Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Continued weakness in housing construction sent the Oregon timber harvest to near historic lows last year, the state Department of Forestry said Friday.

The 2009 harvest was 2.748 billion board feet, a 20 percent decline from a weak 2008 and the lowest figure since a Great Depression-era harvest of 2.622 billion board feet.

Timber picked up some earlier this year, after a temporary bounce in log prices, but Forestry Department economist Gary Lettman was cautious about predicting a major recovery.

"The earliest would be 2011, but that's optimistic," he said.

Oregon's largest timber harvest was 9.743 billion board feet in 1972. The state maintained levels above 8 billion until the late 1980s, when environmental issues such as the spotted owl prompted sharp cutbacks in logging on federal lands.

In the past decade, the harvest slumped during the 2001 recession, rebounded during the housing boom, then plunged when the real estate bubble burst.

"We're not going to see major improvements until there's a turnaround in housing, nonresidential construction, remodeling markets," Lettman said. "And for housing, forecasters keep pushing that recovery into the future."

Most of last year's decline was in western Oregon, where the vast majority of the state's timber is harvested. State figures show a drop from 3.079 billion board feet in 2008 to 2.403 billion board feet in 2009.

Eastern Oregon, which saw a 45 percent drop between 2004 and '08, had a 5 percent decline in 2009.

Douglas County, in the southwestern part of the state, replaced neighboring Lane County as the state's top producer in timber volume. Yamhill County, in the wine country southwest of Portland, was the only western Oregon county to have a stronger 2009 than 2008.

Klamath County harvested the most timber in eastern Oregon, and had a 14 percent increase from 2008 to 2009.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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