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OR Group Wins Nat'l. Honors for Forest Collaboration, Conservation

August 19, 2011

WALTON, Ore. - Ten years of collaboration have paid off in the Siuslaw National Forest, with a national award for a group that designs forest and watershed restoration projects and even champions some timber sales.

That combination would have been unheard of during the "timber wars" of Oregon's past, but the Siuslaw Stewardship Group has brought government, conservation groups and timber companies to the same table. Johnny Sundstrom, a founding member of the group, says its focus is on making the forest healthier in ways that benefit local communities.

"The birth and nurturing of a restoration economy, while it'll never replace harvest income to the communities, it's still a way for some people to keep their equipment running, to keep their jobs. And so, there's remarkable opportunities for collaboration and getting together."

This week, the Siuslaw Stewardship Group received the "Two Chiefs Award" from the heads of the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service for their work. The group is being touted as a model for modern forest management, in Oregon and around the nation.

Money generated by the timber sales helps with the restoration work. However, the Siuslaw is home to several endangered species, so Chandra LeGue, a spokeswoman for Oregon Wild and a former Stewardship Group member, says the group had to agree on some important ground rules.

"When you take things like old-growth logging off the table, there's a tremendous amount of common ground that can be found. And so, that's worked really well in the Siuslaw - we came to the table with that understanding."

Building trust was not easy at first, says Sundstrom, chairman of the local soil and water conservation district.

"Before we start the finger-pointing - like, 'Well, the problem is those guys' - first, we get a goal that we can agree on. Can everybody in the room agree that we'd like to see sustainably harvested timber coming down the road, and abundant fish runs going up the creek, in 30 years? And we've never found anybody that didn't like that picture."

More information about the stewardship group and others on the Siuslaw National Forest is online at fs.usda.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR