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Jobs in the woods

When longtime local residents talk about the heyday of the timber industry, they often mention the jobs that are no longer there. Today, as Oregon grapples with the threat of major wildfires every summer, a broad consensus has developed around the need to thin overgrown forests. Doing that on a large scale has the potential to provide new jobs in the woods.

State Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, has proposed building on the work now being done by Lomakatsi Restoration Project in the Ashland Watershed by creating a statewide youth corps that would pay teenagers to do forest clearing. Golden points out that the scope of Lomakatsi’s work is limited by a lack of resources. If funding can be found, expanding the work across Oregon could be one more piece of a coordinated strategy to restore forests.

Other groups are pursuing a similar path. The Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative — Lomakatsi Executive Director Marko Bey is president of the board — has called for an ambitious effort to restore federal forests in the Rogue Basin.

Forest industry work employed 80,000 Oregonians in the 1970s. By 2017, that number had dropped by 60 percent, according to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis.

For a variety of reasons, bringing back 50,000 jobs is not realistic. Environmental limits on timber harvests and increased automation both took a toll.

But forest restoration work now has the potential to address the issue of wildfires while providing jobs in the process. All that’s lacking is the will to make it happen.