By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The outlook may be bleak in some other areas of the state and region, but the timber industry in Northeast Oregon in healthy and the outlook for the rest of the year is optimistic, Boise Cascade officials say.

The market indications are for an upturn in prices, and we are optimistic about what the rest of the year will bring, said Dave Salmon, regional human resources manager, from his La Grande office.

The three area Boise plants produce studs in Elgin and La Grande, particle boards in La Grande and plywood in Elgin.

We are feeling good about our place in the market and the market conditions now. Things are picking up, Salmon said.

We are anticipating further recovery in market conditions as the year passes. Locally that is good news and a general trend at Boise Cascade. We have very, very diverse markets.

The pricing of all local lumber, particle boards, plywood panels and studs appears to be on the rise.

Nationally, the composite price for 1,000 board feet of framing lumber has increased steadily over the past few weeks, although the price is down considerably from the highs of 1999. As of Friday, the price was $322, up from $314 for the week ending Feb. 15 and compared to $299 the previous week and $285 for the same week in 2001.

Salmon said the company sees some seasonal fluctuations but positive, upward trends in our business indicators.

There is a lag in the particle board sales right now, he said, where prices are flat, but the trend is for that product to follow the lead of the companys other products since that material is sold mainly to furniture manufacturers.

Right now, I dont see an upward trend in particle board prices.

The sequence in sales is that the studs and plywood go out first and are used to build houses; then material goes for producing windows, Salmon said.

A main reason for Boises success in the region, Salmon said, is we have dependable customers who prefer our product over other producers, and that helps keep our supply and demand in balance.

He was referring mainly to the premium studs produced in the Elgin sawmill and the wood turned out in La Grande for the window manufacturer.

Another bright spot locally has been the fact that the logging season had good weather and the local mills have a good supply of logs.

And a lot of those are off our own lands, which are managed for sustainable yields, Salmon said. We have a good base of timber here and are able to survive.

He does not anticipate any market-related down time in the coming months. There may be some shutdown at the particle mill for installation of new equipment later in the year, but Salmon was not certain if they would affect one or both production lines.

Neither will there be any change in the volume of production in the local mills other than to continue to try to improve, Salmon said.

Single-family housing starts nationally are a good indication of how much lumber is being used, and the National Association of Homebuilders reported that starts in January rose 6.3 percent over the previous month. that was the fastest monthly increase in two years. Homebuilders credited continued low interest rates for that success.