We began this week with the first snowfall of the season gently blanketing the mountainside beyond Taylorsville.
This first glimpse of winter symbolizes the march of time in what has felt like an endlessly dry summer—one where our community was upended for weeks on end, concluding for far too many with tragedy and loss, in feelings of devastation and hopelessness.
This grief permeates everyday interactions between neighbors at home and with perfect strangers at the grocery store. Nothing feels normal around here, and our community is faced with the heavy question of, “What do we want tomorrow to look like?”
Our work at the Sierra Institute has always been forward-looking. Prior to the Dixie Fire, our efforts to build a forest restoration economy encompassed support to rural community well-being, fuels reduction efforts across our overstocked forests, and support to the economic development of small and local forestry businesses.
Even if businesses have jobs to offer, housing shortages limit where people can live, and now we are faced with the additional burden of road closures that significantly lengthen commute times.
The loss of Greenville has devastated our community
It is in this context that we recognize and celebrate National Forest Products Week.
Our years-long efforts towards building the Indian Valley Wood Products Campus in Crescent Mills could not have had more perfect timing.
Our campus is ready to meet the moment.
In the coming weeks, we will start down a new path in our relationship with J&C Enterprises as we look to install a sawmill at our Campus. The sawmill will locate timber processing capability within the community to enable processing of blackened timber from fire recovery.
Most importantly, though, it will ensure that trees harvested from fuels reduction work can enter the lumber market, thus facilitating timely forest treatment and hopefully reducing chances of future catastrophic wildfire.
The resulting local lumber supply will be a boon to our community members looking to rebuild their homes, especially given ongoing lumber supply availability and cost issues that have pervaded this pandemic.
Additionally, next week we will host our third, and our first in-person, Sierra Forest Entrepreneurs Workshop.
Small-scale and local forestry businesses are critical infrastructure for rural forested communities across the West facing threat of catastrophic wildfire. We are working with key delivery partners to support the needs of new and growing businesses, and we are optimistic that some successful wood products manufacturing businesses may grow out of the program.
With the purchase of a small-scale sawmill, Sierra Institute and J&C Enterprises will process blackened timber for lumber to help with rebuilding efforts in our community.
We need community-scale forest products manufacturing capability to support both rural development and forest treatment.
To this end, we celebrate those businesses that are doing the hard work of rebuilding forest products manufacturing capabilities in rural towns across the state.
We envision a future whereby forests sustainably supply regional needs, not just in ecosystem services, but in carbon-storing and fire-resistent materials, like mass timber panels for homes, that can help us build wildfire resilient communities.
Because we love our forests, we love locally-sourced forest products and aspire to see a post-Dixie future where improved forest management improves communities.
Learn more about our partners:
Learn more about our projects:
By Addie Wright and Lauren Redmore
For rural forested areas across Northern California, economic development initiatives can sometimes be at odds with the environmental and social needs of local communities. As an organization committed to advancing both community and environment, the Sierra Institute has been involved in socio-economic monitoring of many communities over the years.
One such community is the unincorporated town of Westwood in Lassen County. Following the closure of the Red River Lumber Company in the 1950s, this former mill town experienced economic decline, signaled by an array of business closures that have deeply impacted the economic sustainability of the town: schools, a hospital, grocery stores, and most recently, the bank and pharmacy.
Westwood is just one of many towns that grapples with questions of what the future looks like, made all the more real in the weeks following the Dixie fire.
Like many towns across the region, some Westwood residents see the surrounding environment as both an attraction for potential economic development and a hazard, especially given the intensifying threat of severe wildfire that has worsened through more severe drought, decades of fire suppression, and loss of a forestry industry.
Today, there are a few but growing initiatives seeking to improve forest management and bring rural economic development through targeted support to small, local forest businesses.
One such effort is the Sierra Institute’s Sierra Forest Entrepreneurs program, funded by the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. The goal of this program is to provide training and support to small forest business entrepreneurs across the Sierra region, given the critical role they play in supporting forest stewardship, mitigating wildfire, and building rural economies.
The first Sierra Forest Entrepreneurs includes twenty-five participants, including one participant from Westwood, representing a range of small, forest-related businesses ranging from hazards mapping, fuels mitigation, reforestation, small sawmill operations, and wood products manufacturers.
Starting in August and ending in December, participants will receive business development training from the Sierra Small Business Development Center and the California Capital Procurement Technical Assistance Center to grow their businesses. Other special presentations focus on wood products manufacturing operations adding value to timber harvested from fuels reduction projects, including TimberAge Systems, a small-scale mass timber manufacturer from Durango, Colorado, and Heartwood Biomass, a community-scaled firewood business in Enterprise, Oregon. Participants are able to network, and share common challenges and solutions to grow their businesses.
By providing targeted support to small business entrepreneurs in the forestry sector, the Sierra Institute aims to ensure that rural forested communities can mitigate the future threat of wildfire and capture value from lower-value timber. Communities like Westwood can thrive when businesses are aligned with their needs and values.
Given that small forest businesses are a necessary part of a resilient ecosystem across the Sierra, the Sierra Institute will continue to identify ways to champion the work of these entrepreneurs.