber production.
I'd sure not recommend anyone invest in timber, as it seems we're at the whim of the bureaucrats and environmental groups and bear the burden for all the evils in the world today.
I own an 80-acre piece of timber in Clark County that has two creeks running through it. One is about two feet wide and dries up in most summers. I have to get permission from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Natural Resources to cross it and I'm basically restricted from doing anything within the 360-foot riparian management zone. This takes about one-third of my property out of production, but they do allow me to pay taxes and upkeep on it.
What will happen when the wheat farmers find the quail on the endangered list and they have to leave one-third of their wheat stand to provide habitat and food for the birds ?
The government doesn't give a (darn) about landowners as long as they can promote their environmental dogma and control our lives and property. They don't have anything invested or an ounce of work involved in our timberlands but have complete control over them.
Add to this the fact that we are in direct competition with the very agency that regulates and polices us -- the state Department of Natural Resources. I recently had a meeting with a DNR agent and he seemed proud that they were the only ones doing any logging. I wonder if the fact that they are undercutting the markets with cheap logs might have something to do with it. The private timber owner can't compete with them. All you have to do is visit any log yard in Washington and see how many logs have red paint on the ends to see who's flooding the markets. State timber has to be painted with red paint before it leaves the landing.
We bitch about cheap Canadian lumber coming in and put tariffs on it, and the real problem is right here at home.
How could the cattle ranchers survive if they had to compete with the Bureau of Land Management raising cattle on their properties and dumping them on the markets at 50 percent or 75 percent of what it cost a private rancher to produce beef? I can't think of any other industry that is in direct competition with the agency that regulates its competitors.
Add to this the fact that they are just about impossible to deal with. I've dealt with about every timber company operating in our area and they have a cooperative attitude that is "we're all in this together and we'll help each other get our timber out."
The DNR has just the opposite attitude -- stop you if we can, or if not make it just as difficult as possible.
An example would be that I've been trying to get two easements from them for almost three years and nothing ever seems to happen. The public is encouraged to use the roads for recreation but if you own a parcel that is serviced by that same road you are refused legal access.
Add to this the fact that Bonneville Power Administration is getting ready to build a power line and guess where they're going to locate it -- yep, across our private timber lands. They could have built it a mile farther to the east and it would have run pretty much through DNR ground, but the DNR and BPA decided it would be better to run it through private property and family neighborhoods rather than impact their timber production land. Sweet deal, huh?
Owning timber and timberlands is emotionally rewarding, but for God's sake, warn people not to invest a penny of their retirement in timber as it will bite them in the arse for certain.
Oh, to add a little insult to the injury, the county has our property zoned as different forest tiers, 40 acres and 80 acres, so we can't sell it for homes or recreation. We're stuck owning timber lands that we really don't control.
Orville Esteb, 64, is a third-generation logger and has been in the logging business for over 35 years. He has invested everything he has ever made in timberlands, hoping someday to be able to retire and pass them on to his children.