A 10-year stewardship contract on the Malheur National Forest supported 268 jobs in Grant and Harney counties from 2015 through 2017, according to a 2018 study by the University of Oregon.
On top of that, the work value of forest and watershed restoration activities came to about $1.2 million per year, and Malheur National Forest operations added $3 million per year, the study found. The stewardship contract also addressed economic uncertainty.
“The logs provided under the stewardship contract have been essential in keeping Malheur Lumber, the lone traditional sawmill in Grant County, operating,” the university study said.
The mill invested in equipment to handle smaller-diameter logs and to produce bioenergy products, the study said. Iron Triangle established a bioenergy production line in John Day, and both Iron Triangle and Grayback Forestry purchased and renovated facilities in Seneca to process posts and poles.
The Forest Service awarded the stewardship contract to Iron Triangle in September 2013. The contract’s goals were to promote ecological restoration, reduce the risk of wildfire and improve economic vitality on 180,000 to 500,000 acres of forest land in Grant and Harney counties.
The Forest Service at the time estimated the value of the contract at up to $69 million over 10 years, with as much as 500 million board-feet of timber harvested.
The contract was partially funded by the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program, with the Forest Service, Oregon State University and the Blue Mountains Forest Partners partnering to monitor the work. That work could increase to 500 plots in 100 different forest stands in 10 different planning areas in 2018.
Blue Mountains Forest Partners emerged in 2006. The collaborative group’s diverse stakeholders include loggers, environmentalists, ranchers, landowners, timber industry representatives, elected government officials and federal land managers.
“Prior to Blue Mountains Forest Partners’ inception, management of the Malheur National Forest was plagued by gridlock,” the group states in its website. “Not only did this have a negative impact on the local economy, it also prevented forest restoration work.”
The group says its mission is promoting the long-term well-being of the forest.
“The forest’s declining condition is largely due to a combination of fire suppression, social and legal gridlock that arose as a result of dissenting stakeholders views and sharply curtailed silvicultural management, outcomes of well-intentioned policies and advocacies that have produced a myriad of unforeseen and unintended negative consequences,” the website states.
Mark Webb, the collaborative group’s executive director, updated the Grant County Court about the group’s work.
Grant County’s economic opportunities are limited, Webb said. Google won’t set up a server center here, so the county will need to focus on its natural resources.
Webb said the collaborative process was mandated by federal law. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands in Grant County are public lands, so citizens across the U.S. have an interest in what happens to these lands. On the other hand, locals needed an additional voice, he said.
Without the stewardship contract, the Malheur Lumber Co. mill in John Day, would have shut down, Webb told the court. About 10 percent of the planning areas are being treated, and he would like to see that increased to 40 or 50 percent. That increase, however, might trigger more administrative work under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Blue Mountains Forest Partners tries to help the Forest Service avoid litigation and to facilitate stewardship projects, Webb said. No litigation over timber projects on the Malheur National Forest has occurred since 2006, he said, but that might be because the stewardship treatments were not aggressive.
Webb said he’d like to see more aggressive treatments, but he expected that could spark litigation. The collaborative group might not want to be more aggressive, he said.
According to the study by the University of Oregon’s Ecosystem Workforce Program, about 96 jobs supported by the stewardship contract from 2015 through 2017 were in the private forestry sector and involved harvesting and transporting timber or conducting forest and watershed restoration projects.
Another 36 jobs were at the Malheur Lumber Co. mill in John Day, where harvested timber was processed into lumber and bioenergy products. The stewardship contract also supported sawmill jobs in other northeastern Oregon locations.
The Malheur National Forest hired 55 additional employees to implement and monitor the stewardship contract, and 81 jobs at local businesses in Grant and Harney counties were supported through the economic multiplier effect, the study reported.
On average, about 38 million board-feet of timber was harvested each year under the stewardship contract, with about 15 million board-feet of sawlogs and 8,700 tons of non-sawtimber delivered to the mill in John Day, the study reported.
Webb estimated about one-third of logs harvested on the Malheur National Forest went to the mill in John Day and the rest went out of the county.
According to Blue Mountains Forest Partners, Iron Triangle increased employee wages by nearly $1 million from 2013 through 2016. The company also increased the number of subcontractors needed to meet the stewardship contract requirements and invested about $5 million in equipment.