CANYON CITY – The Grant County Court recently reiterated its support for the work of the Blue Mountains Forest Partners.

“You have a statewide reputation of getting things done,” Commissioner Boyd Britton told members of the group at the March 5 Court meeting. “My hat is off to you. You are making other people’s jobs easier.”

Vernita Ediger, executive director of the collaborative, briefed the Court on the collaborative’s progress in its eight years advancing resource projects on the Malheur National Forest.

She said the Partners are contributing to the improved health of the forest, habitat, recreation and other factors – including the economic health of the communities.

“These are things that are all very important to the economy of Grant County,” she said.

Zach Williams noted the partnership of diverse interests grew out of a time when litigation was paralyzing forest management, the local industry, and forest restoration “as it was intended to be done.”

The initial efforts at collaboration were slow “and painful to some people, maybe painful to everyone.”

Ediger said the group, working with its Forest Service partners, scientists and other resources, has persevered toward “a shared vision.”

This in turn reduces conflict, avoids “the quagmire of litigation,” and speeds the environmental review process, she said.

The group helps chart projects of increasing size on the forest, hoping to reduce a backlog of management needs that have impacts for forest health and community stability.

Mike Billman noted the group’s early projects started in the 5,000 to 7,000 acre range. Now they are working consistently on efforts that span 35,000 acres and more.

The percentage treated within those tracts also is on the rise, he said, reaching about 50 percent, up from the 25 percent level seen in the past.

He said the collaborative’s work also played an important role in keeping the area’s only operating mill, Malheur Lumber Co., running.

Ediger said the Partners were a significant part of securing the 10-year stewardship contract as well as federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program funding for the Malheur.

“Our input is required for the Forest Service to proceed with these projects,” she noted.

Mark Webb, a collaborative participant and former county judge, called the effort “central” to the 10-year contract. A well informed, functioning collaborative is necessary to see that program continue, he said.

Asked how the Court can help, Webb noted the county has been a partner from the start, and he noted that elected officials can “open a lot of doors” as the group moves forward.

He said the Court can offer public support for the group’s mission, and consider recommending the collaborative for Title II dollars to help underwrite its costs.

The Court considered but stopped short of waiving the monthly rent for the organization, which has an office at the county’s “L” Building on Main Street in John Day.

Britton proposed the waiver, but the motion failed 2-1. Judge Scott Myers and Commissioner Chris Labhart said they felt the county could support the Partners in other ways, such as Title II funding.

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