A new way of doing business
Oregon Wild has been engaging with the Forest Service and BLM on activities planned on our public lands throughout our history. Historically, that involved reading and submitting written comments on the environmental analysis done by these agencies for a particular logging or other proposal. Agency decision-makers read our, and other public, comments and may make changes to the project based on public feedback. If we feel that the project decision is illegal and detrimental to the environment, we can (and do) take the agency to court. In fact, Oregon Wild has been quite successful at stopping illegal projects that harm fish and wildllife habitat or other public resources through this comment and litigation process. While it is important to have the tools to stop illegal projects that affect our public resources, this model leaves out the other side of the coin: encouraging the agencies to do good, ecologically beneficial restoration projects.
Starting in the Siuslaw National Forest in the early 2000s, “collaboration” became a way for a variety of interested parties to sit down and talk about our differences with the Forest Service, and to find common ground around positive ecological outcomes and values for our public forests and watersheds.
For example, in western Oregon, previously clearcut forests are now dense young plantations that benefit from thinning to add diversity and structure and benefit wildlife habitat. And in central and eastern Oregon we found that many forests need mechanical thinning and prescribed fire in order to address the negative effects of fire suppression. Working in a collaborative way with the Forest Service and other interested parties, restoration projects that work to address these common ground issues are supported by diverse interests and move forward with little controversy.
Collaboration has since become the hot new buzz word and technique for finding common ground on public lands across Oregon. This new model of doing business has been championed by elected officials, agency heads, and granting organizations in recent years across the western U.S. and throughout Oregon. Collaboration in federal forest management seems to be here to stay.
What are forest collaborative groups?
The recent proliferation of collaboration throughout the West has led to the establishment of over 25 collaborative groups in Oregon. These groups can be quite different from one another - in the scale of their work (from a single project area to a whole National Forest), how often they meet, how they are facilitated, how decisions are made, and why they were established (from coordinating around stewardship contracting and associated restoration projects, to working under federal legislation like the Collaborative Forest Restoration Act).
Different as these groups can be, they also have many commonalities. There generally is diverse representation in these groups - from local and regional environmental/conservation groups, to timber interests, to local community members. Most groups have ecological, social, and economic goals for their given areas - whether at the project, watershed, Ranger District, or National Forest scale. Many groups develop “zones of agreement” that are based on ecological restoration needs, desired scale of projects, and community support for different types of projects and work to advance projects within these sideboards.
Typically, the role of forest collaborative groups are to make recommendations* to the federal land management agency(ies) on project types, activity areas, and associated restoration needs or priorities agreed upon by the group, but it’s important to note that not all projects developed by federal land managers fall within the zones of agreement of collaborative groups or have the groups’ support.
*Forest collaborative groups are not recognized as official federal advisory groups, and their recommendations are not binding.
Oregon Wild’s participation in forest collaboratives
Oregon Wild staff participate in several collaborative groups across the state. We believe that this participation can help advance the goals of ecological restoration on public lands, and that we can help define working “zones of agreement” for collaboratives that include and consider our ecological perspective. Participation in collaboration also allows us to potentially find common ground among diverse interests and community members with a stake in how public forest lands are managed so that there is more agreement on future management that focuses on projects with ecological benefits - not on projects that further degrade our public values.
Based on our experience, there are a number of components that contribute to successful collaborative groups and processes. These include:
Focusing on ecosystem restoration as the primary goal of collaborative work
Establishing a clear vision and goals for the group
Setting and operating within established zones of agreement
Complementing (not replacing) the NEPA requirements for public involvement and informed decision-making;
Commitment to the goals and process of the collaborative from multiple levels of agency staff
Monitoring the results of the collaborative process - both for on the ground projects as well as the functioning of the group
Clear consensus-based decision making process agreed to by participants of the group
Transparency in development of procedures and decision-making
Utilizing a neutral and trained facilitator to coordinate meetings and keep records
Recognizing clear roles of both agencies and other participants in the group
Including all interested voices and representation at the table
Collaboratives Oregon Wild staff currently participate in:*
Ochoco Collaborative (Jamie Dawson)
South Willamette Forest Collaborative (Chandra LeGue)
Alsea Stewardship Group (Chandra LeGue)
Siuslaw Stewardship Group (Chandra LeGue)
Deschutes Collaborative Forest Partners (Erik Fernandez)
*As of 2018. Numerous other collaborative groups exist in Oregon, and our staff are sometimes involved in these as needed and as time allows.
Top photo: Chandra LeGue. The Alsea Stewardship Group discusses a timber sale project in the Siuslaw National Forest.