Northern Blue Mountains Coalition: Restoring Forests and Supporting Communities

We are pleased to support the Northern Blue Mountains Coalition. This is an effort to increase the pace and scale of restoration and acres treated on the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests to reduce the threat of uncharacteristic wildfire, increase habitat and forage and support economically vibrant communities.

Here’s the background on this new coalition:

Northern Blue Mountains Coalition (NBMC)

We need appropriated funding for the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests to emulate the success of the Malheur National Forest. This funding would be used to increase the pace and scale of restoration and acres treated to reduce the threat of uncharacteristic wildfire, increase habitat and forage, and support economically vibrant communities. Increased funding should help to support the ecological, economic and social need of the forests and local communities and maintain the current forest management infrastructure by increasing acres treated and producing a timber harvest of 75 million board feet per forest.

Background:

Unless action is taken, more of our Northern Blue Mountain Forests will succumb to catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease. The region will lose what is left of its forest products infrastructure, contributing to even higher levels of unemployment, poverty, declining school enrollments and rural flight. Restoration is desperately needed to ensure that these ecosystems are functional and resilient to future disturbances. Increasing the pace and scale of restoration is paramount to ensuring the continued survival of the Forests and the communities of place.

The Northern Blue Mountains Forests in Northeast Oregon (NEO) consist of an intermix of public and private forests that have a rich history of management and natural disturbances. The National Forests consist of the Umatilla, Wallowa-Whitman, and Malheur National Forests and cover approximately 4.9 million acres in Northeastern Oregon and Southeastern Washington. These forests surround many local communities that have experienced a significant downturn in employment that is directly associated with the reduction in timber availability from the publically owned National Forests.

The Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests are extremely overcrowded. Overcrowding leads to an increase in fuel loadings on the national forest. The encroachment by shade tolerant trees into the dryer areas of the forest has led to an increased susceptibility to crown fire. The crown density can lead to sustained spreading of wildfire in the affected stand. There is a significant need to reduce crown densities within the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman to protect values at risk as well as reduce the likelihood of a sustained crown fire in the areas where frequent ground fires were more common. Since we have been suppressing fires for over 100 years and have taken a different, more passive, approach to management since the early 1990s, we have seen an increase in density, reduced crown spacing, and increased shade-tolerant species. These shade tolerant species have been encroaching into areas that were historically open Ponderosa Pine stands.

Ecological

  • Northeast Oregon Forests are in desperate need of restoration and active management. In 2015, over 300,000 acres burned in uncharacteristic wildfires. Increased accumulation of fuels and canopy density contributed to the spread of the wildfires. Smoke inundated the valley for more than 3 weeks and likely caused significant respiratory issues for residents in the area.
  • Over 75% of the Wallowa-Whitman and Umatilla is at moderate to high risk for uncharacteristic wildfire. This threat, along with climate change and overstocked conditions, has contributed to the current unhealthy state of the forest.
  • In Northeast Oregon, the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman Forests grow approximately 600 million board feet per year. Approximately 300 million board feet of timber dies each year on these forests and this situation contributes to the uncharacteristic fuel loads in the forest.
  • Over the past 3 years, the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests harvested 58 million board feet per year with approximately 10 million board feet/year attributed to personal firewood sales.
  • The increase in canopy density contributes to decreased forage on the National Forests which leads to increased depredation of private lands by large ungulates and reduces the opportunity for harvest by hunters on public lands.

Economics

  • The Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman, are significant economic drivers that have the ability to contribute directly to the health and resiliency of the local communities that are dependent on these resources.
  • According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, federal outputs in Northeast Oregon Counties have dropped over 95% from a high of 343 million board feet (1986) to a low of 12.5 million board feet (2015).
  • Since 2014, the average board feet produced on the Umatilla has been 32 million board feet and the average board foot production from the Wallowa-Whitman has been approximately 26 million board feet.
  • Since 2013, the Malheur National Forest(MNF), which is 1.4 million acres, has steadily increased their production and has sold and average of approximately 69 million/year for the past three years. The MNF implemented a 10 year stewardship to ensure the survival of the one remaining sawmill in Grant County.
  • North of John Day, there are currently 8 sawmills and biomass plants that are dependent on the outputs of the Umatilla and Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Since 1990, there have been 17 mills shuttered and over 1,200 mill jobs lost in the area. This is the equivalent of losing 106,000 jobs in the Portland Metro area.
  • The average annual wage for Union, Baker, Wallowa and Umatilla counties is $34,872 while the average annual wage for the wood products industry in Oregon is $48,320, a difference of nearly 39%.
  • There is a great deal of opportunity to restore some economic health in Northeastern Oregon through increased timber harvest and restoration. Only one mill is running at full capacity. All others are running at 70% capacity and below and the major constraint is wood supply.
  • An increase in wood supply from the National Forests will help to maintain the current forest products infrastructure and maintain approximately 1,000 family wage jobs (mill and forest contractor) with the potential to add 200 additional family wage jobs depending on market conditions.

Social

  • According to the economic assessment that was performed in 2012 for Governor Kitzhaber (National Forest Health Restoration, An Economic Assessment of Forest Restoration on Oregon’s Eastside National Forests), there is ample opportunity in NEO to grow the economy and this growth is desperately needed through a revitalized wood products industry.
  • The average poverty rate is 17.2% and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (once known as the food stamp program) has grown by 22% per year.
  • Forest restoration could play a large role in reducing the dependence on governmental assistance in Northeast Oregon. The Oregon Forest Resources Institute “Oregon Forest Facts & Figures 2017-18” notes that there are approximately 11 jobs created or maintained for every 1 million board feet harvested.
  • Northeastern Oregon Counties depend upon their 25% timber sale share to continue to maintain a proper County Roads System as well as adequate funding for local schools.
Northern Blue Mountains Coalition: Restoring Forests and Supporting Communities

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