During the coming months, JPR will be collaborating with the Seattle-based non-profit journalism organization InvestigateWest to produce a series of stories that explore different aspects of Oregon’s timber economy with a focus on how they play out in Southern Oregon.
InvestigateWest was founded in 2009 by former journalists from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper and now partners with newsrooms around the country to produce independent investigative and explanatory journalism on public health, the environment and government accountability. During the past six years InvestigateWest has worked with dozens of editorial partners, including major national news organizations such as The New York Times, nbcnews.com and The Guardian.
The goal of this project is to develop new original, fact-based journalism that sheds light on important topics central to the economy and ecology of our region and to provide a foundation from which citizens can engage in meaningful civic discourse about these issues. The project will combine InvestigateWest’s extensive expertise in data-driven reporting using public record archives, complex data sets and exhaustive research with JPR’s on the ground knowledge of the issues, people and organizations that work in Southern Oregon forests. It is our hope that this reporting not only uncovers important data, but also puts faces on the facts to paint a holistic picture of the issues we examine.
JPR’s Liam Moriarty will lead this reporting effort here at JPR, producing feature clusters that will air in Morning Edition and will appear online at ijpr.org. We are also hoping to have several companion pieces that will be published in the Jefferson Monthly.
Here’s an overview of the issues we intend to explore:
The Fire Conundrum
In the face of what’s expected to be another busy fire season, we’ll be examining solutions to the accumulated unnatural build-up of fuel in the forests. Only a small fraction of the forest acreage that needs fuel reduction work is actually being treated and each fire season, money budgeted for thinning and prescribed burning is being spent on fighting fires instead. We’ll be looking at the scope of the challenge, what’s being done — and not being done — and some innovative efforts to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires in the region.
Wall Street Comes To The Woods
In recent years, with little notice by the general public, the timber giants of the Northwest — Weyerhaeuser, Plum Creek, Potlatch — have been turning into real estate companies that increasingly make their money not from cutting trees, but from selling land. We’ll be tracking this trend, its causes and what it portends for development and land use patterns in the region.
Keeping Timber All In The Family
The “working forests” the timber industry says it values are being gobbled up by development. And a surprisingly large chunk of these forests — especially those near urban/suburban population centers — don’t belong to the large timber companies but are in the hands of small, family-owned timber companies. Tens of thousands of Oregonians own plots of so-called “non-industrial private” forest lands. These are the forests most likely to get sold and developed to send the kids to college or pay for Mom’s chemo treatments. We’ll examine the trends that could accelerate land conversions and what’s being done to discourage it.
We encourage you to look for these stories in the weeks ahead. And, we want to thank you for your ongoing support which makes this consequential journalism possible.
Paul Westhelle is JPR’s Executive Director.