By Neva Knott
I live in Oregon where forests weave together people and place, connecting urban and rural, past generations and present. Forests underpin the economic health of the state, and are at the center of long-standing conflicts between loggers and environmentalists. Having grown weary of this conflict, and because I want solutions instead of the doom and gloom messages about the environment, I turned my attention to efforts around the globe to end forest-based conflicts. What I found is, project by project, community-based forest management is being used to solve forest-based environmental and economic problems. Overall, the goals of community forestry are: community well-being, sustainable livelihoods, and forest stewardship. In a time when federal harvest subsidies are ending for Oregon counties this combination of strategies makes sense.
Tree harvest has been the legacy of Oregon. The logs bring money but, as Oregonians are now finding, once the forest is depleted and the logging stops, people in forest-dependent communities find themselves trying to live in a clear-cut economy. On land left bare by logging, it is hard to survive.
If you live in Oregon, you’ve likely driven through this landscape. First, on descent from the mountain pass or just as you cross out of an urban center, you notice the bare patches where trees once stood. A few miles down the road, you slow in approach of a town. The mill is boarded up, the grocery, hardware store, and curio shops are closed. If you are lucky, there is a coffee stand. Maybe a restaurant. Maybe a quick-mart. Maybe a gas station. It’s pretty likely you’ll find a tavern or two. No matter the reason for the drive in Oregon, one is driving through forest land.
I road-trip around the state often, to hike, photograph, or just plain get out of the city. And for a brief while, I lived on the dry side of the Cascades, in Central Oregon. Since most of my life was still in Portland, I made frequent trips, taking the Willamette Pass or heading over Mt. Hood. On many of these high desert to city runs, I stopped at the Deschutes River Crossing Café in Warm Springs, at the bottom of the canyon, and literally at water’s edge. I stopped not for the food, but for the walls adorned with old photographs of the logging glory days. Of proud men standing seven or eight across the cut end of a fallen log, of trees so big they dwarf the machinery, of two loggers, each standing on an end of a misery saw, the middle of it stuck in the stump, of log floatillas on the river, of mills in full operation. Pictures of days gone by. Two scenes, one of boon and one of bust. This is the imagery of forests and the forest economy in Oregon.
About half of Oregon is forested. It appears to be a lush, green state, punctuated by high desert and coastlines. Oregonians take pride in big trees, clean rivers, clear skies, and robust salmon runs. Even so, Oregon forests are suffering the effects of a century or more of over-logging, wildfires, and other forms of degradation. Most of the old-growth forests are gone. These realities heralded the era of regulatory action. Laws were passed to protect wildlife, and those laws limited logging. The first reductions in harvest came in 1993 with the Northwest Forest Plan. Since then, timber harvests on public lands have decreased 82 per cent. Outcry arose in the populace—loggers versus environmentalists became part of Oregon’s common conversation. Dealing with decreased logging in the face of regulation has shaped the last 20 years of forest history here, to the extent that the status quo of this conflict at times seems irrevocable. Encouragingly, community forestry includes a framework for mitigation of such conflicts.
Community Forestry is a blend of science, policy, and culture, an action plan by which trees can rescue people and landscapes. When this model is followed, the result is that more, if not most, of the money gained from harvesting trees stays in the community near the forest. This eliminates the one-time payment, clear-cut and go model and replaces it with the long view, with sustainable harvests and ongoing revenue streams.
The Harrop-Proctor Co-op in British Columbia exemplifies the idea that, even though community forestry takes on a unique configuration in each location, common principles exist, one of which is that economic well-being and environmental stability can co-exist, and should. In 1999 they secured a public-lands tenure contract to manage the forests themselves. The Canadian tenure program shifts responsibility for forest management from government agency to the local community. The community is then responsible for the forest, and is allowed to keep any profits. At Harrop-Proctor, a fully functioning forest is left after harvest. This protects the watershed, ensures that there will be harvestable timber for a long time, and provides jobs. Much community involvement and effort went into building this enterprise; loggers and environmentalists alike pitched in. The Co-op manages the venture; each resident can purchase a lifetime share and gain voting rights, one share per person, one vote per share. Harrop-Proctor Forest Products does the work, harvesting, producing lumber, paneling, flooring, decking, siding, timbers, fencing, and the T-house—built from trees that are specifically selected for each house.
Burns Lake Community Forest, Ltd., was founded on the belief that rural communities should have a say in how the public forests they live in are managed. Burns Lake, also in British Columbia, shares similarities with many Oregon logging towns: a majority of citizens are employed in the forest industry; there are interconnected but diverse groups involved—tribal, local, state, and federal governments. At the outset of the project there was frustration over outside control of forests, either corporate or governmental; a mistrust of city-slickers who call all the shots without understanding local reality; and an us v. them mentality. In the early planning days, community involvement was greater. Now, a community of 2,700 persons benefits from the efforts of forestry experts who demonstrate that forests can and should be used as a natural resource to meet economic needs, and that those needs can be met while practicing forest stewardship. Burns Lake Community Forest operates as a tenure contract; in fact, it was the original pilot project for the tenure program. Just over 92, 000 hectares of mostly lodge pole pine are managed for sustainable yield timber. Forestry there is more than growing and harvesting of trees; it is community-building. In the first ten years of operation, donations to community programs ran to $3 million. Economic activity—dollars flowing into the community—totalled $103 million. The organization runs a log home building course, logging equipment trainings, and non-timber forest products workshops. Through its community tree program, 10 million seedlings have been planted. What makes this project so successful is a thoughtful system of focus, stemming from clear objectives. Loggers wanted less dependency on outsider big business and more control over management of their forests, and the community wanted their forestry project to operate as a self-sufficient business with jobs and profits.
These forestry management practices are distinctly different than the Business As Usual concession model, in which an outside company leases the land from the forest dwelling community, plants and manages a stand of trees, makes the harvest. In BAU, the forest community serves as a low-paid, expendable workforce, and the profits go to the concession-holder. This system creates the type of dependency on outside economic influence, rather than economic sustainability through forest management.
Instituting community forestry is a process. This message comes through every project story. One of the strongest suggestions given is that early work should focus on social education to help people understand community forestry. With that, it takes citizen participation—civic duty, if you will–and supportive government policy. Expertise in forestry and business management is essential.
I think this is the direction for Oregon; in fact, some such projects are starting to emerge.
The Oregon Coast Community Forestry Association is a fairly new organization, seeking to acquire, restore, protect and manage forest lands in Lincoln County. They are currently looking for 1, 000 to 10, 000 acres to purchase, and are in negotiation for Poole’s Slough.
Oregon Solutions at Portland State University works closely with collaborative groups, promoting a new style of community governance based on collaboration, integration of services, and how to manage sustainability.
Oregon State University’s extension services offers a Master Woodland Manager program, much like the familiar Master Gardeners. Once trained, Woodland Managers volunteer in their communities, helping neighbors with forestry planning. They also take on leadership roles in local government and give public presentations on forestry. This type of community interaction is what started The Greenbelt Movement in Kenya and tree-planting on Pemba.
These are forward-thinking, smart programs for Oregon, and are parallel to community forestry abroad. This work serves to dissolve the conflict of loggers v. the environment in favor of a new vision of healthy and productive Oregon forests and timber towns.
The Bureau of Land Management has a Stewardship Contract program awards 10-year contracts to logging firms and similar organizations for work that improves, maintains, or restores forest or rangeland, water quality, habitat, or reduces fire fuels.
To get a better sense of how these contracts work, I attended a meeting of the Clackamas Stewardship Partners. Forest rangers, sawmill owners, loggers, and environmental groups comprise CPS, and work employment through watershed stewardship. Between 2006-2010, they managed $6 million in projects and created $825,000 in timber sales, through the use of BLM Stewardship Contracts. Getting a contract works like getting a traditional bid. The forest agency, in this case Mt. Hood National Forest, offers up a lot of trees for harvest and sale, and timber contractors bid their price to do the work. In the traditional system, it’s straight dollars. In the stewardship contract system, the bid includes restoration work, so the purchase price is a mix of services and money. One might look something like, for that stand of trees, the contractor will build two river culverts and pay $250,000. Profit comes for the contractor when he sells the end product, either as raw logs or value-added lumber or wood products.
Other examples of groups using stewardship contracting are The Siuslaw Basin Partnership that operates a contract for streamside tree planting. The Central Oregon Partnership for Wildfire Risk Reduction harvests small diameter wood and sells it for biofuels production. They also work to develop new markets for biomass, and to develop long-term community jobs. Southern Oregon Small Diameter Collaborative conducts forest thinning to provide jobs, reduce fire risk, and improve forest health.
The Lakeview Stewardship Group stands as an excellent example of a collaborative operation. Members of the collaborative include The Collins Companies—a logging and sawmill operation, Fremont-Winema National Forest, Lake County Chamber of Commerce, Oregon Wild, the local high school, and others. The Group works with a broader reach than operation of stewardship contracts alone. This collaborative actually began in 1950 as a timber-harvest and mill operation on federal land. After the imposition of harvest limits, the Group reshaped itself in 1998, to become what it is today. Not only does the group work on forest restoration and improved watershed quality, it operates a stewardship contract for small diameter removal and milling. This saw mill also processes logs from private woodlots. The Group provides community workforce training, and has taken a lead, alongside the US Forest Service and BLM in biomass and biofuel research. Lakeview is also part of The Nature Conservancy’s Northwest Fire Learning Network. Lakeview Stewardship Group’s story can serve as an emblem for Oregon. First an aggressive logging operation halted by regulatory measures, now a leadership group in advancing new forestry management in hand with community vitality.
Finding additional ways to profit from forests is a concept that will serve Oregon well. Several groups are marketing salvage wood for biomass energy production. Other suggestions include finding use for small trees, once considered junk, that are cut to thin growing forest stands. Some collaborative groups are researching new markets for products made from these trees. Governor Kitzhaber, in his November speech to the Oregon Board of Forestry, raised concern over the fact that, currently, most of Oregon’s raw logs are exported to Asia. He adamantly supports finding new uses locally, which will create jobs and profits for Oregon. I envision opportunity for micro-niche economies arising in artisan craftsmanship. Canoe paddles, hunting bows, small watercraft, bowls and even furniture—the types of goods local Native Americans made. As well, forests support the growth of other marketable products, such as mushrooms, huckleberries, and other wild edibles and medicinal herbs.
Oregon can make good use of the community forestry model. Policy support and direction exists. Our current Governor, John Kitzhaber, is sincerely invested in forestry management, as he clearly stated in his recent address of the state Board of Forestry. Our previous Governor, Ted Kulongoski, also worked with the OBF to develop a plan for use of federal forest lands, with the goal of restoration from past over-harvesting and sustainable future management for economic, social, and ecological values. There is rich economic opportunity in restoration work here. Both governors spoke to the need to support emerging collaborative groups. Both speak to the need to move beyond conflicts and to develop a shared vision and community engagement in the process for managing Oregon’s greatest natural resource.
As is demonstrated time and again in community forestry stories, localized control makes the biggest difference. Extending the decision making to the community level is key as a rural logging towns work to solve their clear-cut problems. Then, these emerging opportunities can be seized. The idea is simple—the community puts the production value of the forest to work for the community, while holding on to what Oregonians value in our forests, in terms of both conservation and economics.
I grew up in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. They are iconic imagery in my mind. It’s fall now, chantrelle mushroom season. For just a moment, I’m carried back to mushroom hunting with my dad and his life-long friend and colleague, both directors at Washington Game Department. Every trip they’d argue, both grinning, about where the best mushrooms were—in this stand of second growth or just down the logging road a bit. There’s nothing better in September than chantrelles cooked in butter with a little sage. I would never buy imported chantrelles. I’ve come to think twice before making all my purchases. I now drive a diesel car and fuel it with Oregon-made biofuel. As I add furniture to my home, I’m committed to purchasing local goods rather than something flimsy from Ikea or Target. In the big picture, the shared vision, of a healthy forest economy, we are all part of the community of Oregon. Each of us consumes wood products, paper, and other goods that come from the forest. Let’s make local habit.
I feel confident that, with the hard work that built such as successful logging industry here in the past centuries, this state will pull through to a new era of healthy forests and a strong forest-based economy, as she has always done—under the power of her own wings. 1 Then, as I drive down that mountain pass and into that small town, I will see Open signs, proudly displayed.
1 Oregon State Motto