Weyerhaeuser’s long-sought sale of its hemlock timberland in Pacific County last week leaves it still a major player in local and Pacific Northwest forestry. But this move is nevertheless symbolic of ongoing transformational change in a pivotal industry.

One century ago in 1911, Weyco was the baron of local industry. It owned about 364 of the approximately 700 square miles of forest in Pacific County. With this sale, Weyco is down to 225 square miles — still a massive chunk of the Willapa Hills, but nowhere near as dominant as it once was. The company previously sold its land and mill in Clatsop County.

Looked at another way, Weyco’s Pacific County lumber holdings totaled 6 billion board feet in 1911. To put this into context, just before the recession the total annual timber harvest in all of Washington state came to about 4 billion feet. And Weyco’s worldwide sawmills had a processing capacity of 6 billion feet in 2008 — capacity that has since rapidly been whittled down with mill closures in the past two years. It’s safe to say that the company’s board-foot inventory here is a small fraction of what it was 100 years ago.

After the sale it will still own or manage more than 1 million acres in Washington, of which something like 14 percent is in Pacific County. Weyco noted in its press release it still employs 3,800 people in the “region” — presumably meaning the Northwest states. Its most recent Pacific County job count was about 107 at two Raymond mills, plus some others in the woods. 

Weyco clearly has a continuing and valuable role as a regional corporate citizen, but it is overtly out for itself. It has not, and will not, hesitate to cut any jobs and sell whatever land that its officers regard as non-essential to long-term profitability. 

With this lesson now hopefully firmly learned forever, all counties and the communities in them must form their own strategic visions. This includes being unafraid of insisting on a collaborative planning process with firms like Weyco and its successors such as Hancock, which made the land purchase last week.

The days when one company ruled the roost — and dictated terms to contractors, communities and lawmakers — are over and done with. This is a good thing.

Pacific, Clatsop, Grays Harbor and other counties in our region remain prime timber and pulp producers, along with many other types of economic activity tied to our remarkable forests.

In mature and humbler circumstances, it is time for Weyerhaeuser and all forestry companies to work with citizens on equal footing. These communities are here for good, while the corporate players will always come and go.

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