The story of central Oregon’s largest stewardship contract on the Malheur National Forest surrounding John Day starts with forest health issues: Two key groups, the Blue Mountain Forest Partnership and Harney County Restoration Collaborative, have worked to bring diverse interests together to address forest health issues and take a more cooperative approach, especially as ongoing drought conditions have persisted and wildfire danger has increased.
The groups’ goal was to come up with projects that wouldn’t get challenged in court and can actually make a difference on the ground—while also providing a level of commercial timber production. Iron Triangle Logging was an active member of both groups, as were other timber interests in the area, before the news came in 2012 that Malheur Lumber would soon close.
In a little 1,700-person town like John Day, the loss of a major employer like Malheur Lumber—not a large producer by any means but hugely important in such a community—can be an economic death blow. The mill was having trouble recovering from the 2008-2009 overall economic downturn as lumber markets remained sluggish, and few timber sales were moving in regional national forests. When owner John Shelk announced plans to close the mill in late 2012, the collaborative members were able to act in concert with forest officials to develop thinning projects and a logging plan to help sustain the mill.
The groups were also involved in planning as Malheur National Forest personnel developed the 10-year stewardship contract. The contract called for between 180,000 and 500,000 acres of forest health treatments and a potential of up to 500MMBF in timber harvest during the life of the contract.
One big difference is that while on-the-ground decisions and projects are managed by local forest officials, as a federal Integrated Resource Service Contract (IRSC) the fine print in the contract and each task order is managed by personnel in the federal acquisitions management (AQM) office in Wenatchee, Washington.