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Non Profit Group Promotes Economy and Environment - 2001-12-14

Can economic health and environmental health go hand in hand? A non profit group in the northwestern United States is trying to prove they can by reviving local economies with jobs that nurture nature.

Do we preserve the forest and its endangered species or do we preserve jobs in the lumber industry?

In the environs of Portland, Oregon, that question created the "timber wars" of the 1980's, pitting loggers against environmentalists and resulting in both animosity and job loss.

Gradually, says Martin Goebel of the non profit organization Sustainable Northwest, the community began to realize it could protect the environment and local economy at the same time. "Our efforts with our local partners in that community have generated many jobs, some of which had been lost and regained and then new kinds of jobs. For example, loggers who once did nothing but logging are doing biological inventory and biological monitoring of the forest," he says.

For years Sustainable Northwest's Mary Fass says, the logging industry cut down all the big trees in the forest, resulting in a huge quantity of small trees that now need to be thinned out before large ones can grow again. The resolution of that problem too, she says, has created new jobs. "This mill in Wallawa County has rebuilt its systems to take care of just those trees, the small ones that used to be too small and too valueless to do anything that was economically viable. But they found a way to make lumber and products out of it that actually gives them a profit while restoring the forest," she says.

New technology has empowered the mill to utilize the small trees profitably. Creative marketing is also helping the enterprise. Consumers, Mary Fass says, like to buy products that are good for both the economy and the environment. "That story goes along with the product. They are selling these products under the label of "It is a good product and it is healthy for the land and it is sustaining a small rural community." And those three messages together seem to be working," she says.

Sustainable Northwest's Matthew Buck says those messages also seem to be creating an entrepreneurial zest for new kinds of business creation. "There is a fellow here in Portland who creates furniture and decorative products out of recycled bicycle parts. That is resource revival. There is a fellow who has developed fiberboard out of waste straw, which used to be burned," he says.

Matthew Buck says, at least 116 recycling businesses have sprung up in the region.