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Originally published April 6, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 6, 2009 at 1:13 AM

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Fewer timber sales mean less revenue for public schools

It's the unkindest cut of all for public-school construction in Washington state. Hard times have taken an ax to bidding at state timber auctions, whittling revenue for new schools and renovations.

OLYMPIA — It's the unkindest cut of all for public-school construction in Washington state. Hard times have taken an ax to bidding at state timber auctions, whittling revenue for new schools and renovations.

On March 24 the state Department of Natural Resources offered 14 timber contracts in 10 counties, but nobody bid on eight, so only six were sold.

"I would attribute it to the national economy and the housing market," said Loren Torgerson, a regional manager for the agency in Colville, Stevens County.

While it's not uncommon for some timber sales to go without any bids, "certainly there are more than we usually ever have that didn't sell," said Jane Chavey, an agency spokeswoman.

At least some of the unsold tracts, including one covering nearly 3.2 million board of timber southwest of Conconully for which the minimum bid was $322,000, will be reappraised and likely put out to bid again, Torgerson told The Wenatchee World.

Gordon Beck, facilities director in the state school superintendent's office in Olympia, said timber sales had been projected to provide $143.8 million of the $670 million needed in the school-construction fund for the two years starting July 1.

Now, Beck said, "I think that has fallen to below $100 million."

Lawmakers appear ready to take out bonds to meet the state's commitments, he said.

"You've got school districts that passed bonds that have an expectation of getting matching funds," Beck said.

As recently as 15 years ago, timber revenue provided more than half the money for the fund. Since then, the proportion has dropped steadily, mostly because of increases in the cost of construction materials and labor and will be less than one-sixth of the total in the next biennium, he said.

In addition to funding the school-construction account, about 30 percent of the timber-sale revenues are used to manage the state's trust lands. The department has laid off 100 employees out of about 1,300 workers, and more cuts may be coming, Chavey said.

"We're not through the woods yet," she said.

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In the year that ended June 30, the state offered 216 timber sales and 191 sold. The sales amounted to 95 percent of the volume of timber offered and the average price was $247 per thousand board feet.

In the current fiscal year, which ends next June 30, 63 of 83 timber sales amounted to 74 percent of the volume that was offered and the average price was $213 per thousand board feet.

In March that dropped to 38 percent of the volume sold for an average of $187 per thousand board feet.

Many lumber and plywood mills can't afford to bid, said Lloyd McGee, procurement forester for Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville.

"Right now, the trees can't pay their own way out of the woods," McGee said. "We're not making lumber, and we're not buying logs."

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