The Colville National Forest released a draft Record of Decision for its revised forest plan on September 8. During the planning process, a collaborative group, the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition submitted a proposal to designate more than 200,000 acres of new wilderness, to be offset by increased logging on other parts of the Forest and building new trails for mountain bikers, motorcyclists and ATV riders, who would lose access to some trails if Congress approved new wilderness. The revised plan proposed by the Forest includes only 60,000 acres of wilderness recommendations.
I guess that’s good news if you think that local collaboratives have too much influence on national forest decisions and/or if you are a proponent of logging. But wait! It turns out that the most influence was wielded by the local governments, and the local timber company isn’t happy about that.
Russ Vaagen, vice president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber Co. and NEWFC board president, formally objected to the draft plan in a Nov. 6 letter. In the letter, he said the Forest Service’s decision was “skewed” by special interest groups. “The Colville National Forest belongs to all citizens of Washington and the United States,” he wrote. “Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille county commissioners represent just a tiny fraction of these citizens.” Later in the letter he said it’s unavoidable that locals will have “personal, financial interests” in what happens to federal land, but that those interests should “have no bearing on federal land management issues.”
This sort of left my head spinning. Maybe it’s because they didn’t get the increased logging either (I don’t know if that’s true)? Or maybe it’s that the “collaborative” part should win out over merely “local.” Or did the “local” actually use an end-run to obtain a top-down approach from an administration hostile to new wilderness?
I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that since decisions to designate wilderness are inherently and legally political, this may legitimize and enhance the value of a local collaborative approach. Of course all is not lost on the Colville; the collaborative approach could count for something when the collaborative makes an end-run around the Forest Service to obtain wilderness legislation, since it can undercut an agency position that the Forest Service is doing what the public wants.
In another wilderness squabble involving an end-run by local governments to reduce wilderness protection, three counties in Wyoming have chosen to bypass a statewide collaborative process and support federal legislation that would eliminate wilderness study areas without designating any new wilderness.
Titled the “Restoring Public Input and Access to Public Lands Act of 2018,” HR 6939 would remove wilderness study designation and associated protections from approximately 400,000 federal acres in Lincoln, Big Horn and Sweetwater counties (see the bill below). The three counties declined to participate in a years-long consensus-based investigation of the wildlands. Saying the wilderness-study designation “prevents access, locks up land and resources, restricts grazing rights, and hinders good rangeland and resource management,” Cheney introduced her measure Sept. 27. It marked the third time she bypassed the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative sponsored by the Wyoming County Commissioners Association. Across the state, 777,766 acres of BLM and Forest Service property are protected by wilderness study designation. WPLI sought a single statewide wilderness bill to resolve study-area status. A majority of commissioners in the three counties, however, responded to Cheney’s early 2018 call for legislation before the WPLI process played out.
I’m cheering for the collaboratives here, too.