Over the past decades, communities in the Southwestern Crown have seen dramatic shifts in their economic relationship with the forests. For generations, loggers loaded into pickups in the early mornings and went to work in the woods. Their efforts helped feed a variety of mills—from locally-owned sawmills to industrial powerhouses that were among the highest producing mills in the region. At times, it was the federal public land that provided the bulk of the trees. At other times, it was private industrial timberland that kept the industry moving.
But in recent years a number of issues have changed that tradition, and rural communities have felt this economic shift most acutely. Competition from abroad has decreased the economic return for local timber. Changes in technology have reduced the number of workers required to complete a timber harvest. More and more people have found the forested valleys of the area an attractive place to live. And a long-term trend toward understanding and considering other forest values—fisheries, wildlife habitat, clean water, recreation and even fire—has brought a growing number of interests to the table where logging is concerned. Nowhere else has this been truer than on federal public forests.
Throughout the Southwestern Crown, the economic value of the timber and the patchwork pattern of land ownership meant that natural systems and patterns—from watersheds to fire frequency to forest species types—were seldom considered when planning where and how to work in the woods. The CFLR program and SWCC offer an opportunity to chart a new course in the relationship between community, economy and forest health.
There is plenty of work to be done in the woods. By working together, using science as a guide, the SWCC is helping to restore fisheries and clean water, encourage the health of native plant and wildlife communities, improve recreational opportunities, protect forested communities and employ local contractors to get the job done. Restoration is creating new family-wage opportunities that foster economic growth and help revitalize rural communities.