By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
A community effort is under way to ensure that wood that otherwise would be burned in forest slash piles is instead used to warm Northeastern Oregon homes this winter.
The program, dubbed andquot;Warm Hearts, Warm Homes,andquot; got its start with Marilyn Jones, who noticed all of the downed timber in the woods while driving through the Blue Mountains on a trip home from Salem earlier this year. From there she began asking questions about how to put that wood to use warming homes that might otherwise go unheated.
Jones is the Department of Human Services community development coordinator for Baker, Union and Wallowa counties. Answers to her questions led her to Rick Wagner, forest practices forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry in La Grande, and Keith Shollenberger, protection forester in Baker for the state Department of Forestry.
At the same time Jones was looking for a way to get the firewood to needy people, Shollenberger was looking for ways to use the fuels put on the ground as part of the state Forestry Department's urban interface program.
That program helps landowners reduce the risk of wildfire on their property. Sometimes that means thinning trees or removing dead and dying timber.
All that was needed to solve the dilemma for both was manpower to get the wood out of the forest and ready for home use. That's where the Powder River Correctional Facility fits into the project.
The prison provides inmate work crews for just such community projects, said Mary Calloway, the inmate work program manager.
One 10-person inmate crew can saw and split about half of a 14-cord truckload of wood in a day, Calloway said. In a second day of work the crew can finishing splitting the wood so that it is ready for the fireplace or wood-burning stove and clean up the site in preparation for the next load.
To get the project off the ground initially, about 50 cords of wood were brought from Richard Good's Cabin Creek Ranch north of Elgin to sites at Elgin, Imbler, La Grande and Baker City, Wagner said. In the future the wood will be brought from sites closer to each distribution center, he said.
In Baker City, wood is delivered and cut on a lot across the street from the prison and was prepared for use by the Baker County Road Department, Jones said.
Others participating include the U.S. Forest Service, which will identify sites where wood can be gleaned and allow access to the sites; the Baker County Commission on Children and Families, which is acting as the fiscal agent; Spence Industrial, which has donated the use of a trailer to help deliver firewood to all three counties; Jim Michel Logging, which is providing a self-loader for the Baker City distribution site; and Tim Gilbert, a point of contact for accessing materials.
andquot;This is a cooperative partnership that crosses a number of boundaries,andquot; Wagner said. andquot;We're partnering and leveraging a number of resources state, private and charitable.
andquot;Our ultimate goal is to meet these needs,andquot; he said.
And while helping low-income people who use wood heat stay warm this winter, the program also is accomplishing other goals for the Department of Forestry and the Department of Corrections.
andquot;How many times can you spell win in the project?andquot; Shollenberger mused.
The wood on the ground has been cut to improve forest health and to reduce the chance of wildland and catastrophic fires. Hauling the wood rather than burning it also reduces pollution issues, Wagner said.
Providing work for the inmates helps Powder River meet its voter-mandated requirement to provide 40 hours of work per week. It also helps train inmates in the use of equipment that they will put to use as firefighters for the Department of Forestry during fire season, Calloway said.
The project also helps the inmates connect with the community by helping low-income or disabled residents.
andquot;We get a really good buy-in and good attitude and performance,andquot; she said.
The inmate crews are not competing with local woodcutters because they are supplying wood to people who would not be able to buy it otherwise, she said.
andquot;We're actually putting money back into the community, not taking it away from somebody else,andquot; she said.
Other community residents can join the effort by donating to help pay transportation costs and to pay for the corrections officers who supervise the work crews.
The cost of bringing a load of wood into town is about $250 and the prison is charging a reduced fee of $140 per day for the corrections officers' time, Jones said. Klamath First, Community Bank and Pioneer Bank already have each contributed $750 to the project to pay for one week of crews to split, stack and deliver firewood, Jones said.
Anyone who would like to make a tax-deductible donation to the project may call Jones at DHS, 524-1800, extension 403.
The wood will be distributed to people in the community in need.
andquot;We truly believe nobody in the community should be cold,andquot; Jones said.
Names will be provided by community churches, Community Connection, The Salvation Army, DHS and other agencies.