West Bend Vegetation Project: Successful Collaboration

west bend

Here’s a map:
west bend 2

Based on this story in the Oregonian, this effort seems to be a success, with no litigation. I wonder what lessons could be learned from this? What went right?

In 2009, Congress authorized the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Fund, providing $40 million annually through 2019 to restore national forests.

Forest Service officials on the Deschutes National Forest at first identified 150,000 acres in need of restoration and secured $1 million a year for the next 10 years for the work.

Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project Diverse forest interests come together with the help of the US Forest Service to make the Deschutes National Forest more resistant to fire, insects and disease.
Last summer, the restoration area expanded to about 257,000 acres.

The Forest Service is focusing on eight zones within the project. This month, they moved forward on the West Bend Vegetation project — 26,000 acres where mowing, thinning and prescribed burning are expected to open up the forest.

“A whole lot of people here have a whole lot of interest in that landscape,” said Kevin Larkin, the Bend/Fort Rock district ranger for the Deschutes National Forest. “It’s used all year round by a large group of recreationalists.”

“There is a high level of agreement and shared vision on Ponderosa forests,” said Phil Chang, staff coordinator for the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council.

The council includes elected officials from three counties — Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson — and eight central Oregon cities.

The 10-year project also seeks to restore watersheds within the forest to improve fish habitat, including the re-introduction of steelhead salmon into the Deschutes basin. Roads will be decommissioned, soils improved, trails rebuilt and the planting of native plants.

Because the long-term work will have such a direct effect on users of the forest, the overall project has taken input from environmental groups, the timber community, recreationalists and business interests.

“We’ve brought them all together and they’ve come to an agreement for the most part on all aspects of the project,’’ Larkin said. “What should have been a very contentious project is going forward without litigation and broad-scale support from all these disparate groups.”

Here’s a site with the documentation. The objections can be found here . (Note to folks developing project websites.. please link directly to objections rather than have people need to go search through various years to find them.)

Clearly not everyone agreed, but no one litigated. Anyone know more about this story?

4 Comments

  1. Regarding Sharon’s comments: “this effort seems to be a success, with no litigation. I wonder what lessons could be learned from this? What went right?”

    A quick look at the Objection letter responses may help provide some answers and insights to those questions.

    For example, in this Objection response letter from Jose L. Linares, Acting Deputy Regional Forester, Mr. Linares wrote:

    The Forest Supervisor has voluntarily agreed to defer treatment in units 48, 186, 195, 204, 251, 299, 304, 305, 389, 455, 505, and 506 in order to further provide for diversity, snag habitat, and wildlife habitat and structure. In addition, two units, 341 and 355 were reduced in size and the need for temporary road access was eliminated;

    Mr. Linares letter to the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project contained this information:

    On Monday, December 16, 2013, I received your letter dated December 13, 2013 in which you stated that you are withdrawing your objection to the West Bend Vegetation Management Project based on the modifications made by Forest Supervisor John Allen during the objection resolution process.

    While I certainly don’t know anything else about this specific project except what has been presented in the Oregonian article and within the Objection responses, it sure seems as if the Forest Service’s ability to make modifications and remain flexible within the project planning process was a huge reason this project “went right.”

    This compares to some other high-profile CFLRP projects, such as the Colt Summit Timber Sale on the Lolo National Forest, in which the Forest Service was completely unwilling to make any modifications or remain flexible even going so far as the Lolo Supervisor telling conservation groups during the appeal resolution meeting “We’re fully funded for this project and we’re not making any changes.” The result was the first timber sale lawsuit on the Lolo National Forest in over 5 years.

  2. Sharon said: “Note to folks developing project websites.. please link directly to objections rather than have people need to go search through various years to find them.”

    I totally agree, it doesn’t seem like that would be hard to do. If I could add one more thing to my wish list, it would be to have a link to the actual objections themselves. Reading the forest supervisor’s response only (in which she/he attempts to paraphrase and summarize the objection before responding) often leaves a big question mark about what the objection was all about in the first place. The federal government probably has enough bandwidth capacity to accomplish that minor upgrade.

  3. Matthew, 1) I think you and I agree that the resolution of the objection issue seems to have been about “doing a deal that potential litigants can live with.”

    2) As you may recall, vis a vis Colt Summit, my efforts to find out from Garrity what changes he wanted made were unsuccessful http://forestpolicypub.com/2011/10/11/now-entering-litigation-the-cone-of-silence-descends/.

    Guy, I agree, and I think some folks post them, and maybe the Deschutes did but I couldn’t find it.

  4. Of course why some things work and other don’t is fairly complex. I was interested to note they were also able to sell the pole creek fire salvage sale without litigation. Of course by the time they had the sale it was pretty watered down, 2 million feet out of a billion maybe. I noticed there was only one bidder on that sale and it went for appraised price.
    I think it does show some good leadership to get things done.
    My problem is as a small sawmill we need a larger diameter logs to meet the needs of our markets. (it takes a large multi million sawmill to be viable with small diameter logs)
    Often these trees are restricted from harvest to appease the environmental community, even when there no shortage of of large diameter dead/burned timber in the sale area.
    I have come to feel this is fairly discriminatory against the small local producer, (who I think the public lands managers should be encouraging) in favor of the larger well capitalized producers.

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