Building bridges between Oregon’s east and west sides

Posted by Renee Magyar on February 12, 2014

After many years, trust, respect, and friendship have become an important part of collaborative restoration discussions.


Outside the wind blew and the snow swirled as the two-day meeting on restoration of Oregon's Blue Mountains' forests got underway at the conference center in La Grande. Fifty-five people from John Day, Enterprise, Pendleton, Bend, Portland, Burns, and La Grande met to discuss how to balance the dual need to restore the forests for better wildlife habitat and ecosystem health, and to create jobs and provide economic opportunity to surrounding communities.

I was in front of the room facilitating a discussion on aspects of forest restoration when I realized that I could name 45 of the people in the room. Over the past five years I have worked closely with many of them to find balance between sustainable forestry and a sustainable local economy. On one side of the room was Jack Southworth, a third generation rancher from Bear Valley, standing in back was Tim Lillebo of Oregon Wild from Bend, and answering a question was Lindsay Warness from Boise Cascade.

While we are always working on the latest challenges, it was evident to me today that we have witnessed many successes. One of the successes that is most apparent to me is the bridging of differences between people living in eastern Oregon who are very tied to the land, and people who live across the state on the urban west side. We sat together at Mamacita's Restaurant, drinking whiskey and beer after the long meeting. We laughed, joked, and talked about the work that we still have ahead of us. This is because we are friends too.

We are in the midst of transforming how Oregon's east side national forests are managed. Together we are seeking outcomes that we can all agree upon -- that the forests contain the ecological characteristics and wildlife habitat native to the Blue Mountains, and the surrounding forest communities can create a vibrant economy. We will achieve these goals through active land management practices such as thinning trees, reintroducing prescribed fire, and producing logs that will provide jobs for loggers and material to keep the sawmills in operation. This is the good work that is going on in eastern Oregon that will help keep places like Mamacita's Restaurant open for the millwrights and loggers. It takes everyone working together, sharing, and laughing to make things work really well for Oregon.

Patrick Shannon directs Sustainable Northwest's Forest Program.