“The Collins Company could have left. Now they see a future here—a future restoring these forests,” said Jim Walls, program coordinator of the Lake County Resources Initiative.
More than Just the Trees
The ten-year stewardship contract does more than ensure a steady supply of small-diameter logs to the mill. It creates a funding mechanism that allows the Fremont-Winema National Forest to address other pressing needs on the landscape such as removing excess roads or improving wildlife habitat. “It’s important to the collaborative that the mill survives and we accomplish these ecological goals such as fish habitat improvement and wildlife enhancement,” said Walls.
Monitoring Informs Management
“Forest restoration is more an art than a science,” said Constance Cunningham, former forest supervisor of the Fremont-Winema National Forest. Her statement acknowledges the complexity of restoring forested ecosystems. Since its inception, the Lakeview Stewardship Group has used third-party monitoring and data-gathering to gauge the effectiveness of collaborative projects.
Claire Thomas, a former Lakeview High School science teacher who leads the Chewaucan Biophysical Monitoring Team, notes that the monitoring data acts as a bridge between divergent views. “Everybody comes to the forest with a lot of different ideas which may conflict with the others’ ideas. As we make decisions, it’s OK if we disagree on values, but we need to agree on the data to make decisions,” he said. “The monitoring program provides the knowledge to make informed decisions.”
Members of the Chewaucan Biophysical Monitoring Team gather data of forest soils. The monitoring team provides objective data to make informed management decisions.
The presence of a robust monitoring program smooths the path to common ground. When collaborative members know that their projects will be monitored and the results will be incorporated into future decisions, it facilitates understanding and encourages risk-taking.
“I don’t want to give anyone the impression we have all the answers,” said Walls of the resource initiative. “That’s why we have a monitoring crew on every project, from thinning to road removal to culvert replacement. Whatever it is, we gather ‘before and after’ monitoring information and enter it into a database so we can learn over time.”
An Integrated System
When I first arrived in Lake County in the late 1990s, community leaders had a vision of healthy forests and healthy communities but lacked the tools to get there. The last mill standing was antiquated and unable to process what needed to come off the land. Much of the forest needed thinning prior to reintroducing fire. Distrust and suspicion ran high among stakeholders. Over the next two decades, a diverse group of stakeholders imagined and patiently built an integrated system to restore a complex forested ecosystem, provide critical rural jobs and adapt to changes over time. Their hard work and innovation has won them national accolades.
A member of the Chewaucan Biophysical Monitoring Team gathers data. Many members of the team use their experience to enter natural resource fields.
Is it a perfect system? Not exactly. When I visited in June 2016, the mill was shut down due to lack of logs. But, the mill has since replenished their logs decks and reopened.
The saying goes healthy forests equals healthy communities and healthy economies. The expression underscores the links between our relationship to the land and our desire for sustainable livelihoods. Lake County’s unlikely evolution speaks to the need for an economy that equally supports social and ecological values. But it does more, it suggests that our relationship to the land is actually based on the very human qualities of trust and understanding.
Marcus Kauffman is the Biomass Resource Specialist for the Oregon Department of Forestry, email@example.com. Dan Bihn is an engineer/storyteller, firstname.lastname@example.org. Funding provided by the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Statewide Wood Energy Team.