By Steve Tool
Wallowa County Chieftain
Bruce Dunn, a forester for R-Y Timber and chairman of the county’s Natural Resources Advisory Council, has filed for the county commissioner post soon to be vacated by commissioner Paul Castilleja for health reasons.
Dunn was born in Michigan, where he grew up and attended college, earning a forestry degree at Michigan Tech. He went to work for the U.S. Forest Service in eastern Idaho. He quit the USFS for a private sector job but ended up back at the forest service when a dam failure destroyed the mill where he worked.
“My job washed away,” Dunn said with a laugh.
He found his way to Oregon in 1986 when a former sawmill manager suggested he apply at Sequoia Forest Industries in Joseph. Dunn was given the forester position at the mill, which eventually became R-Y. It closed in 1995. Everyone lost their jobs except Dunn.
“I stayed there to manage the land, which I’m still doing,” he said.
Dunn kept a steady interest in the county’s management, particularly land managment. He joined the planning commission and stayed until 1999. Among his accomplishments was the creation of the Wallowa County and Nez Perce Tribe Salmon Recovery Plan to preclude the endangered species listing of chinook salmon.
The plan was later made into Article 36 of the county’s ordinances. Because much technical input was needed to implement the plan, the commissioners formed the county’s Natural Resources Advisory Committee, which has two facets: A technical committee that reviews projects and makes recommendations, and a standing committee that develops recommended policy on natural resource issues for the board of commissioners.
“I’m the chairman of both committees,” Dunn said. “I was chairman of the technical committee from the beginning and chairman of both committees since 1998.”
Dunn said he’s running for commissioner because he’s been asked a number of times to do so. But until a year ago, his employers didn’t like the idea. Eventually, the company relented because Dunn isn’t as busy anymore. With Castilleja soon out of the picture, Dunn said the time is right.
“I think it has to be done, and I’m willing to do it.” he said.
Because of his NRAC position and attendance of many of the meetings, Dunn said he’s familiar with the commissioner duties and issues. He also has some ideas of his own.
As an example, Dunn said he’d like to see the county form an ad hoc committee of self-made entrepreneurs like Tyler Hays, Brian Coughlan and Deve Wolfe to brainstorm ideas to bring in as many businesses as possible that will employ 5-15 people.
“We help ourselves move forward,” he said. “We don’t look for another government program or money.”
Dunn added that the employees of these businesses will increase the tax base and alleviate problems such as Joseph street repair and library funding.
Dunn emphasized he did not want big changes in the county, but wanted to maintain the quality of life while moving forward.
“We don’t want to lose all the things we have here, or change all the things we have here, but we do want to try to build on what we have here,” he said.
The candidate said he’s seen a slight change of direction with the federal government, which seems to listen more to community concerns, something he noted in the Wallowa-Whitman Forest Plan Revision. The county seriously objected to several aspects of the plan, especially grazing management.
“After a meeting between the commissioners, National Marine Fishery services and the USFS, the group found what may be a negotiated path to consensus recognition for rural counties ... and this is the first time we’ve gotten the recognition,” he said. “I think they’re starting to pay attention.”
For the future, Dunn said he visualizes the county moving forward in creating more family-wage jobs and ways to stem the “brain drain” that sees young people going to college and never coming back because of the lack of sustaining work.
“I think we can do that if we work at it,” he said. “Not just talk about it but work at it.”
While Dunn recognizes that tourism is a substantial part of the economic base and should be promoted, it isn’t the county’s economic backbone.
“So much of our existence here is based on natural resources,” he said. “Tourism is not paying the tax bill. Tourism isn’t fixing the streets in Joseph, and they have more tourists than any place else. We like the tourists spending money and helping local businesses, but it hasn’t helped our base infrastructure at all.”
Dunn said he’s not motivated to run for the position because of a lack of something better to do.
“I realize it’s not a glory position at all,” he said. “To say this is a stepping stone to higher and better things -- I don’t think so. I’ll try very hard to help the county like I’ve been trying to do for the 30 years that I’ve been here.”
Diane Daggett has also announced her bid for the seat.