With forest agreement inked, time for residents to participate

For the past two weeks we’ve been reporting rather heavily on the culmination of the Governor’s Regional Solutions Team’s efforts to get things rolling toward establishing a community forest east of Sweet Home.

We’re not going to review it all here, since the basics of the final product are laid out in our story beginning on today’s page 1.

What we want to talk about here is where we go next. By “we,” we don’t necessarily mean us, the newspaper staff, or local officials who have been involved in this effort thus far – people like District Ranger Cindy Glick, Dave Furtwangler of Cascade Timber Consulting, City Manager Craig Martin and many others, public and private.

No, we’re talking about us, the Sweet Home community. What are we supposed to do with this thing?

There are a lot of big ideas outlined in the final report: expanded recreational opportunities both on land and in the water, improved conditions for hunting and fishing (for the game and fish, at least), redevelopment of abandoned mill sites, a Post Office for Cascade, working forest research conducted by Oregon State University right in our back yard with a goal of developing cutting-edge forest products and technology that will benefit Sweet Home, and the transfer of ownership of Cascadia Cave from CTC to federal protection, which will provide more access to the public – legally, anyway – and protection for one of the most significant historical sites in the Northwest. Those are just a few, but that is plenty to think about.

We need to think about this. How could Sweet Home residents benefit, directly or indirectly, when people from other states or other Oregon communities decide they want to come to Sweet Home to access the forest, the river, mountains and lakes? We don’t need an economics lesson to figure out that money spent in our community can benefit it and its residents.

We need to think about what roles we can play in (a) the development of these projects, and (b) their maintenance after they’ve been established. There is an increasing possibility that Sweet Home will be able to land some grant funds to get some of these things done. Somebody’s going to get paid, but there may be opportunities – or the necessity – for some of us to donate time and effort to help build the trail and the Post Office , and create those river and lake improvements, etc.

For some of us, particularly those who live in Cascadia, there may need to be a commitment to participate in the process and make sure our voice is heard. Opportunities for public input will occur and plenty of officials have asserted, in writing, right there in the document, that this isn’t a land grab as some have wondered. The fact that this is a very public agreement should be reassurance for those concerned about possible underhanded motives here.

But this document will also mean change. And if folks don’t voice their opinions and concerns early, the train’s going to start rolling. Local residents need to commit to participation in the planning, as well as the execution, of what comes next. When the Livability Study folks come back to town next fall, we need to participate in that as well. These things may have different names, but there’s a lot of connections here.

The final Community Forest document, signed by representatives of more than 30 agencies, represents a lot of commitment. As a community of individuals who stand to benefit most from the changes outlined on that paper, how much commitment are we ready to bring to the table in the next few years?

That’s a question we need to ask and answer.