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Hampton: Local sawmills facing challenging times

David Hampton started working in the woods at the age of 18 and has helped manage his family’s forestlands for over 30 years. As a member of the company’s Board of Directors of Hampton Lumber, David continues to be an advocate for working forests and strives to ensure that Hampton’s forestlands are healthy and productive for generations to come.
David Hampton started working in the woods at the age of 18 and has helped manage his family’s forestlands for over 30 years. As a member of the company’s Board of Directors of Hampton Lumber, David continues to be an advocate for working forests and strives to ensure that Hampton’s forestlands are healthy and productive for generations to come.

Last year, Hampton Lumber celebrated its 80th Anniversary.

Our Willamina mill, purchased in 1942 by my grandfather, was our first mill. So I spent much of my career in the forests in and around Yamhill County.

While I no longer work in the woods, I remain engaged in the Willamina community, a place that contains so many friends and colleagues. Through the ups and downs in log supply and lumber markets, my family has remained committed to the mill, its employees and the broader community.

Unfortunately, the sawmills that survived the devastating shutdown of harvests on federal forests in the early 1990s are now facing a new threat.

Harvest levels on state forests — the backbone of the local wood manufacturing sector — are about to drop 25% to 30% from current levels. That’s due to the state Board of Forestry’s unconscionable preference for a highly restrictive Habitat Conservation Plan over more balanced options that were also on the table.

In addition, the recently negotiated Private Forest Accord, which we view as costly but necessary, promises to restrict log availability from private lands throughout the state.

The U.S. already imports 30 percent of its softwood lumber, shrinking the domestic market share to 70%. With dwindling harvests locally, Pacific Northwest wood manufacturers can expect to see harvests increase in other parts of the country to fill the void.

Some mills will certainly shutter in the coming years as a result of these changes in forest policy. Coupled with a looming recession, many in the industry are battening down the hatches in hopes of weathering the approaching storm.

I say all this not to scare, but to prepare the community for what lies ahead.

Timber has always been a volatile industry. If we as a society value our existing local wood manufacturing capacity — and want to maintain it, as I believe we do — we need the state’s elected and appointed officials to take action to ensure its future.

We need to sustain what timber supplies remain on private lands and hold state forest managers accountable for meeting the harvest targets they set for themselves year after year on state lands. We also need to encourage better management of our federal forests to decrease fuel loads, generate economic activity and reduce and the risk of catastrophic wildfires that threaten lives and livelihoods.

Being one of the state’s oldest industries, some might take the forest sector and all the social, environmental, and economic benefits it provides for granted. But tipping points exist in all industries and in all communities.

After eight decades in business, we are experienced and hardened. We are committed to doing what we can to ensure our mill in Willamina makes it another 80 years.

It will require continuous improvement on our part, along with common-sense policymaking from all levels of government and investment in creative methods to support milling infrastructure.

We’re up for the challenge. We hope others are, too.

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