Collaborative Council of Oregon Timber and Environmental Interests Dissolves

On the 23rd of June, the Greater Hell’s Canyon Council and Oregon Wild, founding members of the Northern Blues Forest Collaborative Group withdrew from it, marking the end of all participation by any environmentalist groups in the association. From now on, its membership will consist entirely of government agencies and timber harvesting companies.    

Victoria Warnock, GHCC conservation director, told the Wallowa County Chieftain, “Today’s collaborative no longer functions to identify and work toward shared values and solutions for the national forests of our region.”    

Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts, who represents the county on the Group, told the Chieftain, “It leaves one thinking that if they don’t get their way, then ‘I’m not going to play.’ They absolutely refused to move forward on anything. We’re asking that we make movement on issues.    

“We’re going to try to do the right thing for the piece of land we are talking about. And that seems to not fit within their scope of work,”    

Oregon Wild Field Coordinator Rob Klavins wrote in his withdrawal letter to NBFC facilitator Jeff Costello, “Our experience in years of working in public lands collaborative groups across Oregon is that these organizations can only succeed when they focus on areas of consensus, when they require civility and respect among members … and when they operate with clear sideboards and respect for the laws and rules that protect America’s public lands, rivers, and wildlife from destructive exploitation. … It is no longer possible for Oregon Wild to participate in good conscience.”    

The Northern Blue Mountain Forest Collaborative was first organized in 2012 under the name Wallowa Whitman Forest Collaborative as an association of 23 groups from Baker, Union and Wallowa counties, to allow environmentalist groups and other private citizens to take part in plans the Forest Service was making for public lands in an organized fashion. A special concern was making national forest land more resilient in the face of wildfire, in the hope of avoiding severe wildfires such as have devastated national forests and national parks in recent years.    

The creation of resilient forests was a goal that environmentalists desired. Increased timber harvests was something they considered neither especially desirable, nor especially consistent with a resilient forest, and it seemed to be the primary goal of some members of the group.    

What was worse, “[i]t is a forum in which conservation voices are often met with hostility by collaborative partners, where legitimate ecological and scientific concerns are ignored and where there is little appetite for actionable discussion of any land management activities beyond increased logging,” Klavin said in the letter. Oregon Wild and GHCC did not consider it to be scientifically ethical to treat “Is climate change real?” as an “open question” the way some at meetings appeared to.    

When an amendment was proposed to the USFS “21-inch rule” to allow harvest of trees greater than 21 inches in diameter on Forest Service land, Oregon Wild and GHCC decided that their remaining in the Collaborative was doing more harm than good. Warnock declared that there would be “… grave outcomes for the large and old trees that are such a vital component of Eastside National Forest” if the amendment was adopted.    

“Oregon Wild has participated in more collaboratives around the state than any other NGO (nongovernmental organization) and are founding members of this collaborative” Klavins said. “A lot of the original members no longer come to the meetings. There are no tribal voices. Sometimes meetings are just the Forest Service and three other people. Unfortunately, the Northern Blues Collaborative has devolved so that it’s no longer a place where the voices of conservation advocates are welcome.”    

In response, the Collaborative issued a response which said in part, “We place high value on integrity and good faith, mutual understanding and respect, practicality, inclusion, objective science and data, shared learning, humility and reconciliation. In that light, we are disappointed that Oregon Wild and Greater Hell’s Canyon Council have chosen to leave the Northern Blues Forest Collaborative.    

“We continue to believe theirs is an important voice in our community, that we will consider and value, as our collaboration efforts continue. We hope that one day they will reconsider their involvement in the collaborative and look forward to welcoming them back to the table.”    

John M. Burt