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Home arrow Opinion arrow Editorials arrow Timber deal could help here

Timber deal could help here


The deal announced last week that will at least temporarily keep the saws spinning in Grant County’s last lumber mill could help Baker County, too.

But not necessarily in a purely economic sense.

We certainly hope that the template unveiled for the Malheur National Forest, which is mostly in Grant County and a vital source of logs for Ochoco Lumber Co.’s Malheur Lumber mill in John Day, can be replicated on our local Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

But we doubt that would resurrect Baker County’s lumber industry, which crumbled when Ellingson Lumber Co. closed its Baker City mill in 1996.

Although the Forest Service has pledged to increase the amount of timber cut on the Malheur, and to maintain a minimum supply over the next several years, the amounts, were they matched or even slightly exceeded on the larger Wallowa-Whitman, probably aren’t sufficient to justify the multimillion-dollar investment to open a new mill.

That said, we’re intrigued by the Forest Service’s newfound commitment to dealing more aggressively with the problems plaguing significant swathes of the Malheur.

Those problems, which include forests with too many trees per acre, and in some places firs growing where ponderosa pines and tamaracks used to predominate, exist on the Wallowa-Whitman as well.

Such forests are vulnerable to insects and diseases, and to the destructive wildfires that so often follow.

The Forest Service has been whittling away at this challenge for the past 20 years or so. On both national forests (as well as the Umatilla, the third of the Blue Mountain forests), much of the logging that has happened during that period has involved thinning overcrowded forests or removing encroaching firs.

The main obstacle to this effort has not been legal obfuscation by environmental groups, but Congress’ failure to give the Forest Service the money it needs. Unlike historic timber sales, when Forest Service offers were comparatively flush with receipts from auctioning valuable old growth ponderosa pines, these modern “commercial thinning” projects often require significant subsidies of public dollars to pencil out.

Regional Forester Kent Connaughton acknowledged as much in a recent letter he wrote to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. Connaughton noted that although the Forest Service’s goals for the Malheur in 2015 include working on 30,000 acres, yielding 75 million board-feet of timber, the agency will need to allocate almost $4 million.

That money’s not in the bank.

The Forest Service has set aside $2.5 million for the Malheur, though.

That’s a good start.

If that money becomes, in effect, the bucketful that primes the federal pump, then public forests across the Blue Mountains and the thousands of people who use them every year, stand to benefit as their favorite places are less likely to burn.

 
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