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Northwest Forest Collaborations Gain Support, Criticisms

Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership

Public land management in the West during the last three decades has been marked by conflict. That conflict is often between rural communities and the federal government, resource industries versus conservationists.

Groups using collaborative approaches are springing up in many Western communities as a way to ease tensions and develop new ways to manage forests.

This week, members of several collaboration groups are meeting in Coeur d’Alene to share stories and strategies. Meanwhile, members of several conservation groups are also in Coeur d’Alene to warn the collaborations are paving the way for severe environmental consequences.

At the Coeur d’Alene Resort, people from collaboration groups in the four Northwest states are reaffirming their decisions to sit down at tables and have difficult conversations.

For example, the director of Spokane’s Lands Council talks about working with the head of a northeast Washington timber company and the Forest Service to develop restoration projects in the Colville National Forest. One of the leaders of the Idaho Forest Group talks about the necessity of working with collaborative groups to develop projects that improve forest health and allow more timber to be cut.

Boise State University Professor John Freemuth, one of the organizers of this conference, says the federal land management system is broken and will only be solved by people in the West working on hard problems.

“A lot of these groups get started because of a conflict, a lawsuit, an Endangered Species Act fear. And it’s important because it’s bringing people together. They’re talking to each other and beginning to build a network of people who can solve problems,” Freemuth said.

A few blocks away, members of Coeur d’Alene’s Kootenai Environmental Alliance are meeting with members of their peer organizations from the same four states. They believe collaboration, as it’s being done now, is bad for the environment. They say the current movement is a ruse to cut more timber and that conservation groups, such as the Lands Council, are being bought off by federal collaboration grants. Janet Torline is a board member for the alliance.

“The unfortunate part that happens in a lot of these projects is they’re touted as restoration, but when you look at the funding and where the money’s applied, there’s a tiny percentage that’s actually going to true restoration, like decommissioning roads and eliminating fish barriers,” said Janet Torline, board member for the Kootenai Environmental Alliance.

“So the collaborative groups are being used to rubber-stamp very heavy logging in very extensive timber sales," said Karen Colter, director of the Blue Mountain Biodiversity Project in eastern Oregon.

The conference will continue on Wednesday.


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