Photo by Ellen Miller

Saturday, October 8, 2011

GUEST COLUMN: Are we poor enough now?

Back in the 1990s a German forester asked me a deep question about our late-successional reserve federal forest land allocation and the lack of management there. He said “You must be a really rich nation to be able to afford such a management plan.”

When I asked him what he meant, he relayed a short story about German forests and plans that were dropped after World War II, since Germany lost the war and had to make reparations to all the other European countries while itself was starving. Germany decided to drop their partial harvest and long-term plans and was basically forced to clear-cut in order to make the reparation payments and purchase potatoes to avoid starvation. He asked me whether the United States would ever be poor enough to change forest management direction.

Considering the current state of affairs in Douglas County and beyond in our nation, maybe we have reached this point after many years of timber slowdown and shutdown. Our schools are hurting and teachers have been laid off; our road managers do not have funds for needed repairs; the library is working hard to stay open and provide services to the main branch and the other 10 municipal branches; we have had to have special elections to adopt a service district to retain our county Oregon State University Extension program; our unique “free” garbage disposal system is cutting hours; the fairgrounds need assistance; unemployment is up; emigration from Douglas county by our youth is accelerating due to the lack of opportunities to stay here; numerous small and large businesses have closed in Roseburg and throughout our rural communities; and forest fires are more active than ever when they start burning due to the annual in-growth in all age classes across the Umpqua National Forest.

Not managing forests in Douglas County and in our national forests is similar to deciding to not harvest corn in Iowa, soybeans in Illinois or providing commercial fishing off of our coastlines. It is similar also to stopping production from our oil fields or fruit and vegetable production from our orchards in Florida and farms in California. In reality, we have chosen to be poorer than we need to be.

We are wasteful, as well as hypocritical, as we now import timber from Canada and beyond to supply our local mills with products. The NIMBY approach (not in my back yard) has affected all communities, businesses, retirees and students in Douglas County. We know we can do better in providing a sustainable and resilient healthy forest and local rural communities.

It seems to this retired federal forester that perhaps the tide may be turning. Certainly reading that Mr. Rasmussen, as the new director of Umpqua Watersheds, is willing to work with industry on management projects can be a pivotal and huge deal. We simply cannot afford the same litigations and stalemates that the last 30+ years have left us. We also know how the characterizations of each other have led to major distrust, which has crippled our abilities to think and act big.

We need bold, far thinking, long-term and watershed-scale management plans for our Umpqua National Forest and we can all have a seat at the planning table together, if we choose to participate. Will we help create local job opportunities? When does the under-performing and dismal state of our county outweigh our individual, organizational and group mistrust and “hurt feelings?” Trust is a gift. Are we as individuals and organizations big enough to trust again? I don't believe that we will truly restore and sustain the various communities of the Umpqua National Forest (human and natural), our forests nor our waters until we heal ourselves first.

Our current social dilemma trumps our resource problems. Washington, D.C., the U.S. Forest Service, our Congressional representatives, and the state of Oregon are all waiting for someone, somewhere to provide the courage and leadership out of this rut. Is our community ready to lead by rejecting our old reasons for conflict? If we really reconciled our differences and pledged to work together to solve our social problems, we would find support and aid from all these entities to help resolve our resource needs.

While not advocating the WWII German solution of simply increasing clear-cutting, we do have the tools and the expertise to manage our lands and protect our resources. We need to again relearn to trust our professional foresters and specialists to provide a balanced plan for our Umpqua National Forest lands that ensures greater resiliency to fire effects and ecological sustainability. We can all have a valuable role in supporting sound management and helping to modify selected treatments where needed.

Are we poor enough yet? Seems an odd question, but I hope so; and maybe our children do too, before another 30 years pass by with lost opportunities.

Alan Baumann of Idleyld Park retired as a forester with the U.S. Forest Service after 31 years. He has worked as a forest consultant and has been involved with the Alder Creek Community Forest, the Douglas County School Forestry Tour, the Glide Nature Trail and Project Learning Tree for many years and currently volunteers at the Wolf Creek Job Corps in its forestry program. He can be reached at

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