Citizens are speaking out in support of our nation’s conservation laws that protect National Forests. Efforts to circumvent those laws by self-styled collaborative groups, who are holding a conference in Coeur d’Alene today, threaten to take the public’s voice out of our National Forests. The conservationists and citizens note that collaborative efforts by special interests to make decisions on National Forests even before the public has had an opportunity to engage in the formal public input process, not only violates the National Environmental Policy Act and harms national forests, but erodes democracy.

One of the biggest threats is the recent and ongoing shift in National Forest timber management, from the Forest Service, which is accountable to the American public, to private timber corporations or state agencies like the Idaho Department of Lands. This is a dangerous step to take control of National Forests from American citizens and the duly authorized agency. For example, Vaagen Lumber, with the consent of conservation group members of a collaborative, designed and is logging and managing the extremely large A to Z timber sale on the Colville National Forest.

Many conservation organizations are opposed to these special interest efforts even though some staffed conservation groups have been co-opted into that process. Janet Torline, board member of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance said, “These groups once fought against illegal and damaging timber sales – now they are promoting them. Their change from conservationist to collaborationist is extremely disturbing. They are being joined by the Forest Service, politicians, the timber industry and others who have a vested interest in circumventing environmental laws.”

According to Gary Macfarlane, Ecosystem Defense Director for the Friends of the Clearwater, “Our region’s National Forests are being consumed by this special interest process, and eroding the public trust. Those who participate in collaboratives legitimize backroom deal making that benefit special interests, instead of standing up for open and transparent decisions made in the public interest.”

Dr. Chad Hanson, forest and fire ecologist, author and director of the John Muir Institute, said, “The fundamental problem with the logging collaboratives is that they are ignoring and denying current forest and fire science,” He continued, “The logging collaboratives would have people believe that wildland fires are destroying our forests and that more logging is the solution. However, the science is telling us, loudly and clearly, that fires—including large fires–create some of the very best and most biodiverse forest habitat that exists. Logging also does not tend to curb fire behavior and often does the opposite.”

“Unfortunately the increase in so-called collaborative timber sales hasn’t worked well for the forest, which suffers significant environmental effects from industrial logging,” according to Barry Rosenberg, long time forest activist. “Follow the money. These collaborative timber sales have nothing to do with “Forest Health,” and all to do with corporate wealth. Why would the timber industry put up $1 million to support logging of Forest Service timber sales by the Idaho Department of Lands if it did not think it would profit from the deal?”

Ecologist and prolific author, George Wuerthner concluded, “Despite the participation of conservation organizations, most collaborative members are made up of people who generally believe in exploiting natural landscapes for human benefit. As a generalization, those who want greater access and greater resource exploitation have captured the participating environmental organizations. Afraid to alienate the other collaborative members, they no longer highlight the cumulative impacts of resource extraction or even, in many cases, no longer oppose illegal proposals. This is the collaborative trap.”