Collaborative expansion a good thing

Editorial voice of the Chieftain

Generally, news releases from Sen. Jeff Merkley contain the latest condemnation of Pres. Donald Trump, his actions, his appointees. It gets a bit predictable.

However, this week, we were quietly surprised to find a release regarding Merkley’s bipartisan efforts to continue and expand collaborative forest work.

Merkley has joined forces with Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, a Republican, and several other senators from Colorado, New Mexico and Montana to move this legislation forward.

Credit where credit is due. Thank you, Sen, Merkley, for stepping down from your political soapbox long enough to make a difference.

“Collaborative strategies to manage our forests have proven to be a win on many levels: thinning overgrown forests and creating better timber stands, better ecosystems, better fire resistance, more jobs and more sawlogs to the mills,” said Merkley.

As a sponsor of the original legislation that established the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, Merkley has first-hand knowledge of how instrumental these collaborative efforts are in promoting the health of our forests and supporting jobs in rural communities.

Merkley goes on to admit there is a significant threat caused by unhealthy forests in Oregon and elsewhere. Who knew.

“By encouraging collaboration among stakeholders at the federal, state and local levels, this program plays a critical role in reducing fire risk, maintaining our forests and empowering rural communities in Oregon and across the country to tackle these challenges head on,” Merkley’s statement said.

The bipartisan legislation would extend the program through 2029, and expand its reach by doubling authorized funding from $40 million to $80 million per year.

Since its enactment in 2009, the collaborative has a proven track record of success in managing forests to increase forest health, mitigate wildfires and support rural economies and local voices. To date, 23 projects in 14 states have sold more than 2.5 billion board feet of timber; created $1.4 billion in local labor income; and improved 760 miles of trails for sports enthusiasts and recreation.

In addition, The collaborative has reduced the risk of megafires on more than 2.9 million acres.

The legislation is supported by a broad cross-section of the timber industry, rural economic development entities and environmental organizations, including Wallowa Resources here in Wallowa County, the Nature Conservancy, Ochoco Lumber Co., Sustainable Northwest, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition and others.

This is the type of approach that is needed to solve problems. Political posturing doesn’t cut the muster.

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