Conservation groups don’t get fair shake in Northern Blues Forest Collaborative

The following piece was written Veronica Warnock, conservation director for Greater Hells Canyon Council and Rob Klavins, Northeast Oregon field coordinator for Oregon Wild. Both of them are based in Wallowa County, Oregon. It was published here. Emphasis was added below. – mk

On Tuesday, June 23, our organizations made the difficult decision to withdraw from the Northern Blues Forest Collaborative. As founding members of Northeast Oregon’s forest collaboratives, our organizations have spent countless hours working in good faith to guide Forest Service projects that support our local communities while providing better ecological outcomes for the forests we care so much about. Unfortunately, like many other stakeholders before us, we have determined the NBFC has devolved to a point where we can no longer lend it credibility with our continued participation.

The premise of collaboration is one we still support. Strongly. As the U.S. Forest Service sees its funding continue to dwindle and the public it serves becomes ever more polarized, we need functional collaboration now more than ever.

Good collaboratives provide a platform for representatives from diverse interests to address problems in a landscape we all care about. Good collaborators speak to be understood and listen to understand. We recognize the legitimacy of all interests. We agree on lofty goals of trying to guide willing public agencies toward projects that lead to outcomes that benefit our communities economically, socially, and ecologically. We then seek consensus with give-and-take on all sides. Increasingly at the NBFC, when it comes to protecting things like old growth, roadless forests, wildlife, and salmon — there is no give.

Respect for one another’s values is written into the NBFC’s operating principles. Yet, fellow collaborators have marginalized conservation groups and others with whom they disagree. This and more egregious violations of collaborative principles makes legitimate collaboration impossible.

The Forest Service is under increasing pressure to log our public lands more aggressively, rush scientific review, and reduce public involvement. If it were functioning as intended, the NBFC would be an inclusive place where this pressure is balanced by a diversity of viewpoints rather than serving as a platform for advancing one-sided agendas.

Forest management and collaboratives work best when there are agreed upon rules and sideboards. For 25 years, one such set of rules, commonly known as the “eastside screens,” have provided a safety net for old-growth forests, large trees and the wildlife that depend on them in Eastern Oregon. Now, over the objections of independent scientists and the conservation community, the Trump administration is rushing through a process to undermine those protections. Unfortunately, some interests have pushed this divisive process into the collaborative arena, not only in Northeast Oregon but around the state.

We know collaboration can be successful and have found success in the past — even winning awards for our efforts. We know what good collaboration looks like.

The NBFC has been devolving for years, which explains its dwindling participation. There aren’t many places in Northeast Oregon where conservation voices are given a fair shake. Sadly, the NBFC has become another such place. Therefore, as the last two conservation advocacy members, we felt our continued participation was lending credibility to a dysfunctional collaborative.

While our groups have withdrawn from the NBFC, we remain ready and willing to work in good faith with stakeholders and agency staff to protect and restore the public lands and other places we care so deeply about.

Veronica Warnock is the conservation director for Greater Hells Canyon Council and Rob Klavins is the Northeast Oregon field coordinator for Oregon Wild. Both are based in Wallowa County.

4 thoughts on “Conservation groups don’t get fair shake in Northern Blues Forest Collaborative”

  1. I’m pretty sure the Western Environmental Law Center still participates in NBFC. Are they not a “conversation advocacy member”?

  2. This opinion piece is much like a skip on a vinyl record…constantly experiencing repeated outcomes (people enthusiastic to participate, only to realize that their enthusiasm is undermined by various forces, leading to withdrawing from the collaborative group). Does not seem much has been learned in the past couple decades.

    However, it would be interesting to hear from the other participants how the discussions were going – did everyone feel marginalized? If so, why would the collaborative group’s facilitator (assuming there is one) allow that to happen?

  3. Oh, those three ‘C-Words’ again!

    Collaboration is the part where people present their points of view, and listen to other’s. It should be an exercise in learning, to start with. Consensus is always the awkward and difficult part. If the sides don’t come to some sort of shared consensus, then an appropriate compromise becomes impossible.

  4. Hey Anonymous: Yes, the Western Environmental Law Center is a conservation organization that remains a member of the NBFC. The Nature Conservancy is also a conservation organization still at the table. There are community members that would describe themselves as “environmentalists” who are members as well and continue to participate. I don’t believe these groups and individuals feel marginalized (to Anthony’s question).

    And Larry: Yes, consensus is hard! And not always the best way to make decisions. To that end, many forest collaboratives in Oregon – including the NBFC – are “consensus-seeking” organizations, where the group tries very hard to seek out consensus, but when that is not possible, the decision-making framework allows for a majority and minority “report” or position statement, both of which are provided to the Forest Service so the agency understands where group members stand on an issue.


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