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Logging increase critical
A collaborative effort is underway to bolster Northeast Oregon’s wood products industry by allowing more timber harvesting and that effort must succeed if our regional economy is to rebound and prosper.
Since last year, representatives from county governments, Native American tribes, the wood products industry, environmental and conservation groups, and others have been meeting to work out differences that might otherwise hold up work on timber projects on the Umatilla National Forest.
On Thursday, many of the same stakeholders and several others attended an initial meeting for a proposed Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Collaborative group.
Both collaboratives will study project proposals and make recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service that will hopefully result in healthier tree stands, improved wildlife habitat and a more reliable timber supply for area sawmills.
Collaborative members have visited several sites and have discussed ways to break legal and administrative gridlock to move forest restoration projects forward.
The goal of the collaboratives, according to Union County Commissioner Mark Davidson, is “ecological resiliency and support for communities.”
Many entities are already involved. The governments of Union, Umatilla, Wallowa, Morrow and Grant counties and the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation became members of the Umatilla Forest Collaborative Group, as did conservation organizations including Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Oregon Wild and The Nature Conservancy. Also on board are the American Forest Resource Council, the Association of Oregon Loggers, Boise Cascade and Blue Mountain Forest Products.
They are to be commended for coming together to find common ground that would improve the health of the forests and the economy.
The Hells Canyon Preservation Council, for example, advocates for protection of fish and wildlife habitat, old growth trees and ecosystems surrounding old-growth trees. But their collaborative representative said he thinks it can come to an agreement on thinning and harvesting.
Boise Cascade, with sawmills in La Grande and Elgin and a particleboard plant in Island City, has the most to gain if the collaborative approach works. With harvest activity almost at a standstill on national forests in the region, timber supply is a critical issue.
Much of the supply for the local mills comes from forests out of the region. That adds up to a big expense, one that could be reduced if logging increased on the Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman and Malheur national forests.
More logging in local forests means more local jobs. Finding ways to balance environmental concerns with industry needs is critical for our future.