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Forestry Collaboration Draws Criticism

Ed Suominen via Flickr

  A long time conservation activist is critical of the move to collaboration between the Timber Industry, Forest Service, and environmental groups.

In recent Years, The NorthEast Washington Forestry coalition has brought together parties that used to be on opposite sides in lawsuits involving timber sales. The alliance of timber companies, conservationists, business owners, and forestry professionals has touted itself as a way to improve forest health and preserve jobs, by coming together and finding agreement on project goals, avoiding the gridlock of court cases.

One member of the conservation community believes the coalition has been a cop out by those who should be worried about increased logging and associated environmental damage. Barry Rosenburg is the former executive director of the Kootenai Environmental alliance, and former forest watch director for the Lands Council. He is critical of the collaborative efforts, and more specifically of a proposed recent timber sale, the A to Z sale, in the Colville national Forest. 

Rosenburg says this latest proposal marked a dramatic change for the way the coalition works, by allowing a local timber company to hire a consultant to do the required environmental analysis, and design the size and scope of the project, all with with the blessing of local conservation groups.

”And I was shocked to find out they supported giving these broad and sweeping powers to the timber industry to conduct timber sales. It’s more than the environmental assessment. It’s actually determining how much is going to be cut and where and so on. It’s actually privatization of our National Forests.”

Colville Forest Supervisor Rodney Smolden says it is true that the sale was a new way of doing business, by allowing the Vaggan Bros Timber company to hire the environmental consultant , but he says it still follows National Environmental Policy Act , or NEPA, guidelines, with the Forest Service providing oversight.

“We're asking the general public to trust that Vaggans is paying the bill but they’re outside the process. And Vaggan knew coming tin to the process they held one hundred percent of the risk. As the decision maker I could choose the no action alternative, and they just spent a bunch of money on an analysis where nothing happens.”

The Lands Council of Spokane supported the process. Executive Director Mike Petersen says it’s not totally without precedent for a business, rather than the forest Service, to hire the environmental consultant.

“The idea is if you see there is a need for forest restoration, but you don’t have enough budget, cause the forest service budget keeps getting reduced, then someone whose going to benefit from it, because they’re going to sell those logs, is going to pay for that analysis up front. It’s very similar to what John Eminger does with his ski area, if he wants to expand on the National Forest. The forest service doesn’t pay for the analysis; he does, because he is going to be the one that benefits.”

Petersen says consultant, rather than the timber company would actually design the project , when it comes to deciding the size of the cut and other specifics. Those specifics would be based on the Forest Services own “Forest Plan” for the Colville National Forest.

The A to Z project is currently on hold after Forest Supervisor Smolden withdrew draft approval for the project while his agency reviews objections raised by other environmental groups that were not part of the collaboration process. Another spokesman for the Colville National Forest says the agency remains committed to conducting the forest thinning work.

Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.