Oregon Forests

Bruce Daucsavage: 'The change is about more than just the mills'


Ochoco Lumber Company's Bruce Daucsavage
Photo courtesy of the subject

In August 2012, Ochoco Lumber Co. announced plans to close its mill in John Day, Oregon, due in part to a shortage of timber supply from neighboring public lands. The announcement meant that rural Grant County would be losing its last surviving sawmill — and with it about 70 jobs in a community already reeling from the recession.

The John Day mill seemed destined to become another painful chapter in Oregon’s history of rural economic decline, but three years later, it’s being celebrating as a Douglas fir-sized success story. The difference: an unlikely alliance of environmentalists, timber leaders, and public officials working together to complete the Malheur stewardship agreement, a ten-year forest thinning project expected to produce a reliable timber supply while also improving forest health.

Thanks to that agreement, the John Day mill is hiring workers again and exploring new opportunities to expand. InvestigateWest caught up with Ochoco Lumber president Bruce Daucsavage to discuss drinking scotch with environmentalists, funding collaboration, and re-tooling mills to succeed in today’s marketplace. We also invite you to join us at the 2015 Forests and the Economy Symposium on May 27 in Portland, where Daucsavage will be one of the panelists.

 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

 

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After the Wars, Common Ground in Oregon's Forests

A pile burning operation in the Deschutes National Forest clears undergrowth to lessen the risk of megafire. Credit: William Saunders 

ASHLAND -- This spring’s high school graduating seniors were newborns the last time the U.S. Forest Service proposed a major forest thinning project around here — and the outcome was a disaster. Nicknamed “HazRed,” the controversial fuels-reduction proposal included plans to commercially log large sections of forest, with trees as wide as six feet reportedly marked for removal. In the explosive public backlash, residents bombarded the Forest Service with negative comments, conservation groups filed appeals, a district ranger was fired (then rehired), and years of administrative and legal wrangling undermined the public’s already uneasy trust.

“The Forest Service had a different direction then,” says Marko Bey, co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Lomakatsi Restoration Project, which manages forest restoration projects in Oregon and northern California. “There was a lot of contention.”

Today the buzz and rattle of chainsaws along a steep slope in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest tells a story of redemption in Ashland’s watershed. It’s an unseasonably balmy morning in March, and a 12-man Lomakatsi crew is carefully clearing out densely packed, spindly fir trees from around the thick trunks of pines and black oaks. The brush buildup is the legacy of a century-plus of suppressing all forest fires, an official government policy now widely understood to be misguided. Fires clean out forests. Now, though, forests around Ashland and across the state are so packed with dense growth that fears of unnaturally catastrophic wildfires loom.

This summer could be especially severe. As crew members cut and slash their way across the 90-acre unit, Mt. Ashland towers in the distance, its paltry snowpack a reminder of the abnormally warm, dry weather that parked itself over southern Oregon and much of the Northwest last winter. With fire officials saying these conditions could usher in a doozy of a fire season, every treated unit counts. Come summer, the work might make the difference between a manageable fire and a catastrophic blaze.

The Lomakatsi crew labors on. “One acre at a time,” Bey says. “One stick at a time. If we have a fire in here, we’re going to be able to deal with it much better than five years ago.”

Bey’s stick-by-stick approach is no joke. His technical team carefully plans treatments in advance, identifying landslide hazard zones (look for the orange-and-black ribbons) and selecting which trees to cut (marked blue). And while most of the thinned brush is piled and burned to reduce fire fuels, the crews also leave some downed trees untouched to mimic natural “wind-fall” events.

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