CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Rural Studies Program at Oregon State University and the nonprofit group, Wallowa Resources, have agreed to a partnership to provide research, education and outreach activities to Wallowa County.
The goal, say leaders of both programs, is to increase the well-being of rural communities in Oregon.
“Rural communities are facing significant challenges, not only economically, but socially, culturally and environmentally,” said Bruce Weber, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at OSU and director of the university’s Rural Studies Program. “Though our focus with this partnership is on Wallowa County, the results will have applications and benefits across rural Oregon – and beyond.”
Faculty and graduate students from OSU will team with researchers from Wallowa Resources to identify research needs in Wallowa County. One project will create a series of “community indicators for rural sustainability” that will help decision-makers and local citizens understand and monitor their economic situation.
Wallowa Resources will utilize its local contacts to organize a citizen group that will help identify and refine sustainability indicators, and collect local data. OSU faculty and students will develop a web-based information portal to keep the public notified.
Such a project would be difficult for either organization to undertake alone, said Nils D. Christoffersen, director of Wallowa Resources.
“Our history of collaborating with various colleges and faculties at OSU has been productive and this is another major step forward,” Christoffersen said of the partnership. “It is particularly important as it focuses our collaboration on issues important to Wallowa County, including demographic transition and its impact on land use and collaborative resource management strategies, as well as the education and training provided to our youth.
“It also seeks to build additional local capacity for strategic planning and leadership in response to dramatic economic, social and political changes affecting rural communities in Oregon,” he added.
One of those changes is the scheduled demise of federal payments to Oregon counties based on timber harvests, which is projected to cost rural counties millions of dollars annually in revenues that pay for services including schools, law enforcement, fire protection, libraries and social programs. A second project teaming OSU’s Rural Studies Program and Wallowa Resources will look at the direct impacts that the shutoff of these federal payments will have on Wallowa County.
“We’ll also team up to explore options for financing these different services and the ultimate effects on families, businesses and local institutions,” Weber said.
The two organizations also will partner on education and outreach activities, building on a previous collaboration. For the past two years, they have combined to offer a three-credit graduate course, “Communities and Natural Resources in Wallowa County,” which explores relationships between natural resources and community well-being in rural Oregon.
Other courses and workshops are planned, Weber said, that will be aimed both at university students as well as the general public.
“The changes affecting rural communities are enormous and include changing demographics, a decline in the natural resource base, a suite of cultural and social issues and, of course, the looming loss of federal timber payments,” Weber said. “But all is not doom and gloom. There are reasons for optimism and paths that local communities can choose to help themselves become sustainable in every sense of the word.
“Our goal with this partnership is to help them identify those paths.”