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Transitioning from extractive to sustainable growth: the reinvention of single-resource lumber communities

Authors: Brian Dill*,
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Economic Geography, Resources
Keywords: lumber industry, rural poverty, post-extraction, single-resource communities
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

More than five decades have passed since President Lyndon Johnson called for a ''national war on poverty'' from a porch in Martin County, Kentucky. Located deep in the heart of Appalachia, this coal mining region was emblematic of the pockets of poverty and powerlessness that constituted much of rural America; the President's call to arms drew national attention to the great number of peripheral places with enduring economic, social, and political disadvantages.

What happens after the coal mines close? How do communities renew themselves when the lumber
mills shut down? While poverty has remained a persistent feature of America's rural communities - nearly 1 in 6 rural residents live below the poverty line today - the challenges have been particularly dire in single-resource towns since the 1980s. As a consequence of automation, globalization, and environmental regulation, coal towns in Appalachia and lumber towns in the Pacific Northwest have, for example, witnessed rising unemployment, declining wages, lagging investments in infrastructure, and a leaking of human capital. Remarkably, some of these communities have transitioned to a new set of arrangements that underpin economic and social well-being. This paper looks at post-extractive communities in the United States to explore the following broad research questions: Why are some single-resource communities able to re-new themselves, while others remain locked in decline? How do these communities shift from ''extractive'' to ''attractive'' growth? The paper is based on case studies of lumber counties in Washington and Oregon.

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