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Preserving Tillamook County’s Dairy Industry
May 9, 2015

Only a handful of food producers in Oregon hold a spot on America’s top 100 food production lists. Oregon’s Tillamook County Creamery Association, a dairy co-op, checks that coveted box.

Tillamook Cheese is listed alongside Nestlé and ConAgra, Chobani and Organic Valley; ranking No. 46 on the 2014 Dairy 100 list – Dairy Foods Magazine’s ranking of North America’s largest dairy food processors.

Oregon coast farming is a livelihood, empire and industry worth protecting. And so is the seaside, fog-filled floodplain estuary Tillamook dairy farmers call home.

Tillamook dairies border eight rivers, five bays and the wide blue Pacific Ocean. After European settlement, 91 percent of the tidal wetlands were drained for agricultural, commercial and residential development.

Today, Tillamook County adds invaluable lumber, food, tourism and fishing dollars to our state economy. Still, all this economic progress has its drawbacks. Annual flooding of Highway 101 cripples the lifeblood of Tillamook’s industry. Often kids can’t get to school, cows can’t be milked and businesses are shut down. At times, floodwaters make it impossible for Tillamook products to ship out.

After the 2006 flood, the governor’s office dispatched Oregon Solutions to address flooding issues. Flood discharge solutions had been sought for decades when conservationists, government and farmers first started working hard to find options that would be good for the farmer, good for the community and good for the ecology.

Recently, through Oregon Solutions, an unlikely band of partners began to address long-term fixes for Tillamook flood issues. A consortium of farm, timber, state and federal players is about to construct a flood reduction project that will preserve agriculture, industry and salmon habitat. This symbiotic restoration project will allow dairies and wild habitat to co-exist over the long haul.

Across Oregon, properties included in these restoration projects are dubbed “Working Lands.” In Tillamook County, the Oregon Solutions Working Lands project will ensure reduced flooding on 3,000 acres of dairy and commercial lands through landowner alternatives that also restore fish habitats. This project will remove old levees to reconnect former flood plains.

Over 800 trees will be salvaged. Chinook, coho, steelhead and chum fish runs to the Pacific will be increased. And 521 acres of salt marsh will be recovered while protecting important dairy land and private property.

Each year, over 1 million tourists traveling to and from the north coast stop at Tillamook Creamery. They come to tour a massive cheese-making production and sample ice cream. They go home and buy Tillamook in their own store. In their own state. And they have a connection and affinity to Oregon’s verdant Tillamook dairy country.

Tillamook dairy farms make a serious contribution to this state’s economy. Oregon must make equally serious efforts to support the working lands these dairies need to thrive.

By: Paul Levesque
Source: Statesman Journal


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