While we’re discussing the details of plan revisions or projects of the contentious persuasion.. it’s sometimes easy to forget that most things forests do are not all that controversial. The things that are lifting our spirits right now, for example, are recreating in the Forests. The current Covid situation has brought heightened attention and appreciation to our outdoor opportunities. And while some Parks are closed, National Forests, for the activities that most of us engage in, are not.
This could be the time to assess whether your Forest has a friends’ group, and whether you have time and skill to step up and develop one. I’ve lifted the below paragraphs from an essay I wrote for the book “193 Million Acres” edited by Steve Wilent.
Everyone needs good friends, and when it comes to recreation, friends are perhaps the Forest Service’s greatest need. The agency already has lots of friends. At the national scale, the National Forest Foundation was chartered by Congress in 1993 to “bring people together to restore and enhance our National Forests and Grasslands.”
Numerous local groups focus on their specific national forest or ranger district. In Colorado, the Friends of Dillon Ranger District (fdrd.org) is one example: “Friends of the Dillon Ranger District (FDRD) leverages the power of volunteers to make sure that your national forest lands,that are enjoyed by millions of people each year, are not negatively impacted by their popularity. By volunteering with FDRD, or supporting us by becoming a member or making a financial contribution, you benefit your national forest that makes Summit County a world-class destination.”
In California, the mission of the Stewards of the Sierra National Forest (sotsnf.org) is “to unite the many people who enjoy the diverse recreation activities available in the Sierra National Forest, promoting responsible recreation and use of forest resources, through conservation and education, and ensuring public access to the forest in the present and for future generations.” In Illinois, the Friends of the Shawnee National Forest (shawneefriends.org) is a “nonprofit organization that supports the Shawnee National Forest by promoting land stewardship, environmental education, and responsible outdoor recreation.”
Friends groups can accept donations for supporting a forest or district—donations the agency cannot accept. I am going hiking tomorrow on a national forest. After I use about $30 worth of gas to get to a trailhead, I think it’s fair to donate $10 to the district Friends group. I’d like to do so via a collection box at the trailhead or perhaps online. But with no Friends, the $10 sits in my pocket despite my best intentions.
While considering whether to incorporate The Smokey Wire as a 501c3, I discovered that it’s really not all that difficult to do (though we ultimately decided again not to). I’m sure the folks noted above and others can be called on for advice. And retirees, this could be a special way for you to give back. Many (most) of you are great at organizing and getting things done, and this enforced time of online work might be an opportunity.
In the essay, I suggested that the Outdoor Recreation Industry fund a kind of “Friends’ group” learning network, and a half-time volunteer coordinator on each Forest. But the next six months to a year might end up being a hard time for them. And the Public Lands Alliance has a resource library and partnership best practices, so that could help. We’ve often developed friendships, and just plain better relationships, working with people in collaborative groups, even on something as controversial as a plan revision or a roadless rule. Reaching agreements on where to spend money, or how to raise it, seems like a much more fertile area for cooperation and mutual appreciation. Anyone with experiences of successes or failures, please write in and tell us your story.