Collaboration is a big “buzz word” in many public interest projects seeking endorsement and funding. It projects a “Kumbaya,” All-for-One and One-for-All, “feel good” impression. Some “collaboratives” produce decent results. But is this the case when it comes to protecting the biodiversity of our national forests?
By the early 1970s there were a number of sawmills between the mouth of the Spokane River and the Post Falls Dam. The Sunshine Mine in Kellogg was running 24/7. The mills were supplied with timber from the Idaho Panhandle National Forest clear-cuts and the mines flushed their toxic waste down the Coeur d’Alene River. Kootenai Environmental Alliance (KEA) was founded around these issues and the focus was to bring these industries into compliance with the new (1970) National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). That is still KEA’s objective.
So what has changed? After the “direct action” years of the environmental movement that drew attention to the commodity driven management of our national forests, coupled with litigation from environmental grassroots groups like KEA to comply with NEPA, the timber industry had to come up with a new strategy to gain support for the continued logging of our national forests.
Enter the G.W. Bush era Healthy Forests Restoration Act. This clever “feel good” title limited the use of appeals and litigation to challenge commercial logging on our national forests – now done under the guise of reducing fire and promoting restoration. By 2000 the US Forest Service (USFS) timber sales program equated to $1 billion per year deficit at taxpayers expense. USFS “timber targets” were, and continue to be met at or close to 100%, while restoration projects continue to languish at the bottom of USFS spending. This politically based legislation, with its environmentally disastrous accumulative effects, compounded by on-going legislation that further reduced options for challenging the timber industry led “management” of our national forests, defies any notion of real environmental protections, let alone public participation.
If that weren’t bad enough, within the political arena environmental groups have become deeply divided. Some have gone down the collaborative (follow the funding) road and others haven’t. Like the rest of the country, our regional forest “Collaborations” have to do with professional enviros self-selecting themselves to represent the environmental interests of the public at large and thereby providing “green” cover and endorsement for environmentally and scientifically unsound forest management practices and policies.
Although Federal legislation advances “collaboration” there is no specific directive or process on how collaborations should be conducted, hence it is a wild west landscape of timber industry cronies, local politicians looking for control of and revenue from public lands, Off-road Recreational Vehicle (ORV) groups wanting unlimited access on public lands, and the BIG Green organizations like The Nature Conservancy and The Wilderness Society, on down to their regional minions, to give it a good green-washing patina so they can continue to feed at the, largely industry funded, trough.
“It’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” —Upton Sinclair
When Enviros choose to collaborate they agree to bargain away, not defend, the biodiversity (wildlife habitat, water and air quality, soils, cumulative effects etc. – not just the trees) of our public forests. With no process in place, many collaborations require a “will not litigate” / gag order from “stakeholders.” Or as in the case of Idaho Rivers United who had been sitting on the Clearwater Collaboration, were asked to leave the collaborative after they chose to sue USFS over Mega-Load transportation along the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River. Apparently they broke the unwritten collaboration “rules,” (of which there are none) by not toting the timber industry and USFS brotherhood line.
Despite all this, “collaboration” keeps its “feel good” glow right up until the natural gas blowouts, the oil spills, the landslides, the coal train derailments, polluted air and water (such as our own Coeur d’Alene River Basin), and the demise of wildlife. Environmental groups that don’t collaborate are routinely vilified as “bad sports” or “rock throwers” or accused of holding up restoration projects through “frivolous” litigation.
KEA understands the politics of forest collaboration and it is not favorable for our mission to, To conserve, protect and restore the environment, with a particular emphasis on the Idaho Panhandle and the Coeur d’Alene basin.
As Idaho’s oldest conservation organization, founded largely on protecting the national forests in our backyard, KEA is wise to the seduction of “feel good” rhetoric and the industry dollars that advance an agenda that ultimately does more harm than good to make our national forests and its wildlife residents, truly healthy. In this instance, Collaboration is not as good at it sounds.
Submitted by: Janet Torline