Center for Rural Livelihoods Gains Momentum with Forestry Initiative
The familiar story goes that South Lane County used to have a booming forestry industry, but automation and global markets led to the industry’s bust in the 1980s. Oregon’s peak year of timber harvest occurred back in the early 1950s, and employment opportunities in towns like Cottage Grove have been in steady decline since. The Center for Rural Livelihoods, however, envisions a new mode of forest stewardship as an engine of rural development, one that generates rural jobs, improves environmental quality, and addresses issues of urban inequality - especially by providing lumber for affordable housing projects.
Formerly known as Aprovecho [not to be confused with the Aprovecho Research Center still in existence on Blue Mountain School Rd.], the Center for Rural Livelihoods (CRL) launched a Community Supported Forestry initiative that is gaining momentum with partners that include SquareOne Villages, RAIN Oregon, Kennedy Conservation Corps, Resilience Permaculture, Live Oak Consulting, Branch Road Farm School, Meadowlark Forestry, and Free to Grow. After shutting down its long-running residential educational programming during the pandemic, CRL has been now reborn with support from Business Oregon, Oregon Community Foundation, Roundhouse Foundation, and Americorps.
CRL hosted an initial gathering for stakeholders of the Community Supported Forestry initiative on July 15 to discuss how to create pathways for resilient ecologies, economies, and cultures in rural Lane County. The gathering included local historian David Lewis, a Kalapooyian professor at Oregon State University. The professor's groundbreaking research on the genocide of Indigenous people in the region seeks to inform not only cultural regeneration but also Traditional Ecological Knowledge as it pertains to fire, water, and land management. Participants at the gathering strategized about ways to support Indigenous cultural regeneration through ecological land stewardship.
The Community Supported Forestry initiative is being developed to provide pathways for rural economic revitalization in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by creating education programs, a business incubation program, and the creation of markets for local forest products. Abel Kloster, the forest project manager at CRL, has recently completed a timber stand improvement project in collaboration with the Natural Resource Conservation Service. With the help of Kennedy Conservation Corps and an Americorps National Civilian Community Corps service team, Kloster reduced fuel loads in the forest, developed firebreaks, and processed lumber that is now being used by SquareOne Villages. As the executive director of CRL, Josh Fattal emphasized that “these are the types of win-win situations that we are going for. Linking ecological work on the land with a local, reliable supply chain for affordable housing is the kind of work that addresses a few of the crises we now face.”
The goal of CRL’s environmental work is to make ecological projects more economically viable. For example, some of the timber from its recent wood-milling operation came from the construction of a water conservation project that Kloster had been developing on the campus over the past fifteen years. This hydrology project received awards from the Permaculture Institute of North America for increasing groundwater retention at a moment when our region is experiencing a megadrought. The project not only conserved water and reduced fire danger, but it also yielded timber for affordable housing.
Fattal said he believes the rebranding of Aprovecho to the Center for Rural Livelihoods has spurred an infectious excitement about the direction of the organization. “We’re building off the best of what Aprovecho contributed for four decades and we are now facing it outward... We’ve shifted from a focus on alternative lifestyles to rural livelihoods. We have our work cut out for us, but we’re committed to building an economy that is rooted in our ecology and one that repairs the injuries of natural resource exploitation, labor exploitation, and the buried history of genocide.”
Founded in 1979, the mission adopted by the Center for Rural Livelihoods is centered in Lane County and seeks to create and strengthen pathways to rural livelihoods that harmoniously advance social, economic, and ecological resilience. Fattal recently shared that CRL will be launching its official website likely in the coming week. Anyone interested to learn more about the Community Supported Forestry initiative will soon be able to find more information at rurallivelihoods.org.