Another collaboration case study

The Lolo’s Marshall Woods project.

A common thread through many of these stories seems to be unmet expectations.  That begs the question of what expectations the Forest Service sets up before collaboration occurs.  It would be interesting to hear from those who have “collaborated” what the Forest Service says it will do with their collaborative products.  Does anyone ever document these expectations?

I suspect there is a “catch 22” here.  The Forest Service must remain accountable for it decisions and its decision-making process under existing laws, and therefore it must be free to disregard collaborative input.  But if this is made clear to potential collaborators, won’t they be less likely to invest the efforts needed to produce something useful?  Is the Forest Service clear about this?

Now we have discussions about changing laws to make the Forest Service less accountable.  Assuming we could get the necessary national consensus to give greater weight to local collaboration, does anyone think the Forest Service would be willing to contract away its authority to manage national forests by making substantive commitments to collaborators?

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Here’s some more background information about the Lolo National Forest’s Marshall Woods Project. Some of the reporting of the history of the project, and involvement of the Lolo Restoration Committee, has either been a little confusing or incorrect.

    The origins of this project took hold in 2004 or 2005 when Maggie Pittman was still the Missoula District Ranger, not in 2010, which the media has reported.

    Ranger Pittman and organization’s such as the WildWest Institute, Sierra Club, Wildlands CPR, Wildland Conservation Services and others got together and started talking about doing a good, bona-tided restoration project on the Lolo National Forest in the vicinity of Missoula.

    The real impetuous for this project was the fact that some very heavily roaded and cut over Plum Creek Timber Company lands in the Woods Gulch/Marshal area were going to be transferred over to US Forest Service ownership and management.

    We originally talked with Ranger Pittman and the FS about the need for some restoration in the Woods/Marshall area on those newly acquired parcels of Plum Creek land (mainly dealing with roads and weeds and some fuel reduction).

    There were even discussions about the potential of restoring these damaged Plum Creek lands once the FS took over ownership and then getting some of these newly restored lands put into the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and converting some old roads to bike routes, which I think is still a really great idea and something that would have a lot of public support.

    But then at some point Pittman left and the Forest Service decided to dramatically alter the scope of the project to include all that commercial logging – and log truck traffic – about 3 miles up the main corridor of the Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, which is closed to motor vehicle traffic (except for ‘administrative’ and Mountain Water Co use).

    Originally, during the early period, the Forest Service was shying away from conducting commercial logging up the main corridor of the Rattlesnake due to 1) costs associated with improving the road for log truck traffic and replacing the Spring Creek bridge; 2) lack of a timber market and 3) social/public implications of running log trucks 3 miles up the main corridor.

    In fact, as recently as an early August 2010 field trip to the project area, the Forest Service again expressed a reluctance to do the commercial logging and log hauling 3 miles up the main corridor.

    But at some point that changed. Perhaps it was people like David Atkins, who lives up there and worked at the Forest Service at the time, who pressured the Forest Service to start planning a timber sale 3 miles into the Rattlesnake NRA. I honestly have no idea.

    I also have a feeling that Forest Service silviculturist Sheryl Gunn, who was using the Rattlesnake logging up the main corridor as part of her graduate thesis work, was a main pusher of the Rattlesnake NRA logging. Conflict of interest? And hey, wait, Forest Service silviculturists may only have BS degrees? Yep.

    Anyway, it’s been a long strange trip for sure on this project. At the end of the day, I think many of us believe the USFS made the right decision to drop the commercial logging, logging trucks, temporary road construction, etc 3 miles deep up the Main Corridor of the Rattlesnake NRA.

    Finally, the fact is that the Lolo Restoration Committee (i.e. a ‘collaborative’ group) NEVER reached consensus and NEVER supported the version of the Forest Service project that called for commercial logging 3 miles deep into the Rattlesnake NRA. The only time the Lolo Restoration Committee officially endorsed the project was when the USFS had DROPPED those logging units from the project.

    So, in this case at least, the “unmet expectations” have more to do with the Forest Service’s effort over the past few years to try and push a commercial logging project into the NRA, then with the LRC’s support for doing that logging…because the LRC never supported it in the first place.

  2. The problem is the collaborative process is being used in-appropriately. The process works only when you are searching for sound solutions to a commonly accepted problem. When I read of various efforts to use the process, two mistakes stand out. The first step has to involve the potentially effected interests in defining and accepting the problem. Why are you proposing a timber sale, reclamation project, controlled burn or what ever? Without a clearly defined and accepted problem, collaboration is not the appropriate procedure. Time and again I search for the problem statement and find it missing and the process is attempting to involve people in trying to reach agreement on a solution such as a timber harvesting proposal. Why agree on any solution if there is no problem?
    The other significant error is that participation is by invitation. This will result in some potentially effected interests missing out, and in some cases intentionally. If one hopes to have a successful process and meet expectations, you must take the time, up front, to identify and contact your potentially effected interests, ALL. “Collaboration” is identified as a process to involve a number of groups and individuals working together to find realistic solutions to a commonly accepted problem! When properly used it can be very effective!

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