Shared Vision, Shattered Trust and the Building Thereof: OCFR and Somes Bar Projects

Klamath Justice Coalition activists gather to create a road blockade in efforts to protect the spiritual trails that were at risk during the implementation of the OCFR Project. Credit: Craig Tucker

Thanks to Susan Jane Brown for sharing the link to the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. It is a joint effort by TNC and the Watershed Center.  There are many interesting posts there, (and it’s great that there’s a whole section of Fantastic Failures), and I thought I’d highlight this one that tells a story about building trust between the Karuk Tribe and the Forest Service, by Bill Tripp.  Trust is something that people in communities can develop- perhaps it’s harder for national groups or for national elected officials.  Perhaps the exercise of trust-building is not honored as it should be. I’m thinking of a national FS award nominated by externals, with a chunk of change for projects associated with it. This story depicts how a negative interaction, plus continued willingness to work together for mutual interests, are leading to a better future.  Kudos to the collaborators for not giving up, and the Forest Service for fixing what went wrong.

“Can we have a meeting with the contractor?” I asked.

“They tell me I can’t even go to the project site without permission from the contracting officer in Redding” replied the new forest ranger.

We worked diligently to find solutions, but the contracting regulations created barriers at every turn. We couldn’t find resolution and landed in court, the last place any of us wanted to be.

Our stories were told, and it was determined that there was a violation of the National Historic Preservation Act in failing to follow through with the identified protection measures. The judge asked me, “Do you want this project to go away?”

I sighed. “We agreed in the beginning that something needs to get done … we just need to do it right,” I said.

With that, we settled on a remedial plan that was partially negotiated, and partially prescribed by the judge.

The project resumed, but now with Tribal and local Forest Service staff on-site during much of the implementation. Many of the timber units were logged, some of the hand treatment work was done, yet follow-up burning still hasn’t happened. To this day, there are cut trees on the ground and units left untreated. The contractor stopped coming back, presumably due to low timber values, long-haul costs and a bitter taste in his mouth over the delays.


A failure? For the most part, I would say yes. However, and oddly enough, relationships among those initially collaborating improved, understanding was gained, and a foundation for building trust was established. Collaboration didn’t stop, it grew stronger. 

The Nature Conservancy’s Fire Learning Network offered facilitated dialogue. We began to access the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network’s communication channels and peer network. We participated in the formulation of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. We strengthened our relationships with the state of California. We increased our capacity through hosting Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) and participating in the TREX coaches network. We helped spawn the Indigenous Peoples Burning Network. This local, state and national work renewed our vigor in community-based action and allowed us to connect again with local partners in the co-design of the Somes Bar Integrated Wildland Fire Management Project (“Somes Bar”).

Although Somes Bar is about twice the size of the OCFR project, we have learned from our past mistakes and feel ready for the challenge. We started differently where things went wrong before. We have seen consistency within the USDA Forest Service despite staff turnover. We have created a more inclusive process and established a shared identity through the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership (WKRP). We settled on a planning area of 1.2 million acres. We are using stewardship agreement authorities that enable our collaborative group to stay engaged during all of the phases — planning, implementation, monitoring and adaptive management. And we have begun to look back at the OCFR project to see how we can bring it back to life under its original intent.

11 thoughts on “Shared Vision, Shattered Trust and the Building Thereof: OCFR and Somes Bar Projects”

  1. Speaking of building trust and collaboration, Federal District Court Magistrate Judge Clarke (Oregon) recently issued an opinion on a timber sale on BLM lands in Oregon, noting:

    “The Court is mindful of staying in its judicial “lane,” and, in particular, not attempting to
    be a forestry expert. However, the Court cannot help but be aware of the economic and
    environmental destruction caused by recent severe wildfires in Southern Oregon. Everyone
    agrees, immediate action is needed in the forests to reduce serious future risk to life, property,
    and the forests themselves. The stakeholders in environmental litigation like the present case
    have developed an unfortunate, but understandable, mistrust of each other over many years of
    doing battle in court. This Court, having handled these cases for many years, believes that all
    parties are acting in good faith. Although they have differing perspectives, they do have
    common goals, including improving forest health and increasing fire resiliency, and they share a
    sincere desire to manage forests in a sustainable and economically appropriate way for future

    “The government, environmental groups, and timber interests have collaborated on
    successful forest management projects in recent years. It can be done. Each party has expertise
    that should be at the table in discussing and planning these public projects. Such collaboration
    has the promise to result in more transparency, improved outcomes, and fewer projects stuck in
    time consuming litigation. As with most compromise in life, “the perfect should not get in the
    way of the good.” This project fell short of that collaborative spirit.”

    This is a pretty thoughtful observation, and yet also clearly indicates the Judge *is* staying in his lane as an impartial adjudicator.

    • Isn’t it hard for the judge to tell how much “collaborative spirit” is there and whose “perfect got in the way of the good?” Just wondering what facts may have produced those conclusions. I know for projects I’ve been involved with, reasonable people could disagree about those two things (that is, disagree within the FS).

      • I suspect Judge Clarke reads the papers just like regular folk. In Oregon, there has been a lot of coverage of successful collaborative efforts, including in southern Oregon where he sits (he’s in Medford), and I think Judge Clarke picked up on that.

        I agree that reasonable people can disagree about whether there was legitimate “collaborative spirit” involved in a project, and whether a project is in fact a “good” one. My hope is that stakeholders can respectfully disagree, without throwing each other under the bus or questioning the (or subscribing ulterior) motivations of others. Civil discourse is on the wane in our country, and that’s a shame.

    • Seems that the judge also set the bar on how the parties are to conduct themselves and interact with others. Having that accountability be known upfront will hopefully assist the collaboration process to develop solutions meaningful to all parties involved.

      • If the same judge got these cases all the time there would be ongoing learning by the judge and perhaps the ability to set the bar.. in other areas like Colorado where there are not so many cases, each one is on a different topic (travel management, coal mines, gas pipelines) with different groups involved on each side. Not so sure that there’s the same opportunity for learning. How about in your Lake States area?

        • It is the same in the Lake States and Northeast…litigation is infrequent enough to not set any continuity for public collaboration (or at least, setting a bar of expectation).

  2. But, after all is said and done, the process failed, right? Despite, the judges input after his decision on the case. Please don’t sugar coat. It just makes the whole thing look bad/political. Tired of it.

  3. My opinion… Judges are paid to “judge”, which is necessarily subjective. They review the record which includes many facts, among other evidence, but their final “opinion” is well-described as just that — an opinion.


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