Exploring the nuances of forest collaboration


Jim Petersen, the co-founder of the Evergreen Foundation, is a longtime and respected advocate for Northwest rural communities, forest landowners and timber professionals. His opinions have appeared on this blog several times before (here, here and here), and his Evergreen Magazine is still an invaluable resource for timber leaders after nearly three decades.

Collaboration has also been a popular concept in forestry circles for many years, and it’s something this blog has written about many times over because it’s one of the only ways that economically viable timber harvests are happening on a local level, without the threat of lawsuits. Timber leaders, environmental groups and local and federal officials have the potential to work together.

Petersen agrees – so much so that a few months ago he started a project to explore forest collaboration in the Northwest. About once a week he’s been posting an interview and so far the subjects are timber leaders, local county officials and representatives from the U.S. Forest Service.

As Petersen says in his opening essay, he’s conducting the interviews because he feels that collaboration is one of the only ways forward.

This is the first in a series of essays I am writing that I suspect will surprise many who know me. I am embracing Forest Collaboration, a process that many battle-scarred veterans of the fabled timber wars view as “Sleeping with the enemy,” the enemy here being the slew of environmental litigants that killed the federal timber sale program and thus the economies of the West’s rural timber communities.

…Together (through the interviews and essays), we’ll learn what works, what doesn’t work, and why. We’ll also dig into the factors that seem to limit success, or at least threaten collaboration’s long-term sustainability. There are some that demand our attention.

In Petersen’s most recent interview, he talks to Duane Vaagen of Vaagen Brothers Lumber in Colville, a small town in Northeast Washington. Vaagen Brothers helped create the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, which U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called “a model for timber communities nationwide.”

Here’s Vaagen’s opening quote from the interview:

Timber industry people who don’t trust forest collaboration believe that those of us who participate in collaboratives are sleeping with the enemy. Environmentalists who would rather sue than participate in collaboratives think that environmentalists who collaborate with us are sleeping with the enemy. So it’s unanimous. We’re sleeping with our enemies. I don’t care what our critics think. Collaborative groups, ours included, are solving political problems that should never have become political problems, and those problems are the reason why our forests are dying and burning before our very eyes. So if you really want to know what collaboration is all about, it’s about protecting forests from the ravages of nature, not just for our benefit, but also for the benefit of future generations.

The collaborative in Northeast Washington has already paid dividends, Vaagen said:

Evergreen: Have you found the words to express the potential you’re trying to unlock on the Colville?

Vaagen: I tell people that every truckload of logs that arrives at our mill gate generates $2,000 within our community. On an average day, we’ll accept 100 loads, so that’s $200,000 a day that that stays in our town, not counting our mill wages or the taxes those wages generate. If you add up the numbers and use the multipliers economists use to determine economic impacts, it’s closer to $450,000 a day.

Evergreen: That stays in Colville?

Vaagen: Yes, and I think our forest collaborative deserves a lot of the credit for this. We haven’t had a project litigated in 10 years. One was appealed, but it was settled and the project went forward. That’s the power of collaboration.

We recommend reading Petersen’s whole ongoing series on forest collaboration. Here are all the articles so far:

Opening Essay from Jim Petersen

Interview with Mike Petersen (no relation), Executive Director of the Spokane-based Lands Council

Interview with Glen Bailey, Bonner County (Idaho) Commissioner

Interview with Mary Farnsworth, Forest Supervisor of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest (Part 1 and Part 2)

Interview with Scott Atkison, President of the Idaho Forest Group

Interview with Liz Johnson-Gebhardt, Executive Director of the Priest Community Forest Connection (Idaho)

Interview with Duane Vaagen, Vaagen Brothers Lumber