Healthy Forests Equal Healthy Communities

The La Grande Observer recently published the following commentary by BoiseCascade’s Lindsay Warness and Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities’ Nick Smith:

Oregon’s public forests are a public treasure from which many people derive pleasure, solace, and a living.  Forestlands in Oregon are incredibly diverse and provide a wide range of benefits for the people who live, work and play in them.

Currently, over 60 percent of the forest land in Oregon and over 74 percent of the forestland in Northeast Oregon is managed by the federal government.  Unfortunately, the national forests are in a state of disrepair where treatments are needed.  One of the paths to move forward is through the collaborative process. However, what we really need is a comprehensive federal solution that guarantees sustainable management of our national forest for both economic and environmental benefits.

Currently, the process to manage the public lands is long, arduous and many times fraught with obstacles.  From the beginning, the U.S. Forest Service has made every attempt to build a consensus around the Snow Basin Project.  At one point, the agency received a letter of support from Senator Ron Wyden and a letter from Oregon Wild, Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Geos Institute, The Larch Company and Boise Cascade.  Together, the signatories of the letter shared ideas with the Forest Service on how to better improve the project so that it would move faster through the appeals process.

Unfortunately, despite the four-year effort of the Forest Service to craft a project that would be acceptable to all parties, there were still groups that appealed the project.  Now, it appears that Oregon Wild, one of the original signatories on the letter of support for Snow Basin is against the project, even though they opted not to pursue the opportunity to appeal and resolve their issues with the Forest Service.

Regardless, the community does need to be farsighted in designing a comprehensive solution that will allow the forest service to properly manage the forest, not only for clean water and fresh air, but also for the associated social and economic values.  For too long, all we have heard is the need to ecologically restore our forests for better animal habitat, while our rural communities have suffered economic uncertainty, inadequate school funding and job losses.  Now our rural communities suffer from high poverty and unemployment rates while young adults are forced to seek a future away from the rural communities where they were raised and educated.  The next generation deserves the opportunity to live, work and play in the area that they grew up in.  In order to afford that opportunity, the national forests must again become working forests that contribute meaningfully to the local economy.

As a community, it is our job to step up and demand a better future, one that incorporates the social, economic, and ecological considerations that go with national forest management.  Together, we can work both at a local level, and at a federal level to craft a solution that will meet the needs of both the forests and the affected communities.  I encourage everyone to get involved and let your voice be heard.  That’s why I’ve joined Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities, a grassroots effort to ensure that Congress understands that a federal solution is needed to ensure both forest health and community health for the people who live in and near our national forests.  To join, go to www.healthyforests.org and tell congress that you want a comprehensive solution.  Together, we can make a difference and keep our rural communities a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Healthy Forests Equal Healthy Communities