Can this forest coalition succeed?

2012-06-16 Ashley Bach

Will a new collaboration between government, the timber industry and environmentalists in Northeast Oregon succeed where others appear to have failed?

All those parties are on the verge of forming coalitions that “would work out differences that might otherwise hold up work on timber projects” in the Umatilla National Forest and the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, according to the La Grande Observer.

Both collaboratives will study project proposals and make recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service. The result could be healthier tree stands, improved wildlife habitat and a more reliable timber supply for area sawmills, said Union County Commissioner Mark Davidson.

“This is the first time a forest collaborative has been formed in Northeast Oregon,” Davidson said. “There are examples in other places where it has been successful. The goal is ecological resiliency and support for communities.”

A similar project in Southern Oregon headed up by the Bureau of Land Management has not turned out well. Earlier this year the Oregon timber industry called the series of pilot forestry projects there a “failed experiment.”

But for now, the industry is on board the coalitions in Northeast Oregon. And the federal government is not yet involved. County governments, along with the timber industry, environmental groups and local tribes, will make recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service.

Bringing all the parties together should pay off in the end. Environmental groups in Montana recently sued to stop a thinning project in the Flathead National Forest, a move unlikely if the groups had been involved in the planning.

The La Grande Observer editorial board is encouraged by the news of cooperation in Northeast Oregon.

(The stakeholders) are to be commended for coming together to find common ground that would improve the health of the forests and the economy…

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…

More logging in local forests means more local jobs. Finding ways to balance environmental concerns with industry needs is critical for our future.