Swan View Coalition Shares Perspective on Collaboration

Snapshot of the Flathead National Forest (MT) Plan Revision field tour on the Tally Lake Ranger District, August 2013. That's New Century of Forest Planning commenter Dave Skinner with the camera, green hat and snazzy shirt. Photo by Keith Hammer.
Snapshot of the Flathead National Forest (MT) Plan Revision field tour on the Tally Lake Ranger District, August 2013. That’s New Century of Forest Planning commenter Dave Skinner with the camera, green hat and snazzy shirt. Photo by Keith Hammer.

(The following two columns are guest posts from Keith Hammer with the Swan View Coalition in Kalispell, Montana. Feel free to make comments below, but if you have any specific questions regarding the Swan View Coalition’s perspective on collaboration, please contact Swan View Coalition directly. Thank you. – mk)

Swan View Coalition on Collaboration
By Keith Hammer

Swan View Coalition will always follow the legally required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public involvement process and will participate in optional collaborative processes as time and funds allow. We appreciate both as avenues to better understand all interests and issues.

But we have seen the collaborative process abused by federal agencies and key “stakeholders.” In 1997, national “conservation” groups joined industry in insisting its Flathead Common Ground logging plan be called “ecologically-driven vegetation treatments,” even though the scientific panel they asked to review their proposal disagreed and concluded “The desire to harvest timber products should be explicitly recognized here as the driving force.” This oft-repeated collaborative myth allows industry to argue old logging roads are ecologically necessary to log the forest back to health!

In 2012, the SW Crown Collaborative down-played opportunities for road decommissioning to benefit fish and wildlife in the Swan Valley, based on a mistaken report by the Flathead Forest Supervisor that “the Swan RD has already decommissioned 800 miles of roads . . .” We had to correct the record by providing the Supervisor’s own spreadsheet indicating less than 10 miles of road have been decommissioned in the Swan Valley! Who’s on watch here?

Forest-based collaboratives are skewed toward logging as “forest restoration,” rather than including a robust consideration of road decommissioning and other time-proven means to restore over-logged and over-roaded forests. Indeed, National Forest Foundation’s “A Roadmap for Collaboration Before, During and After the NEPA Process” helps institutionalize the assumption that trees must be removed to restore forest ecosystems. It offers the following tip: “It can be helpful when in the field to ask stakeholders what they would do to improve the condition of the project area. In the case of forest restoration, it can be as simple as asking stakeholders which trees they would leave on the landscape and why.”

We will continue to provide the Forest Service with the scientific research – most of it its own – indicating most forests suffer from too many roads and motorized vehicles, not too many trees. We’ll always do so through the NEPA process and will via the collaborative process when able. But we’ll continue to file lawsuits when necessary to prevent the Forest Service from continuing to create a landscape “pocked with clearcuts and criss-crossed by roads” (see the comments of Former USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas below) and we’ll refuse to be marginalized simply because we dare speak up and advocate for fish and wildlife.

Why Collaboration and What’s the Fuss?
by Keith Hammer

Definitions of collaboration include “working together” and “traitorous cooperation with an enemy.” Over the past several decades, the Forest Service has increased its use of collaboration to forge consensus among key “stakeholders.”

This has allowed it to marginalize those of lesser means or not in agreement with social compromises that again “cut the baby in half” and perhaps violate laws protecting fish, wildlife, and water quality. Indeed, the National Forest Foundation’s “A Roadmap for Collaboration Before, During and After the NEPA Process” warns of the significant expenditures of “time, effort, funds and social capital necessary for an ongoing collaborative process.”

Current Forest Planning regulations urge that an optional collaborative process precede then parallel the National Environmental Policy Act’s (NEPA) public involvement process. And therein lie two aspects of the rub: 1) collaborators get to front-load the process with their proposals while, 2) many folks who can’t afford to do both must choose whether to collaborate or follow the legally required NEPA process.

The process of seeking consensus through collaboration remains contentious, especially when the Forest Service and industry use it to enlist enough folks to agree with them so they can marginalize those who disagree. Consider these quotes:

“Between private lands and public lands the world that was once covered with a sea of green was now pocked with clearcuts and criss-crossed by roads. But we still continued until we were faced with a segment of the public that had a differing view of what their national forests should be.”
– Former USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas (Chronicle of Community Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998)

“[W]hen local environmental groups and timber representatives learn to reach consensus . . . that will marginalize extremists.”
– Former USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas (Daily Inter Lake 6/8/97)

“We need to find common ground so the people who want to litigate are marginalized.”
– Former Assistant Secretary of Interior Rebecca Watson (Missoulian 11/28/02)

“The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act . . . is largely being used to circumvent existing environmental laws and give control of the management of our National Forests to local special interests.”
– Al Espinosa and Harry Jageman, retired USFS fisheries and wildlife biologists (Letter to Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests 8/21/10)

“I believe that we . . . have public lands that belong to all people . . . I fear that localized decisions are usually based on ‘How much can I get now?’”
– Former Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora (Chronicle of Community Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998)

“There’s something unreasonably comfortable about focusing primarily on alternative structures for decision making instead of the issues that lie at the heart of the debate.”
– Economist Tom Power (Chronicle of Community Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998)

“Consensus is the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes; but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner, ‘I stand for consensus’?”
– Former UK Primer Minister Margaret Thatcher

21 thoughts on “Swan View Coalition Shares Perspective on Collaboration”

  1. I wonder if Mr. Hammer’s message would be more meaningful if he chose to use quotes less than 10 years old. Of the listing he provides, only two are post-2000 and one of those was expressed in the last five years. Seems to me that there has been much more progress realized with people coming together and recognizing their substantial agreements as well as working to resolve their differences.

    • Tony, could you give some examples? Seriously. If we’re going to meaningfully compare the good, the bad, and the ugly, it will be helpful to have examples of “the good”, and why they are so. Thanks.

    • Mr. Hammer’s perspective resonates with my own personal experience, having attended (at substantial personal cost for several years), the Southeast Alaska regional “collaborative” aka, the Tongass Futures Roundtable. TFR is now defunct, and for many good reasons hinted at — and borne out as reality — by Mr. Hammer’s excellent choice of quotes from an astonihingly wide range of perspectives.

      Given news coverage has been often regarded as the first installment of history, but also realizing “for profit” journalism has cast its long shadow of profit-driven priorities over the necessity of an informed electorate, one would think “nonprofit” media could be counted on as the journalistic benchmark of reportage accomplished in the public’s best interest. Unfortunately, many nonprofit news outlets can no longer be counted upon to even adhere to the widely acknowledged, Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethical standards of journalism.( http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp )

      For example, media coverage of “collaboration” (indeed, even Alaska Public Radio coverage) of the colossal collaboration failures such as TFR mirrors the funder-defined rules of self-selection, exclusivity, secrecy, devolution, and the politics of marginalization. Those rules are the real world realities of “collaboration.”

      The voices of the marginalized groups never got mentioned in this typically unbalanced coverage (reposted here at, http://gsacc.net/news/tongass-futures-roundtable-ends/) for the simple reason the funding sources which leverage mandatory compliance of collaborationist ENGOs are the same funding forces which get applied to Alaska Public Radio annual budgets.

      This is not a coincidence, but rather, a deeply disturbing pattern confirming the realities of the corporatist state we now inhabit. The fact is, if one truly believes this so-called collaborative process (dictated by the corporatist state) claiming to be, ” people coming together and recognizing their substantial agreements as well as working to resolve their differences” it means one of three things: that person is either 1) already on the payroll, 2) wants to be on the payroll, or 3) hasn’t followed the origins and intent of the vast sums of corporate foundation money funding “collaboration” and Public Radio to begin with.

  2. How come the clearcut in that photo is green and all the surrounding forest is dead?

    Nothing much new in the above. Same anti-collaborative shtick we’ve seen and discussed many times. I enjoy the “no time or money to collaborate” arguement though. I guess time and money really limit a lot of life’s endeavours though. Gotta pick the ones that give you the most bang for your buck, which is interesting is you apply Margaret Thatchers quote through the lens of litigation and what Sharon accurately commented on in an earlier post:

    “But you know, and I know, that the case is not really about those purported violations. People don’t litigate because the FS “disobeyed the law” in their program documents; people litigate because they can influence policy if they win by finding procedural or substantive issues that the FS was weak on.”

    To Mr. Espinosa’s and Jageman’s quote – How does one circument the environmental laws??? I mean I’m all for doing away with NEPA and ESA. Combined with the alledged corporate kickbacks we’re supposed to be getting and I might actually be able to afford that new boat AND have the time to use it. I’d like to see proof of how environmental laws are being circumvented. Are NOAA/NMFS and USFWS all on the take too??? That’s one heck of a deep reaching conspiracy.

    Guy – There are numerous examples of how collaboration has successfully and substantally increased restoration efforts such as road decom, weed treatments, watershed restoration, trail maintenance, fuel reductions, etc, etc, etc. They can be found here: http://www.fs.fed.us/restoration/CFLRP/results.shtml

    Money for programs like this goes to where there are successful collaborative efforts to improve lots of things, not just “getting the cut out” as the conspiracy theorists like to think. Many proposals were submitted, only the ones that had effective collaborative relationships were selected. Other examples of how collaboration is benefitting local areas can be found here: http://www.wflccenter.org/spf_grants_13/

    The Western Competitive Grants are generally prioritized towards areas with a lot of local citizen involvement and/or collaboration. These grants are geting a lot of high priority restoration-type work done on private lands.

    • How come the clearcut in that photo is green and all the surrounding forest is dead?

      Hello JZ, If you look carefully, you will notice that the understory of the forest in the background is full of the same type/size of green trees which you see in the clearcut in the foreground.

      Also, regarding JZ’s opinion:

      Nothing much new in the above. Same anti-collaborative shtick we’ve seen and discussed many times. I enjoy the “no time or money to collaborate” arguement though. I guess time and money really limit a lot of life’s endeavours though.

      It seems to me that Keith Hammer presents a pretty rational, common-sense, real-world explanation right up front:

      Swan View Coalition will always follow the legally required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public involvement process and will participate in optional collaborative processes as time and funds allow. We appreciate both as avenues to better understand all interests and issues.

      I’m not sure how anyone could really disagree, or have a problem with, Hammer’s approach. Regard the time/money/resources it takes to participate in optional collaborative processes outside of NEPA, on this blog we’ve previously discussed that issue in connection with some new research into the topic.

      • Thanks Matthew for reminding us of Caitlin Burke’s study. I didn’t have a chance to read that at the time, but have now downloaded it. By the way Sharon, the link to her shorter research summary no longer works, but it can be found elsewhere online. And yes, my check is in the mail.

      • Hey Matt, Sorry if I came off “snarky”…I’m trying not to these days (it’s hard though when you keep dragging all the old skeletons out of the closet – thanks). I will continue to be facetious though. No point in getting too serious about issues we aren’t gonna solve here.

        I would agree that Kieth’s thoughts are pretty rational, maybe I read too much into it based on his choice of quotes supporting his argument. I re-read all the comments in your link and the only thing we can say with any certainty is that everyone has had different experiences and strong opinions with collaboration they’ve participated in. I don’t think anyone wants to see their efforts marginalized.

        The summary snips you took from Ms. Burke’s research are right-on, in my opinion. Especially this:

        “This research serves as a caution to those who would use, or advocate the use of, collaboration – its use must be carefully considered and its process carefully designed to ensure the most balanced representation possible.”

    • Look again, the burned area has plenty of green regen too, as much as the clearcut, You just see it more easily in the clearcut since it is right in front of you. I suggest that this regen came into both places after the fire, as LP tends to do big time. Looks about 6-7 years old.

  3. It seems much of the collaboration commentary floating around out there is just that: it’s floating around. The biggest problem with collaboration right now is that it is poorly anchored in substantive theory. There are theories; but nothing unifying yet. I’m in the process of researching collaboration through the lens of CFLRP for my M.S. thesis in Bioregional Planning & Community Design at U of Idaho. I’m going to sample from the Colville, Clearwater, and Southwest Crown (I think I can keep variation fairly equal this way b/c they all began at the same time and are essentially of the same forest & demographic types) collaborations. I’m testing against a new book that seems to be the first to firmly anchor collaboration in theory and thus enable predictions of success based on how closely the collaboration holds to their theory of the necessary components for success. The book is called — Planning With Complexity: An introduction to collaborative rationality for public policy — and is written by Innes & Booher, 2010. I noticed Ms. Burke cited a Judith Innes work from 1996. I also read Ms. Burke’s abstract, and my initial reaction is that she would agree with hypotheses I have generated in response to Innes & Boohers book as applied to CFLRP.

    I had to write a paper for one of my classes that provided a summary/critique of a planning theory. I chose Innes & Booher’s book. I say this because the paper provides a great overview through which an informed discussion can be had on what the authors feel the components of an effective collaboration are. I feel as though CFLRP’s meet most of the components; however, when they don’t, it seems as though Ms. Burke has a sound theory as to why not. A little caveat emptor before I post the link. The paper is NOT a formal academic work. If you are interested in a quick overview of the latest attempt to define the components necessary for effective collaboration, please follow the link:


    • This may be helpful or not.. while at the SAF Convention I noted a quote on a slide from Ansell and Gash’s book in 2007, Collaborative Governance in Theory and Practice. Here’s the link. It seems to me that collaboration is part of collaborative governance, as in their abstract.

      Over the past few decades, a new form of governance has emerged to replace adversarial and managerial modes of policy making and implementation. Collaborative governance, as it has come to be known, brings public and private stakeholders together in collective forums with public agencies to engage in consensus-oriented decision making. In this article, we conduct a meta-analytical study of the existing literature on collaborative governance with the goal of elaborating a contingency model of collaborative governance. After reviewing 137 cases of collaborative governance across a range of policy sectors, we identify critical variables that will influence whether or not this mode of governance will produce successful collaboration. These variables include the prior history of conflict or cooperation, the incentives for stakeholders to participate, power and resources imbalances, leadership, and institutional design. We also identify a series of factors that are crucial within the collaborative process itself. These factors include face-to-face dialogue, trust building, and the development of commitment and shared understanding. We found that a virtuous cycle of collaboration tends to develop when collaborative forums focus on “small wins” that deepen trust, commitment, and shared understanding. The article concludes with a discussion of the implications of our contingency model for practitioners and for future research on collaborative governance.

      So it seems from the title as if the authors think there is some theory. I don’t know if they consider it “poorly anchored” though. Or how well it would have to be anchored.. and if it isn’t to whom is it a problem?

      I once attended a meeting with fire scientists who wanted money to make their empirical models more theoretical- they actually worked well enough, but “theory” is seen as an intangible good from the knowledge perspective. That’s a human value in the science hierarchy and not one that everyone shares.

      As a geneticist, though, I have seen many theories come and go, and if say, collaborative governance worked, that would be fine for me even without a theoretical foundation. Their book looks interesting.

      • Thank you Sharon! I had not specifically come across this yet; however, it is referenced in the Innes & Booher book. Just from the abstract it would seem that they are trying to “anchor” collaboration to a model that can promote predictable outcomes. I think the different lines of thinking are converging, and I think it is good that they are. I guess I should have been more clear about the anchoring. In the field, where collaboration is actually being practiced, it is widely acknowledged that we are calling things collaboration when they may/may not resemble the theoretical models we are talking about here. That’s why I said that much of the discussion concerning them is just “floating around.”
        Again, thanks for the link. I will definitely follow up in my Lit. Review.

  4. dude…. UI? On campus? We should get together sometime, I’ll buy you a beer (of course, I owe a beer to most of the Northwest folks on this blog, but you are more local than most…) My office is about a hundred yards from CNR, over in Ag Science, but I’m on sabbatical this fall (will be teaching in Haiti for most of November) so am mostly keeping away from campus. Drop me an email sometime, if not a beer maybe some caffeine at OWC. -Guy

    • I did a little googling after you replied to my comment on the Colt Summit law review article I’m writing. Walked over & knocked on your door the next day. But alas….yes, you were in Haiti. As a concurrent J.D./M.S. student I have to say I was intrigued by your interdisciplinary background. I would definitely like to talk more about the article, as it seems few understand the issue in depth. I just wasn’t willing to air the issue online until I have the article entirely polished. Will definitely get in touch, and, as I’ve been sober for going on ten years now….it would be best if it were over coffee 🙂

      • Hello Eric, I’d be happy to speak with you about our organization’s experience with the SWCC under the CFLRP. I believe you’ll find that the SWCC has done some things drastically different than any other CFLRP group in the country. koehler at wildrockies dot org. Thanks.

        • Thank you Matthew- I will definitely take you up on the offer. I’m writing my proposal this coming spring semester. Thus, the research will not occur until this coming summer. Still a little ways off. My intent is to survey the working group members, with one of the questions asking the working group members to identify “other interested parties” so that I can snowball the sample. I don’t know if you were part of the SWCC working group, and I don’t know how diligent working group members will be at identifying “outside interests” (my gut tells me there may be some bias in the selection). Thus, it will help to identify as wide a swath as possible.

          Again, thank you.

          • Hello Eric: I’m 110% positive that the SWCC working group (which our organization originally belonged to) is biased (and political) enough that they would not identify our organization, as well as a few others, as an “outside interest.”

            Some examples of our history with the SWCC, and our problems with the SWCC, are presented in this Colt Summit amicus brief. Thanks.

      • cool, right now I’m holed up off campus writing 30+ hrs of lectures and a 100+ page ebook on microbiology/ag/forests/law stuff… all in French, yikes. Leaving next week, back about 12/4, let’s get together then for java. My UI email, which I check often worldwide, is gknudsen at uidaho dot edu.
        thanks, -Guy (p.s. take Matthew up on his offer too, he really knows this stuff)

  5. The problem some people see in collaboration is that it leads to consensus….. which leads to compromise. Some people fear compromise, on almost any level. Some people would rather see “whatever happens”, instead, preferring a more uncertain future, unaffected by compromise. Sadly, they don’t realize that every decision, or non-decision, is a compromise, on its own.

  6. Notice in the picture how thick the young trees are? Looks to me like going it going to grow up to be another overcrowded forest..
    Were did the idea come from that wildfire thins the forest out? Seems to me it just kills it, especially younger overcrowded forest, then it grows back up and,,,.
    Older growth forests can withstand some fires, but I don’t think the trees really need or like fire. Seems like big trees will pretty much dominate their environment.
    It seems like it is us humans who have decided that the forests needs more fire, much to the forests demise.
    My view from the westside of the Cascades.

  7. Well, I just got back from a pile of Sonny Dos over at my Mom’s on the coast, only to find myself in living color.
    We were up on the Brush Creek fire area, that burnt in 2007 I think. Derek Weidensee made a run through there a couple of years later and sent me some of his pictures. It was amazing how the burn behaved. One thing striking about the Brush fire was the amount of root kill, something like 90 percent in older seral classes, which meant a bunch of mortality that was not recovered. So, the trees were “saved?”
    The regen is pretty good, as expected for all the lodgepole component in the forest. I didn’t see much larch or fir, so it will probably all come up doghair, that is, if the inevitable jackstraw isn’t set afire in the next decade or so.
    Brush was the same year as Chippy and Skyland, and like the latter two, there are entire basins of black sticks. My feeling is, how can such a result be “better” than even the worst clearcut? How can this result possibly be a ecological optimum for anyone?
    At least if the trees are mowed off, they won’t conk anyone on the head. That is some dangerous ground now, which if you dislike human activity, is probably a plus. But for me, it would have been far better to have managed in preparation for fire, keeping the scale of incident down to something reasonable, like maybe 10,000 acres at a go in order to have a scale of loss that could be recovered for management cash.
    With that said, I’m not a big believer in collaboration, because “organizations” like AWR, FOWS, and SVC will try to short-circuit any compromise/consensus in favor of the nuke-it-all status quo. Frankly, I’m only going through the motions against some rather passionate obstructionists so that the “collaborative, public consensus” isn’t a complete abandonment of the forest’s future.


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