Wilkeson retires from forest council
Longtime lobbyist reflects on aiding timber industry
By MITCH LIES
Ray Wilkeson, who helped craft the Oregon salmon plan and eliminate the state's timber severance tax, is retiring as president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council after 26 years.
Wilkeson is being replaced by Kristina McNitt, who has worked for OFIC as a contract lobbyist the last three years.
In the 1990s, after salmon runs were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, then Gov. John Kitzhaber, who has since been re-elected, worked with the timber industry to fend off efforts by the federal government to impose habitat protection plans in Oregon.
"Kitzhaber said, 'We're not going to do that. We can solve our own problems. We can come up with a state conservation plan that will do what is needed for salmon, but we're not going to deal with the federal government,'" Wilkeson said.
"That was a gratifying partnership, and it worked," Wilkeson said. "And we have done a lot for salmon. We've voluntarily spent millions of dollars on habitat improvement without having the federal government in here trying to tell us what to do."
Later, Wilkeson worked to remove a severance tax in timber that cost the industry $40 million annually.
"We argued that once we got past old growth and we were growing trees like a farmer grows corn, that tax was no longer appropriate," Wilkeson said.
The tax was similar to an extraction tax paid by oil companies for extracting natural resources.
"We ultimately got the Legislature to repeal it," he said. "It was a tough pill for the Legislature to swallow, because they don't like giving up tax revenue."
Wilkeson graduated from the University of Oregon law school in 1974 and in 1980 went to work for then Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as legislative director for his Washington, D.C., office. Sen. Wyden was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 and re-elected in 1998, 2004 and 2010.
"I really hadn't planned on being in politics for 30-plus years," Wilkeson said. "I was always interested in politics, but I never thought I would be directly involved in it."
As president of OFIC, Wilkeson represents Oregon's large timber companies and often lobbied in support of them before the Oregon Legislature.
"OFIC is kind of the face of the timber industry," Wilkeson said. "If people in state government or state politics have a question about timber, they talk to us."
Wilkeson said he believes he is leaving the organization in good shape, despite the industry continuing to struggle with the economic downturn.
"It's been horrible and it continues to be," he said. "And through all that time, we didn't lose any members.
"That shows me the membership is very loyal and appreciative of what we do for them.
"It's been very gratifying," he said.
McNitt, Wilkeson's replacement, has been a contract lobbyist in Salem for 12 years.
"She has been around Salem for a long time," Wilkeson said. "She knows the process, and I'm glad that she applied.
"She's a hard worker and she cares about natural resources," he said.
"I'm delighted to have been selected," McNitt said. "I've been contracting with OFIC for the past three years. Now I'll come in house and represent them in a broader role."
Wilkeson said he plans to spend more time at home with his wife, Barbara, and raising horses on the couple's 5 acres in Perrydale, Ore.
His last day on the job is June 30.