Drive outside Falls City, Oregon, and you'll see it: a lot of Douglas fir trees cut down to stumps. That image opens a ProPublica story about how Oregon—America's top lumber-producing state—allowed private timber companies to buy up land and suffered economically as a result. "You're left still with these companies that have reaped these benefits, but those small cities that have supported them over the years are left in the dust," says a Falls City official. It goes back to the 1990s, when the feds drastically reduced logging in national forests to protect the northern spotted owl. Wall Street investment funds and real estate trusts then snapped up private forestlands, in theory rescuing out-of-work loggers.
But Weyerhaeuser, Oregon's biggest such company, has severely cut its workforce while automating and consolidating jobs. A range of similar companies have also cost Oregon $3 billion or more in timber tax cuts, forcing politicians to hoist heavier taxes on struggling residents and small businesses. For its part, Weyerhaeuser says it donates to local needs like the Falls City Fire Department. But tell that to residents whose property taxes have jumped by 20%. Critics also say the companies log aggressively, clear-cutting without the same conservation laws found in other states. "Holy cannoli," says an Oregon attorney. "The old adage that 'what is good for the timber industry is good for Oregon' is no longer true." Hear a podcast about it at the Oregonian, or see ProPublica's full story. (Read more logging stories.)