The Harney County Restoration Collaborative is a group of diverse partners who over the last 10 years have done their best talking in the southern Malheur National Forest. This is 600,000 acres of dry pine forest that makes up the Emigrant Creek Ranger District based in Hines, Oregon. The partners represent land management agencies, conservation organizations, tribal representatives, the timber industry, landowners, ranchers, local and state government representatives and interested citizens. The group is supported by the High Desert Partnership, a non-profit organization dedicated to solving complex issues through collaboration.
The National Forest Foundation has provided important funding to High Desert Partnership through the Community Capacity and Land Stewardship Program to support the coordinating of collaborative meetings and engaging a facilitator, Jack Southworth.
Over the years, the collaborative has successfully seen over 200,000 acres of projects NEPA approved without litigation. The group has also focused on creating a fire tolerant and ecologically diverse forest and improving the ability to restore the forest on a landscape scale while creating jobs and industry in Harney County.
In the late 1920s, the Edward Hines Western Pine Company in Chicago was the successful bidder on over 800,000 board feet of standing timber in the Malheur Forest, still one of the largest timber sales ever recorded. The mill began a decline in the late 1980s and has now been closed for many years. Southern Malheur Forest timber is trucked 60 miles north to John Day, Oregon to the last mill in the region. This currently leaves Harney County out of any significant timber product businesses.
Collaborative partners have been working to increase awareness around the importance of prescribed fire in restoration projects. Implementing enough prescribed fire to create a resilient forest has been challenging due to several issues. They have hosted a community discussion on prescribed fire that included concerns from citizens about smoke management. However, the group discovered getting out in the woods is a better opportunity to discuss and see impacts of prescribed fire.
In a recent field trip to view spring prescribed burning treatments some of the questions that were raised included:
- How can we lessen costs of restoration?,
- How to achieve bigger acreage numbers for prescribed burns?, and
- How to reach more people for education?
Tim Boyce, the burn boss for the Emigrant Creek Ranger District, explained that prescribed fire is a tool to meet resource area objectives including habitat for species and increasing nutrient cycling. In the first stop of the field visit, the burn was a mosaic burn pattern, big trees, over 21 inches in diameter were not burned in the fire but the burn was designed to reduce seedlings up to 50 percent.
The partners commented the area looked good, but there were concerns seeing a pocket of mountain mahogany that was burned and the group also questioned whether when the burned trees fall there would be new problems with downed trees everywhere. Because of this field trip partners reached consensus on a common ground statement for prescribed fire. This agreement will be foundational for the collaborative as they move ahead with prescribed fire.