Editorial: Allow collaboration on forest solutions

It’s nice to be invited. It’s not nice to be invited to a meeting in which your project is going to be attacked and be told you can’t defend it.

That’s what happened recently to the Ochoco forest collaborative.

Forest collaboratives are a newish attempt to resolve differences that turn almost every timber sale into a fight. Loggers, conservationists and others meet again and again with U.S. Forest Service officials. The collaboratives try to develop projects that may dodge objections and lawsuits.

Such is the case with the Wolf project in the Ochoco National Forest. The proposed 25,000-acre area is located around Wolf Creek about 50 miles east of Prineville. The Ochoco collaborative began meeting in 2012. Its members developed Wolf. This month, members of the collaborative wrote to the Forest Service asking to participate in any resolution of objections to Wolf. The Forest Service wrote back and told the collaborative it could come to a meeting to hear objections, but that’s it.

At the meeting in Prineville, the Forest Service representatives listened to objectors and tried to get a feel for what might satisfy them. For instance, Karen Coulter of the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project objected to cutting any trees over 15 inches in diameter, argued the forest should be considered moist and not dry for thinning purposes, and said that no new roads should be constructed.

The Forest Service told objectors it would be back in touch with them to negotiate. Then there was a surprise. After having told the collaborative members they could not speak at the meeting, the Forest Service opened up the meeting to public comment. Some members of the collaborative seemed confused about whether they could speak.

It was a good decision by the Forest Service to allow public comment, but it shouldn’t be a surprise.

Members of the collaborative complained after the meeting. They pointed out objectors can scuttle elements of the project in one-on-one negotiations with the Forest Service, and the collaborative that developed it gets no say.

Ochoco Forest Service Supervisor Kate Klein told us the Forest Service isn’t yet sure how it’s going to handle collaboratives and objections.

No matter how the Forest Service manages federal forests, there’s almost a guarantee that some will be unhappy. There are disagreements about what the science says, and about priorities and values.

But as a solution, collaboratives won’t achieve much if their members believe the only way to guarantee they are heard on a project is to object to it.