Mt. Emily key to area’s tourism

May 26, 2010 04:45 pm
The Grande Ronde Valley is at a critical point. We can allow the economic struggles we face to split us into the usual factions, or we can work together for our future.

Logging and mill work have dwindled. The rate of tree growth on Oregon’s dry side promises that trees here will grow at about half the rate they do in Western Oregon. Boise Cascade has a good history in the valley both as an employer and as an organization that has been generous to the community. Our way of life is changing; there are funds for retraining. If we don’t retool, our community will know a future more bleak. It’s time to acknowledge that there is insufficient merchantable timber remaining to keep all of our loggers at work and our mills running at the old rate.

The question is how do we preserve a future here? If we cut the selected two-thirds of the trees in the Mount Emily Recreation Area, as Forest Capital plans to do, this will provide needed gains now, temporarily revitalizing our loggers and mill workers. This looks very attractive. If, on the other hand, we cut at a sustainable rate, we don’t have as many jobs now, but we will have trees to harvest now and in the future. Either way, we cut.

Oregon has allowed lots of types of logging in many places. Oregon wisely limited extreme logging next to major highways since this would be death to tourism.

Tourism is our future and Mount Emily is at its core. Tourism is in Union County still largely underdeveloped. Our natural beauty is essential to it. Try counting the number of businesses that use our mountains as part of their logos or names. As urban pressure increases in cities, more tourism will push this way. (Think Bend, for better or worse.)

It’s time to let the county manage all the MERA trees for the long term (as Boise did for many years). The county commissioners were not able to purchase the land and all of the trees. They promised to manage the land for all uses — grazing, timber production, fire management and recreation. So far $100,000 has been committed by neighbors toward buying the trees for the county; $500,000 more is needed by June.

We want sustainable job growth. Let us not be so fearful of being on the wrong side of tradition that we become blind to inevitable change and economic potential. While Union County tourism is in its infancy, we become a more valuable destination as urban areas grow. The farmer does much to avoid eating next year’s seed crop.

Forest Capital is not Boise Cascade. They do not cut in the reserved way to which we are accustomed. Forest Capital is not good or bad, they merely want the biggest return for their shareholders. If they cut two-thirds of timber on the visible MERA units (the face of Mount Emily), we will see a kind of shearing we have not known here. Forest Capital has a pretty good deal. Union County as the land owner will be responsible for all reforestation costs.

Visualize Mount Emily. Visualize it as a once beautiful, lushly furred animal that now is covered in bald patches, that now has a buzz cut on the thin remains. This mangy looking animal will provide a bit of work now for its caretakers (not all the species can be milled here), but the work will end the only foreseeable means to economic growth. It will not be the area we have used for generations under Boise’s management. When change is coming, it is best to look at gains and losses. If we lose the chance to manage the face of our MERA lands for the long term, we lose what future we have.

There’ll be no point worrying over which specific groups will use it. We can be sure that our recreation area will not draw the future to us.

Union County is an impoverished area. The only way to improve is to grow. The only way to attract and keep dentists, doctors and the like is to attract those who love the outdoors more than the mall. We can grow tourism among outdoors people. Tourists will spend money here. Some will like us so much, they’ll move here, using the Internet for work. Such a future requires the county to manage Mount Emily now.

Funds are being sought out of the area. Those outside the area need to see that we, in the valley, support a sustainable future.

Nature Conservancy grants are not possible because we are committed to logging, grazing, fire management and other uses. This is no more us and them. There is only us, and we must get it together quickly. Please donate to the Union County fund.

Jeri Watson is a La Grande resident.