(Salem, OR) — Governor Kitzhaber on Saturday toured facilities in La Grande and Wallowa that are participating in efforts to improve forest health and reduce fire risk while securing and creating jobs in rural Oregon. Along with First Lady Cylvia Hayes, the Governor visited the Boise Cascade Particleboard Plant outside of La Grande and Integrated Biomass Resources in Wallowa to see examples of how companies are adapting to a changing forest industry.
While at the Boise Cascade facility, the Governor presented Inland Area Manager Tom Insko with a check from the Governor’s Strategic Reserve Fund. "Last year, I announced that I would use $166,000 from my Strategic Reserve Fund to help Boise Cascade invest in workforce training for new employees," said Governor Kitzhaber. "Since then, the company has added 70 new, local jobs, with 58 workers receiving training with Strategic Reserve Fund support. These jobs are critical to the local community."
Boise Cascade, which employs 650 people in Eastern Oregon and more than 1,400 total in Oregon, has bounced back from the downturn by investing in infrastructure so its mills can process smaller trees. The company has four plants in Union County and employs about 110 at the Particleboard Plant, where operations have recently expanded to 50 percent of capacity. The company also expanded operations at its Mount Emily Lumber facility.
The Governor and First Lady then toured Integrated Biomass Resources in Wallowa. Formerly a dormant saw mill, it has been transitioned into a biomass campus that employs about 25 workers. The facility sorts material from forest restoration projects. Sawlogs are sorted and sold to buyers such as Boise Cascade, while most of the production converts small logs to bundled firewood, fence and post material, and chips. Wood waste is converted to heat to dry the firewood and to electricity, which offsets more than half of the company's total electrical demand.
The Governor praised the collaborative efforts that have brought stakeholders together to advance projects that support stable jobs, provide a consistent supply of timber products, and improve the health of federal forests. "When it comes to federal forest management, there are big opportunities for work that mutually benefits forest restoration, jobs, and rural communities," said the Governor. "These facilities offer a positive model for eastern Oregon forest management and economic development."
Eastern Oregon’s forest industry has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, with shifts in supply from federal forestlands and impacts from the recession and associated housing market downturn. The Governor has actively worked with stakeholders to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration through projects that improve forest health and reduce fire risk on local federal forests. These efforts, which over the last year have received $2.8 million in funding from the Oregon Legislature and increased support from the U.S. Forest Service, are designed to provide more consistent wood supply as a restoration byproduct to companies like Boise Cascade and Integrated Biomass Resources.
"Wildfires cost more than $122 million last year in Oregon alone," the Governor said. "We need to pursue approaches that help us build resilience to fire in our forests while creating family-wage jobs in rural parts of the state."
The tours followed a meeting between Governor Kitzhaber and local public health leaders, high school and community college administrators, elected officials, and others working together to advance education, health, and economic development goals in Eastern Oregon. That event, and a similar meeting in Pendleton on Friday, is part of a series of meetings the Governor has convened across Oregon to discuss his focus on leveraging state resources to help achieve local economic development objectives and priorities. For example, participants discussed their success enrolling local high school students in community college classes that will help them to be ready to work or pursue additional training after graduation.
The Governor thanked people for attending. "I'm here to learn from you about which programs are working and to understand where there are barriers that we can help remove. Rural communities have unique needs and it's our job to help you use state resources in ways that best serve you and the future you're working to build."
Photos from Eastern Oregon visit
Rachel Wray, 503-559-1277
Melissa Navas, 503-378-6496