In a letter to federal land managers, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden urges the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service to recognize forest management as a solution for preventing catastrophic wildfires and combatting rural poverty. Here’s an excerpt of the letter:
The current ecological health of our forests is not good, and the economic picture in Oregon’s rural forested communities is just as bad. According to the Oregon Employment Department, of the 14 forested counties I represent, 10 currently face double-digit unemployment. These counties are dominated by the public lands you manage. If this wasn’t shocking enough, eight of these same counties have had an average poverty level of 14 percent or greater over the last five years. Consider this, Harney County in 1989 had three operating mills and a poverty rate of 10.6 percent. Fast forward to today, the county no longer has a single mill, and the poverty rate has jumped to 18.6 percent. According to the Oregon Department of Education, nearly 60 percent of school children in the county qualify for free and reduced lunch. Harney County has seen the effects of one large catastrophic wildfire after another. Residents have suffered a total loss of their mill infrastructure, while thousands of acres of forest surrounding them are in desperate need of treatment, and hundreds of people in the community are in desperate need of good, family wage jobs.