Forest collaboratives are a bid by the Forest Service to keep whatever it does in the forest from becoming a legal brawl.
But some environmental groups, including the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project from Fossil, have already declared they have had enough and won’t be a part of them. They wrote pages of criticisms, summarizing by saying, “In essence, collaborative groups are backroom decision-making processes disguised as feel-good endeavors which aid agency decision-makers.”
We have editorialized before criticizing how the Forest Service works with the collaboratives. But the collaboratives do get important work done. They do bring together people who don’t often sit across the table — loggers, landowners, environmental groups and Forest Service officials. And they do find ways to work together on forest restoration that can reduce wildfire threat. An example is the recent thinning and prescribed burns near Phil’s Trailhead near Bend.
On Tuesday, the Ochoco Forest Restoration Collaborative met in Prineville. Noticeably absent was a representative from the Blue Mountains project, which had participated in the past. But there were representatives from other environmental groups — Oregon Wild and The Nature Conservancy — and also a couple local government officials, loggers, landowners and half a dozen people from the Forest Service.
They debated why the Honi timber sale on the Ochoco forest got zero bids. Loggers said the Forest Service was asking way too high a price. Forest Service officials said they would re-evaluate the appraisal and try the sale again.
The collaborative also went through a mapping exercise led by the Nature Conservancy to try to identify which areas of the Ochocos should be prioritized for restoration. They looked at wildlife, wildfire danger, roads and much more. The exercise was hampered by the lack of information for all the collaborative’s priorities, such as data about areas of recreation use. But it did, at least, give some initial impressions of what to do next.
Almost nobody gets what they want in the national forests. Collaboratives don’t solve that. They can’t. There are just too many competing priorities. Collaboratives do, though, try to find common ground where litigious fights are all too common.