This isn’t the set-up for yet another version of the old joke formula. It is what actually happened last week in Boise at the annual conference of the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership.
A remarkable trend has emerged in recent years in the much fought-over national forests of Idaho. People with very different viewpoints are working together to support active land management that provides jobs and wood products while improving the ecological health of the forests. Once a year, citizen-driven forest restoration groups meet in Boise to trade stories, receiving training, and network with each other. Last week’s event drew eighty participants from across Idaho. They represented seven separate efforts in the Clearwater, Nez Perce, Payette, Boise, Panhandle, and Salmon-Challis national forests.
|2013 Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership conference. Photo ©Will Whelan/The Nature Conservancy|
The Nature Conservancy is a founding member of the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership and participates in groups in the Clearwater and Panhandle national forests.
Each collaborative group is distinct in its origins, make-up, and focus. But, all are finding ways to overcome a pattern of conflict and gridlock that has beset national forest management for most of the last two decades. Conservation groups, such as the Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society, have been willing to promote logging projects that thin small diameter trees and seek to make forests more resilient to fire. The timber industry and the Forest Service have been willing to adopt new, more ecologically-based forestry techniques and to focus timber harvest in the already roaded “front country” of the national forests. All parties are working to integrate watershed restoration– such as decommissioning old, unneeded roads that bleed sediment into local streams – into logging projects.
|Right to left: Faye Krueger, Region 1 USFS Forester; David New, timber industry consultant; Gregg Servheen, IDFG biologist. Photo ©Will Whelan/The Nature Conservancy|
Everyone who participated in the conference had a compelling story to tell. Here are a few highlights:
The Clearwater Basin Collaborative is helping the Forest Service carry out a ten-year project in the 1.4 million acre Middle Fork Clearwater-Selway River landscape. The plan includes carefully crafted logging, retirement of old roads, weed treatments, recreational improvements, and a wide range of other actions. The project is expected to create 127 jobs in economically depressed Clearwater and Idaho counties. The collaboration has been so effective that the Forest Service recently boosted its projections of future timber harvest in the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests by 50%, with the support of key environmental groups.
The Payette Forest Coalition’s project in the upper Weiser River Basin is moving forward without appeals or litigation – a remarkable achievement for a large-scale project to treat 24,000 acres with a combination of thinning, logging, prescribed fire, and watershed restoration. The Coalition won the U.S. Forest Service’s regional award for best public-private partnership and is now designing a new project northwest of McCall.
Last summer, the vast Mustang Complex Fire burned 300,000 acres near Salmon. Nothing seemed to slow the fire down during the hottest weeks of the summer. But, the fire calmed down when it encountered tree stands that had been thinned by the Hughes Creek Project championed by the Lemhi Forest Group.
None of this progress has come easily. Each group has endured through countless meetings and struggled through innumerable arguments. The long-term success of these efforts is hardly assured. But, the hardy band of unlikely allies that gathered in the bar last week will tell you that bridging the divides between environmentalist, logger, recreationist, and land manager offers the best hope for the future for the communities and the wildlife that depend on Idaho’s forests.
For more information, visit the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership website: idahoforestpartners.org.