Keep Mt. Emily a working forest

May 15, 2008 02:53 pm

We are voting yes on the proposed 3,669-acre Mount Emily Recreation Area, which is a yes vote for local control, for sustainable and managed natural resource production, for economic development and for keeping land open for the public for recreation.

Without a viable wood products industry in Union County, every economic and aesthetic aspect of our community suffers — housing prices, goods and services, recreation, quality of life, etc. Today more than ever, the viability of the wood products industry in Union County depends on sustainable production from private timberlands. By far the largest percentage of logs purchased by Boise Cascade comes from private timberlands — less than 10 percent comes from public lands.

We believe the Union County commissioners, with help from the community, should be working to ensure that private timberlands in the region remain working forests — forests where timber, range, watershed, wildlife and all the amenities that go with those lands are maintained on a sustainable basis.

We believe local control of those timberlands, through private or public holdings, is the key to ensuring that residents of Union County continue to enjoy the historic legacy provided by those lands.

The East Oregonian published two informative articles March 8 and 9 titled “Keep Our Land Locally Owned” and “USell off of Timberland Cuts Deep” (go to to view).

Mike Forrester, board chairman of the East Oregonian, documented a trend whereby outside investors are buying up private timberlands, and in many cases excluding public access, subdividing the property, and in general impacting the use of those lands for sustainable timber production.

Although the impacts to the wood products industry in our region are evident from this documented trend, the impacts to wildlife, water resources and recreation use is no less severe. Locked gates, “no trespassing” signs, and fragmented management of timberlands is, and will continue to negatively impact our lives and economy here in Union County.

Additional information regarding the importance of maintaining our private timberlands as productive, working forests comes from our neighbors to the west.

Morrow County owns more than 8,000 acres of timberland — in Morrow and Grant counties. Those timberlands are used for sustainable timber production, livestock grazing, wildlife habitat and recreation.

Hood River County owns about 50,000 acres of timberlands located in Hood River County, Umatilla County and Grant County. Hood River County manages the timber on those lands on a sustainable basis, which also benefits wildlife, water resources and public recreation. Hood River County and Morrow County are actively pursuing acquisition of additional timberlands.

Clearly, Morrow County and Hood River County realize the economic and community benefits that intact timberlands provide. Furthermore, all residents of those counties that those lands are located in benefit immensely from that management approach.

The proposed Mount Emily Recreation Area includes some of the most productive private timberlands in Union County. Under Union County’s ownership, the area will provide not only recreation opportunities and economic development potential from visitor use, but as the comparison below shows, also will provide the largest net economic benefit to Union County residents from direct fees paid to Union County:

• Retained as 3,669 acres of managed timberland, it would result in a net of $125,000 to $200,000 per year as timber receipts to Union County (depending on log prices).

• In contrast to this, partitioned into 15 housing sites of 240 acres each, allowed under current zoning and assuming a $300,000 house and improvements per site, would result only in a total (all lots) of $30,000 per year being paid to Union County as taxes.

We have an opportunity to retain the 3,700 acres of productive timberland that comprises the Mount Emily Recreation Area — as productive timberland. Although this acreage by and of itself is not sufficient to make or break our local wood products industry, we believe every acre retained as a working forest counts. This productive timberland will also be managed for sustainable livestock grazing, wildlife habitat and public recreation

The acquisition and management of this property will not be a financial burden to residents of Union County. Union County is proposing to acquire the property using grants and a program related timber investment from a philanthropic foundation — no general fund money will be used and there will be no obligation, risk or recourse to the county as a result of the investment.

A yes vote in the May 20 primary to have Union County commissioners continue to pursue acquisition of the proposed Mount Emily Recreation Area is a win for our community. Saving Mount Emily means helping our economy today and providing a legacy of natural resource production and recreation for today and the future.

Submitted by Rick and Tina Bowen, Mark Larson, Greg Howard, Scott Noble, Joel Hasse, Bart and Pam Barlow, Joel Rice, Matt Allen, Clint Smithe and Lance Coburn.