More on Collaboration in Idaho

Not all groups buy into forest collaboration but Idaho got more funds

Submitted by Rocky Barker on Tue, 02/07/2012 – 1:37pm, updated on Tue, 02/07/2012 – 3:35pm

I got a few comments while I was away about my stories about forest collaboration.
The stories talked about how timber industry folks, environmentalists and others were moving into the next phase of collaboration . They are tackling tough questions like how much thinning and logging is good and where appropriate in the areas outside of roadless areas.
Montana environmental activist George Wuerthner pointed out that my stories didn’t include voices from environmentalists who opposed collaborative efforts like the Moscow-based Friends of the Clearwater and the Montana-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies. Fair comment.
They, like Wuerthner, are skeptical of collaborative efforts that they believe will make forests less resilient, not more.
“For myself, a healthy forest is one with a lot of dead trees–not the kind of forest that forest management brings about,” Wuerthner said. “So I suspect since my definition is different, my goals would be different from the industry and organizations quoted in the article.”
I don’t think he differs with the scientific beliefs of the Wilderness Society and the Idaho Conservation League. They like dead trees as bird habitat and for their effect on creating fish habitat when they fall into streams.
In fact the U.S. Forest Service now requires a certain amount of dead trees left in most timber sales and stewardship projects in the state.
And the groups have been pushing the positive benefits of fire perhaps even more effectively than the two groups he mentions. After all, it was the work of these and similar groups that led to the national forest roadless rules that protect more than 8 million acres in Idaho and more than 55 million nation-wide.
And it was their partners like Bill Higgins, the resource manager of the Idaho Forest Group in Grangeville who have embraced the Idaho Roadless Plan in their own sense of compromise aimed at ending the forest wars.
Friends of the Clearwater and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies remain skeptical about compromise. There also are folks on the other side of the spectrum who are just as leery of the environmentalist collaborators.
In the end the collaborators must take their views into consideration if they are to succeed. I acknowledge my bias toward those people who sit and talk together.
I also missed the story where the Obama Administration announced it would spend an additional $16 million on collaborative forest projects nationwide. They added two new Idaho projects to the Clearwater Collaborative projects approved in 2010 and continued in 2011.
They are: The $2.4 million Weiser-Little Salmon Headwaters Project on the Payette National Forest; and the $324,000 Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative on the Panhandle National Forest up north.

11 thoughts on “More on Collaboration in Idaho”

  1. It sort of strikes me as odd that with so much talk about “collaboration” on this site that we don’t have a discussion, or at least an admission, that not all “collaborations” are created or run equally.

    For example, recently I’ve had detailed discussions with people who are members of some high profile collaboratives in Idaho and Oregon, including the collaborative featured in Rocky Barker’s article.

    Each of these individuals fully admit that if their collaborative groups were run like some of the “collaborative” groups are run in Montana that they wouldn’t participate. They have told me they would never sign a “duty of loyalty oath” to their collaborative group (which is required with one MT collaborative). They told me there is no way that they would participate in a collaborative is the Forest Service supervisor was co-chair of the collaborative (which is the case in one MT collaborative). One individual told me they see “a major FACA problem with the USFS being a co-chair of the collaborative.”

    I’ve been told that organization’s who have 4 or 5 members on a collaborative should only get one vote, but I don’t believe that’s the case in Montana. I’ve been told that the Forest Service folks shouldn’t be voting at all, and if they do, this is a major FACA violation. I’ve been told by one individual that, “I’m not sure what’s going on in Region 1, but they need a major briefing on FACA compliance.”

    I could go on and give more examples, but I hope people see my over-all point. I find it really frustrating when people pick out something that might be working well, or run well, in one part of the country and then assume that every single collaborative group in the country is run in the same manner…and if an organization doesn’t want to participate in a collaborative they are simply against “working together” or “solutions” or “skeptical about compromise.”

    That’s totally not the case and it really does a disservice to national forest management, and even the whole issue of “collaboration,” when we have unsuspecting people thinking they are talking about the same exact thing, but in reality they are largely comparing apples to oranges. Thanks.

    • Thanks Matt. It seems to me that a lot of FS talk about (and behavior within) collaboration is similar to internal FS ‘talk’ often referred to as “happy talk,” since the FS culture disallows dissent or fierce conversations. There have been many forces at work within the FS for a very long time to tame conversation about wicked problems

      As per collaboration, perhaps the intent (buried deep in FS culture) is to create a happy home in the sense of an old song my parents used to sing to we children. It began:

      Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam
      and the deer and the antelope play
      Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
      and the skies are not cloudy all day

      • I’m having trouble with the concept that attempting to work through disagreements as a group of people with mutual interests is a bad idea. Somehow I am missing what is so bad about the concept of collaborative effects.

        What is the alternative.. not involving people or involving each group separately?
        What is your desired condition, if not collaboration?

        Also, the conversations in the Forest Service I’m usually involved with are anything but “ happy talk”. They are full of people vehemently disagreeing about many things. Let’s go deeper and perhaps you can give specific examples of “happy talk” and how much better it would be with “fierce conversations.” As usual, examples are better for me.

        • Sharon,

          We have no disagreement w/r/t collaboration in its truest sense. The problem is that too many so-called collaboration efforts are tightly controlled (whether or not sponsors know it), hence true collaboration is only a dream. Maybe the FS has gotten much better at such in the last couple of years — what with all the focus on dialogue — but all such efforts I ever witnessed were not the stuff of “fierce conversations.” That’s why I began using (and advocating ) social media instead.

          Examples of tightly controlled settings: FS Leadership team meetings (each and every one I ever attended), all the public involvement settings for 28 years that I was engaged in during my career save one on the Boise that worked quite well for those who were engaged (The Wilderness Society chose not to participate as I recall), and accounts I still hear from FS people as to current workups.

          I remember a conversation years ago with Chris Wood (Chief Dombeck’s Chief of Staff) wherein he recounted a tale of a meeting with the National Leadership Team when Dombeck was new to his job. Chris said that Dombeck said something that Wood thought would really get folks talking fiercely as was then common in the BLM. Instead the room was silent, leaving carping, dissent, etc. to after hours bar-room chatter. Wood said it was then he began to sense what he called a passive/aggressive culture at work in the FS.

          My guess is that if you don’t hear stories of FS “happy talk” then you must hobnob with a different class of FS people than I do/did–which is likely because I usually hobnob with dissidents, malcontents, etc.
          Note: I edited this comment slightly to include my long-forgotten good experience with collaboration on the Boise NF.

          • Dave- this example was very helpful. I used to call it “management by gossip”. It’s also related to what Dialogos said about being unwilling to tell the truth to each other in the spirit of collegiality. It doesn’t happen everywhere at every level, but it’s enough of an issue that Dialogos figured it out. I think that Dialogos has been working with FS leadership on this issue.

            It’s not my “hobnobbing”, I don’t think, it’s because the different points of view always come out when the rubber meets the road (appeals and litigation, when you’re looking at a written record of people’s disagreements). All the disagreements that simmered and never came out directly (between units, agencies, etc.,) have to be dealt with.

            While it’s definitely a cultural phenomenon, I do think that the leader involved can set a tone that encourages dissent. On the other hand, I’ve also seen that used an excuse to do things in a behind the scenes, backstabbing way when the leader was actually likely to have tolerated dissent.

            Not that long ago, one of my coworkers unloaded on me his negative perceptions that he had stored up for years, saying if he had told me the truth he was “afraid of hurting my feelings”. I recommended he read and take to heart Covey’s “The Power of Trust” before his next assignment, fortunately (for us) out of the Forest Service. Trust is what it’s really about, and if we can’t trust each other, how can we ask the public to trust us?

            I wonder if Chris is correct and the BLM has somehow a healthier approach over all, and how that culture evolved. I see the two agencies needing to come together more every day, especially around climate change, the need for all kinds of assessments, and energy.

        • Collaboration on its own cannot be a bad thing. However, collaboration is supposed to lead to consensus and compromise, which some people clearly don’t like, and will go to great lengths to prevent. And, if your intent is not to reach a consensus and compromise, the best way to block it is to claim the collaboration excludes them, and isn’t “fair”. Collaboration is about selling your thoughts to the Forest Service, and other collaborators, hoping that some of your views get adopted into the plans. Not about assembling “voters” to counter “enemies”. If they choose to reject your point of view, we all know that lawsuits will follow. I’ve predicted this scenario all along, knowing full well that Plan A is litigation, “business as usual”. I just hope the Forest Service doesn’t toss out all options not supported by the all the collaborators.

  2. This comment was just posted directly to Mr. Baker’s blog…so I’m cross posting it here:


    Submitted by MontanaGreen on Thu, 02/09/2012 – 10:55am.

    Mr. Barker may well have a “bias” toward people that sit and talk with each other, but seems he’s a little naive about what happens when the talking ends. That would be, at least in the case of Montana’s Senator Jon Tester, the introduction of legislation to supposedly implement the agreements the collaborators reached in their often closed-door meetings.

    When the Montana Wilderness Association, Trout Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation sat down and talked with the small mill owners they then dubbed their “timber partners,” they cut up the pie on Montana’s remaining roadless areas and Wilderness Study Areas. The agreement they reached includes mandating timber harvests of about 100,000 acres of national forest lands at a minimum of 5,000 acres a year. It also gave away two already-protected Wilderness Study Areas while adding about 660,000 acres of wilderness, much of it cherry-stemmed to allow motorized or mechanical access deep into the areas, thus dividing and reducing their value as true wilderness.

    When Tester introduced his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (note, no inclusion of the word “wilderness” in the title), certain areas that the collaborators had already agreed upon were deleted. A prime example would be the Butte Highlands, which was supposed to have become wilderness, but thanks to a single military contractor in Butte who wanted to land military choppers on the peaks, it was removed from wilderness consideration. Needless to say, that sole contractor was NOT part of the collaboration, he just rolled in afterwards and Tester rolled the area out of wilderness. The same thing happened with Mt. Jefferson, which was sacrificed to snowmobilers AFTER the collaborators original agreement.

    In the initial hearing on Tester’s bill, the usual parade of collaborators was once again dredged up to supposedly show the Senate committee how wonderful it was that these “opponents” in the so-called “forest wars” were now holding hands, singing Kumbaya and agreeing to cut more trees. That MWA, TU and NWF seldom ever went to court on timber harvests is a salient fact that fell through the cracks of the collaboration political theater.

    But lo and behold, the Forest Service didn’t find the idea of mandated timber harvests a workable proposal…to say nothing of the precedent it would set for any other Senator who decided to mandate any form of resource extraction in their district for “jobs.” Nor did the agency much care for the idea of siphoning off much-needed funds throughout the region to meet the fiscal requirements of getting out Tester’s mandated cut.

    The bill has been changed again since then — and I guess it should come as no surprise that all the recent additions and deletions have only gone in one direction, which is to benefit the resource extraction industries or motorized recreationists.

    This is normal in legislative procedures. Congress makes the laws and they have a right to change any bill any way they want if they can get the votes. In the end, that makes “collaboration” a rather useless process and, as we’ve seen, one in which protection of the environment usually winds up taking a back seat to resource extraction.

    The phony “oaths of loyalty” that collaborators have had to sign in Montana pretty much say it all. If you want in on the collaboration, then you’re going to have to agree on whatever outcome 80% of the votes of the collaborators endorse. Some would call that a loss of free will, intellect, and integrity.

    You can also follow the money and, once again, you won’t be finding local dollars driving the collaborators, but big foundations like PEW that have endorsed collaboration and thus, fund the collaborators. That should come as no surprise to anyone given the tight economy and funding difficulties of many “green” groups that willingly take hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep their bloated staffs rolling in dough. And all they have to do is give up their principles, sign loyalty oaths to undetermined outcomes and, of course, make sure they go along to get along with the ever-present mission of the Forest Service to “get out the cut”…what a bargain!

    The roots of collaboration are not hard to find, just look up the publication from the Western Governors’ Association titled “En Libra,” which came out in the late 90s. To save you the time on the search engine, here are the “Principles” of collaboration:
    1. National Standards, Neighborhood Solutions
    2. Collaboration, Not Polarization
    3. Reward Results, Not Programs
    4. Science for Facts, Process for Priorities
    5. Markets Before Mandates
    6. Change a Heart, Change a Nation
    7. Recognition of Costs and Benefits
    8. Solutions Transcend Political Boundaries

    Make no mistake, the Western Governors’ Association is an industry-funded organization that serves the needs of industry, not the environment. In fact, no where in En Libra will you see protection of our increasingly threatened ecosystems mentioned as a high priority. You’ll see plenty of weasel words, like “balanced” and “stewardship” but nowhere does it say the environment which sustains us all deserves more consideration than mining, drilling, logging and grazing…which says nothing about the damage motorized recreation is causing to public lands and waters.

    There’s a reason resource extractors and their pals in the agencies love collaboration. They get half the pie immediately, then get some more when it goes to Congress. In the end, the losers are those who believed, perhaps naively, that groups with “wilderness” in their name were actually advocates for wilderness, not advocates for their “timber partners.”

    Mr. Barker has been temporarily fooled by the collaborators. But somehow, as the years roll by and we see the dismal results that “collaboration” brings, we can only hope he’ll realize his mistake and give a salute to those who actually deserve it — the REAL environmental advocates who are willing to fight for a better future for generations yet to come, not those who sell us out for a handful of silver and a moment on the Senate’s stage.

  3. Some how this thread has strayed from the Idaho collaboration. I’ve been somewhat invloved with the collaborative effort on the Payette. “Dismal results of collaboration”, I am not seeing that at all . The Payette is 1/3 wilderness, 1/3 roadless, and 1/3 roaded. Much of the roadless and wilderness have been burnt, with substatial loss of mature and old forest, with many scoured streams from debri flows related to fire. Much of the protected roadless and wilderness looks rather dismal to me. The roaded and managed area has the bulk of the green trees in the mature and old age classes. Kind of a turn around from the picture some would have us believe.

    The collaborative folks may vote,but they do allow desenting opinions. I’ve been to a few of the meetings and they seem like an inexperienced ID team trying to cope with the complex issues,coupled with personalities and advocacy. But it is a good thing they are talking and can agree on some things. There are loggers, local timber industry reps, Wilderness Society, Idaho Conservation League, County Commissioners, local interested citizens, recreation groups and others and they are talking. The more radical preservation type groups are not participating. The collaboration does not decide what to implement, the FS deciding officier does, and what is proposed and carried on into NEPA follows the Forest Plan and FS regulations. If this type of collaboration fails then we can look forward to place based legislation that is bound to have winners and losers.

    • Michael,

      Maybe this Payette example IS as good as it gets. Or maybe not. I’d be interested to know why those you refer to as “radical preservation type groups” are not at the table. What is it they believe is wrong with the forum that disallows them participation else disgusts them to the point of non-participation?

      • Dave,
        I can’t really say why the more radical type groups or individuals didn’t participate. But my opinion is that feel they don’t have anything to gain, and don’t want to compromise their beliefs.

  4. Luckily for us, in California, we won’t have a need for collaboration, or the new Planning Rule, or controversy, or even litigation and eco-lawyers. The judges have decided that all 20″ trees will be protected for eternity, and that is that. Pacific Rivers has already stated that they believe the Clinton version is weak in protections so, there appears to be no chance of any meaningful deal being made. Congress cannot vote that plan out of existence, and a new plan (many years away, at best) is sure to be litigated and overthrown so, the best thing to come out of this, is that the eco-lawyers will have to move to another state, where controversy is still “preserved”. And it’s not the judges’ fault that the timber industry, Sierra Pacific Industries, will choose not to purchase the small amounts of small trees made available by the Forest Service. SPI have PLENTY of those sized trees on their own lands. They are quite willing to watch the Forest Service flounder and fail, so that another proposal, ANY proposal, can begin with the utmost haste, probably through Congress. SPI is quite willing to expedite the collapse of Federal timber sales in the Sierra Nevada. There is no better way to get Congress angrily involved, and SPI has nothing to lose.

    Soooo, be careful what you wish for!!


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