PORTLAND – The unexpected collaboration of industry, environmentalists and government agencies that saved mill jobs in Oregon’s Grant County could be a model for restoration forest policy elsewhere, panelists said at a May 27 timber symposium.
Working with the U.S. Forest Service, the Blue Mountains Forest Partners helped forge a 10-year agreement to restore 272,000 acres of the Malheur National Forest through thinning projects and other work. The work, funded by a $2.5 million allocation from USDA, provides logging and mill jobs, reduces fire danger and improves the ecosystem, panelists at the Forests and the Economy Symposium said.
“We had the idea we were the smartest guys in the room,” said Bruce Daucsavage, president of Ochoco Lumber Co. “When we hit the wall a couple years ago, we needed help.”
The company in 2012 announced it would close its John Day sawmill because it could not get a sufficient supply of logs from the national forest. The mill was Grant County’s biggest private employer, providing 70 to 80 jobs in a county of 1,700 people, and the prospect of closure was grim news.
But the potential job losses, combined with issues of forest health and the prospect of catastrophic fire in overgrown woods, provided common ground for finding a solution, panelists agreed.
The agreement, essentially science-based, long-term landscape management contracts, required Ochoco Lumber to make some changes, Daucsavage said.
“I have to take that science and figure out how to make a profit with it,” he said. “We go out in the woods and figure out what will work.”
Processing and marketing small logs removed during thinning work is “always a challenge,” Daucsavage said. The company invested $12 million in new facilities. It installed a whole log shaver, which produces shavings for use as animal bedding, and added the capacity to make wood chips or compressed wood bricks for heating.
In joining partners such as Sustainable Northwest and the Western Environmental Law Center, the company “opened ourselves up,” Daucsavage said. “We will never get everything we want, but what we’ve got going right now is wonderful.”
“They gave up management as usual and embraced a (forest) restoration approach,” said Susan Jane Brown, staff attorney with the law center.
The approach was different for the law center, as well. “I’m a litigator. My day job is suing the Forest Service and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) over forest practices,” Brown quipped. The task of “bringing science to the table” involved experts and community stakeholders going out on the ground where forest policy issues are coming up, she said.
Daucsavage, Brown and Patrick Shannon, forest program director with Sustainable Northwest, said collaboration may work in Eastern Oregon because so many involved in forest policy issues, from all sides, have hit bottom and are looking for solutions.
“Industry wasn’t seeing logs come off (the national forests) and my side wasn’t seeing old growth protection,” Brown said.
Other issues covered during the symposium included panel discussions of the “missing middle” in forest policy and the cost of wildfire suppression.
The event was hosted by InvestigateWest, a nonprofit investigative newsroom, and the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications.