Invent new ways to succeed

By Observer Upload July 16, 2012 02:12 pm

Residents of Union, Wallowa and Baker counties will tell you in a heartbeat that living in bucolic small towns amidst a sprawling and beautiful national forest is just great. If you asked them in a survey, they’d tell you they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ask them, though, what they think about the health of the surrounding forestland, loss of jobs in the timber industry, and government interference in their way of life, and the views expressed might not be so sunny. They weren’t, in fact, in the University of New Hampshire’s recently completed Communities and Forests in Oregon survey of people in the tri-county area.

Communities and Forests in Oregon is an ongoing project looking at the changes places like ours are going through as they struggle with forest issues. Those doing the survey say our area is a good example of rural America confronting declining timber production and changing economies.

For people who live here the survey, conducted last fall, doesn’t yield many surprises. Most of us want better forest health, more timber jobs, and less government regulation, and that’s what the majority of the survey respondents said.

Still, the researchers came to some interesting conclusions beyond the obvious. One says that “the pattern of survey responses reflects a region transitioning from historical resource dependency to a more diversified future based to a greater degree on natural amenities.”

That’s a pretty way of saying our old way of life, or at least one important part of that way, is dying out. Given the paltry number of lumber mills left standing in the wake of the resource use battles of the last quarter century, and the proliferation of artists trying to make a living off the scenery, you can’t really argue with it.

The survey gets really interesting when local responses are compared to those from people living in areas away from here, particularly the metropolitan areas. 

According to the results, people not from here disagree with us by and large on resource and land use. Generally, they favor less resource use and more regulation of what people can do with their property. 

That can’t bode well for small town folk who live only to give their kids full bellies and a shot at a college education. The city slickers have the vote.

We only wish they knew more about the current movement in Northeast Oregon, the intensive cooperative effort by community leaders, the wood products industry, forest agencies and conservationists to find ways to create jobs while conserving and improving the timber resource. 

There are many people here who passionately believe job creation and conservation can and should go together, hand in hand. If the New Hampshire survey teaches us anything, it’s that we need to show the world it’s true. 

It’s not a matter of going back to the old ways, after all. It’s a question of inventing a new one.