Interview with Mike Petersen on Collaboration

Thanks to a reader for finding this interview with Mike Petersen Executive Director of the Spokane-based Lands Council by Jim Petersen… on his group’s changing from a litigation strategy to a collaborative strategy.

Below is an excerpt:

Evergreen: When you set out to find common ground, what was your first area of agreement?

Petersen: Neither of us liked what the Forest Service was doing. By that I mean we did not feel that the agency was listening to us. It’s a huge bureaucracy, and one in which the only way to get promoted is to move from job to job. Staff is never in one place long enough to learn much about the forest or the community. It’s a terrible way to run a business.

Evergreen: How have you overcome the bureaucratic nature of the Forest Service?

Petersen: Personalities are key to forest collaborative success. We have a real pearl in Mary Farnsworth, who is the supervisor on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. She’s very supportive. We also got a lot of help from Rick Brazell, who was supervisor on the Colville National Forest when we were getting started. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the Forest Service is an immovable object. That’s not the case, but it takes work and a willingness to try new things.

Evergreen: How many collaborative successes can you count since you started out?

Petersen: About three dozen over the last 12 years. Most have been on the Colville because that’s where we started, but I can count eight projects on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and maybe five on the Kootenai in northwest Montana. In total, about 50,000 acres.

Evergreen: Apart from personalities, what drives success?

Petersen: All collaboratives are place-based, which is another way of saying that all politics are local. Collaboratives gain lots of strength from local knowledge, from the participation of people who have lived in a particular area long enough to develop an understanding of its social, economic and cultural idiosyncrasies. Some conservationists believe local people are a detriment because they believe their decisions are always based on preserving their economy at the expense of the environment. We haven’t found this to be true. What they seek is a more balanced consideration of local need. We agree.

Evergreen: But you still have to gain consensus with people who live a long way from rural timber communities and have little or no economic stake in your deliberations.

Petersen: That’s true, which is why the work we do on the ground has to speak for itself, and it has to be based on consensus among stakeholders who are involved in the collaborative.

One Comment

  1. The “serial litigators” really want no part of consensus or compromise. Collaboration is more of a way to form their strategies against the evil “C-words”. However, the general public seems to like those ideas of compromise, and they are getting more educated about forest issues. It will still take time to fully educate those who have open minds.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *