Forest health means jobs

By Observer editorial March 25, 2013 09:01 am

A sustainable ecosystem equals a healthy economy. That’s why we must strike a careful balance between necessary environmental protection and the economy.

The idea, however, that trucks retrieving logs for the Boise Cascade sawmill leave La Grande at 2 a.m. to begin their daylong, 480-mile round trips to the Mount Hood National Forest, Washington’s Okanogan National Forest and other national forests in Idaho is absurd.

That only 11 percent of the 800 million board feet of wood fiber annually reaching maturity in the Wallowa-Whitman, Umatilla and Malheur national forests gets to sawmills, while 400 million board feet succumb to insects, disease, fire and age is equally absurd. 

Consider the irony. As industry spokesman Tom Partin said, the mills’ situation is like “starving to death when you are standing beside the refrigerator.”

It’s time that we keep public lands public. It’s time that we think of forest health as it relates to county revenues and timber worker jobs. It’s time to go back to more sustained-yield forestry.

That’s why it’s good news that the top U.S. Forest Service official for Oregon and Washington, Kent Connaughton, has set his sights on an ambitious, multiyear program of tree thinning and forest restoration in the Blue Mountains. The progam could mean more timber for mills while battling the scourges of tree-killing insects, disease and wildfires.

The lack of local harvest has put mills in jeopardy. As Bill Aney, U.S. Forest Service restoration coordinator for the Blue Mountains says, “We can’t afford to lose the mills. We can’t afford to lose the forests.”

Sure, the idea of stopping clear-cuts and habitat destruction has merit. However, the result of these sometimes overzealous environmental policies has been severely limited harvests in Eastern Oregon’s national forests for two decades. The result? More fuel for forest fires. Fewer jobs.

Here’s hoping Connaughton’s program brings about forest restoration while preserving old growth and the most critical wildlife corridors.

People who live and work in Northeast Oregon appreciate our iconic Blue Mountains. We love the hunting and the fishing. We love the woodcutting, mushroom and berry picking and other opportunities they provide. Now if the Blue Mountains could also provide additional family wage jobs and make more timber available to local mills, while preserving environmental integrity, life would be good.