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Summer wildfires leave behind a scorched path of damaged timber lands

Local timber companies are paying the price for the timber lost in summer wildfires. One company says their trees would be mature in 15 years. They lost 35 acres in the High Pass fire. (SBG photo)

JUNCTION CITY, Ore. – After a slew of human-caused wildfires, the district forester said the 2016 season was worse than usual in western Lane County.

The High Pass fire west of Junction City was the largest and costliest of the season.

Now, more than a month after the fire was extinguished, landowners are examining its financial repercussions.

It cost $2.7 million to put out the fire that tore through the hills west of Junction City. But that's just the beginning. For the companies that own these lands, they’ll now need to make up decades of lost profit.

“These are very productive timber lands, grow some of the best, most productive forest lands in the world in this area,” said Cary Hart, chief forester of Giustina Land and Timber.

With the High Pass fire, 200 acres went up in smoke. And for one timber company, potentially $350,000 burned with it.

“We're still kind of getting our head around it to be honest,” Hart said.

Giustina Land and Timber lost 35 acres that was nearly ready for harvest.

“In 15 years, it probably would have been 25,000 board feet per acre which might be worth $10,000 an acre,” Hart said.

“It's a significant loss, a loss of time, a loss of growing seasons, and then there's no value in that timber, trees that were burned so now they have to come back in and financially start over,” said Link Smith, Western Lane District forester.

Statewide, forestry is a multi-billion-dollar industry. But loss from fire is hard to quantify.

Generally, total economic impact is estimated at three times the cost of fighting the fire. Not to mention the domino effect it has on the supply chain.

The cost of replanting is $400 an acre as the companies start from scratch.

“Clearing the site of the timber that was burned, doing some salvage logging. I think it's going to have very low value and then this winter we'll be replanting the area, reforesting, kind of get it started back,” Hart said.

Fire season is nearly over. Now, it’s about damage assessment and regrowth.

Two other companies and the Bureau of Land Management lost timber in the High Pass fire.

The district only budgets $2 million a year to firefighting. That money is usually spent quickly. Any remaining costs come from and emergency fund that landowners pay into.

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