A sale of county-owned timber this week added $2.5 million to Coos County's general fund, despite earlier predictions the county would forgo timber revenue for a second straight year.
While Coos County wasn't able to take advantage of a brief spike in the market this spring, timber prices were close to what they were when the county held its last sale in 2008.
"I'm glad we waited a year, because we got nearly double what we would have gotten," said Commissioner Bob Main.
County commissioners said in January they were prepared to go another year without a sale if timber prices did not improve. But prices shot up in April, because of the earthquake in Chile and a shortage of white woods used for making plywood, such as spruce, Coos County Forester Bob Laport said. The county advertised from May 11 through June 8, but by the time the sale rolled around, the market was already declining.
"During that time the world changed," Laport said. "There was a bubble caused by log inventory shortages. Things were really looking up. Now that's peaked and headed back down."
Timber companies bid on four of the five lots advertised. Laport said he was disappointed, though, because there were no bid-ups.
The one unclaimed lot will remain up for sale for the next 30 days. It could bring this week's total timber revenue to $3 million. Timber typically has generated between $3 million and $4 million a year for the county.
Douglas fir sold for $335.28 and $390.17 per thousand board feet, and Sitka spruce brought $263 and $265.72. Laport predicts prices will continue to drop throughout the summer, and he opposes additional timber sales for now.
"It's a poor time to do it with log prices going down," Laport said.
Despite Laport's grim outlook, Main is advocating the county also harvest timber along the Coos Bay Wagon Road this summer to create jobs.
"There's a lot of timber along that road," Main said, adding that clearing along the road would also allow in more sunlight.
The county owns a 100-yard right-of-way along Coos Bay Wagon Road from the Douglas County line to just south of Coos Bay. Logging there is complicated and costly, because of the gas pipeline and fiber optic cables underneath the road.
The county's timber is next to woods owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which has several sales planned for 2012 through 2014, Laport said. If the county waits to harvest its trees during that time, it can fall away from the road onto BLM property. Otherwise, loggers will have to fall parallel to Coos Bay Wagon Road, which creates the remote chance a limb could penetrate the road, damaging the pipeline.
"Unavoidably some are going to go right into the road," Laport said. The road would have to be closed for two weeks.
NW Natural, which manages the pipeline, has said it will charge the county $100 per hour to station an observer on site in case of an emergency.
"We are going to have to negotiate that or it may be a deal breaker," Main said.
Main doesn't want to wait several years until BLM has its timber sales, because he wants to create jobs immediately. The operation would open about five direct logging jobs plus truck drivers and mill workers, Main said.
"Every little bit helps for jobs," Main said.
Reporter Meghan Walsh can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235; or at firstname.lastname@example.org.