The Collaborative Restoration Workshop is taking place in Denver over the next few days. I’m looking forward to talking about two topics while I’m there. The first is going to be an open discussion to the entire group. My goal in this talk is to inspire people to think about the importance of our work and how we’ve only just begun.
I don’t think very many people believe that we are doing an adequate job managing our national forests, so why do we keep doing the same things? We need to do things at a pace and scale necessary to create real results for our forest and everything that depends on them. I was recently talking with a professor from the University of Washington and he reminded me that I had mentioned a “Pinchot Moment” in a prior talk. He told me that he believed that we were almost there for a variety of reasons. To me, that means that we need to do things so bold that they are as impactful to our National Forests as their creation over 100 years ago. We need to do things in ways that take us out of our comfort zones in order to have the forests that we all want.
This requires changing the way we do things in the public input process. If communities are going to spend the time, energy and expense to collaborate on forest management efforts, then we need to value and stand behind those efforts. If groups or individuals choose not to participate in the public process, then they should not be able to stop or stall efforts without just cause. This isn’t to say that the input of others shouldn’t be heard and considered. Quite the contrary. If people cannot or choose not to attend meetings they should provide comments or concerns. Once they are reviewed by the Forest Service and addressed by the collaborative groups(s), then the project needs to keep moving forward.
It is my belief that if we don’t fix this problem, an attempted solution will be pressed upon us. I don’t have faith that a solution from Washington DC that hasn’t had the consensus from collaborative groups will meet the needs of the forest or the people.
My second topic will be focused on the A to Z project on the Colville National Forest. It is a unique project where the planning, environmental compliance, public outreach, layout and design is being conducted by independent contractors. The Colville National Forest released an RFP to have the entire process (hence the name A to Z) completed by outside contractors.
Our family company, Vaagen Brothers Lumber, had the only proposal submitted and was selected to conduct the project. The area just outside the town of Colville is about 55,000 acres of forest land. This area was not in the Colville National Forest’s five-year plan but was very much in need of forest health treatments.
The project area has a good road system, has been actively managed in the past and has considerable recreation traffic. There are no roadless areas or wilderness areas in or adjacent to the project area. This project also has the support of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition.
Recently the first half of this project has had a record of decision signed. Shortly thereafter the Forest Service received objections. Were these objections from groups or individuals that worked collaboratively on the project? No.
These are outside groups that chose not to participate in the open process and are now crying foul for a variety of reasons. Rather than explaining this myself, I’ll let you read what The Nature Conservancy says about it. It’s unfortunate that these projects can’t move forward quickly when the land is overdue for management. Our hope is that this serves as an example for needed change.