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Lawmaker wants to revive hardwood industry in Oregon

by: SUBMITTED FILE PHOTO - It will take more than 20 years for the hardwood trees to grow before they are harvested, but Parrish believes the return will be worth the investment. Even if all goes exactly to plan, state Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn) might be 80 years old before her latest initiative reaches full bloom.

She says that humorously, but the issue at hand is no laughing matter, and Parrish is willing to play the long game for what she sees as a definitive boon to West Linn’s economy. The initiative, referred to as the Clackamas Hardwood Forest Project, was developed in 2013 with the long-term goal of adding hardwood tree products to Oregon’s economy — a domain long dominated by soft-wood timber production.

Parrish developed the concept alongside Clackamas County Parks and Forest Manager Rick Gruen and David Barmon of the Portland-based Fiddlehead Landscape Design and Installation. The idea is to plant hardwood trees on underutilized land, using maintenance and landscaping funds that had already been budgeted. Those trees would then be geo-tagged and entered as part of a Clackamas County Hardwood Co-op, to be harvested for sale once they are fully grown.

PARRISH

“What we’re talking about,” Parrish said, “is how we can help city local governments, school districts, fire districts and the state government create new revenue sources to fund the things we all care about, without asking taxpayers for more dollars.”

Parrish presented the idea to the West Linn City Council during a Jan. 27 meeting, and on Monday the council formally approved a resolution to partner with the Clackamas County Forest Project.

“The whole point of the project is to take money we’re spending now and plant trees in public areas,” City Councilor Mike Jones said. “It’s one of those things we should be involved in. ... Worst case, in 25 years we will have beautiful (hardwoods).”

Jones was an early backer of the idea when Parrish approached him in late 2013, and since then the project has also been proposed to Metro, the Oregon Department of Transportation, local school districts, Mary’s Woods, Marylhurst University and Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center — all of which Parrish sees as potential partners for the project.

“We’re saying, ‘We can take your spaces that you’re paying right now to maintain, and basically infill them with hardwoods,’” Parrish said. “There are niche hardwood mills operating within cities — it’s kind of a little burgeoning industry to support artisan craftsmanship, and nontimber products.”

As an example, Parrish cited a recent visit to the Willamette Valley Vineyard. The owner’s oak wine barrels had been imported from France, at a steep cost. He told Parrish that if hardwood oak barrels became readily available within the state, the market would jump at the opportunity.

“If you think about Oregon’s wine industry as being a stable industry where we’re protecting farmland and people are making money — and they’re making decent money at this — to be importing wine barrels from France doesn’t necessarily make sense,” Parrish said. “But we don’t have wood available here and certainly don’t have the craftsmen, so we’re also talking about potential to serve other industries with hardwood product.”

As the project moves forward, Parrish plans to push two bills in 2015: one to ask for funding to research and develop the co-op and another to designate co-op trees specifically for economic development purposes — not as forest and habitat land.

As early as this spring, partners in the project will likely receive between 100 and 200 trees to plant. As for exact budgetary impacts at a municipal level, county forest manager Gruen said he was still in the process of developing a system to compute costs.”Once we’ve got a little bit of traction with this, we’ll put together a criteria for how to enroll,” Gruen said. “So, if West Linn wanted to come in with ‘X’ amount of trees, we’ll have that complete costing.”

For Barmon, who identifies as a liberal democrat, the partnership with Parrish was an unlikely one. But in the Clackamas County Forest Project he saw an opportunity for benefits across the economic and environmental spectrum.

“Liberals like me like to plant trees,” Barmon said. “And conservatives like to cut them down. So there’s something in there for everybody.”

“At the end of the day, if the market doesn’t come together in 40 years, all you’re left with is a bunch of trees,” Parrish said. “This is actually taking your existing dollars that you’re already using, shifting them and leveraging them into something else, and making some dollars with this.”

For more information on the project, visit City Councilor Thomas Frank’s website: thomasafrank.com/2014/01/clackamas-hardwood-forest-project.


By Steve Law
Reporter/editor
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