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Swanson closure is latest in long series of shutdowns

Oregon's timber industry has been hard hit by a prolonged economic downturn, shuttering mills throughout the state.

The last large-scale sawmill in Jackson County, owned by Boise Cascade, was shut down then dismantled in March 2009.

Boise Cascade's mill in White City began closing in January 2008, with 32 of 59 workers losing their jobs.

Boise closed its other sawmill in north Medford in 1998 after a fire.

Over the past 25 years, Jackson County has seen at least 17 mills close their doors.

Boise officials decided to demolish the White City sawmill rather than mothball it because the amount of timber flowing out of local forests has slowed markedly.

Boise needed sufficient quantities of ponderosa and sugar pine, which was processed at the sawmill then sold to companies that made doors, windows and other finished wood products.

The effects of the economy and the slowdown in the construction industry are starkly revealed in statistics released recently by the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Oregon's 2009 timber harvest hit historic lows.

A harvest of 2.75 billion board feet in 2009 almost reached Great Depression-era lows of 2.62 billion board feet, forestry officials found. The 2009 harvest was 20 percent lower than 2008.

The forestry department expects a recovery in timber harvests won't occur until 2011.

Timber harvests in Oregon now are mainly on forestland owned by the timber industry, but those harvests declined sharply. In 2008, 2.583 billion board feet were cut on industry land, or 75 percent of Oregon's harvest. In 2009, the amount dropped by 23 percent to 1.99 billion board feet.

The biggest decline in timber harvests occurred in Western Oregon, according to state forestry officials.

The timber industry harvested more timber in 2009 than in 2008 in Klamath, Jefferson, Morrow, and Wasco counties.

Yamhill was the only county in Western Oregon that harvested more timber in 2009 than in 2008, the forestry department found.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.