Clearing fish passage barriers started with collaboration


Recognition continues to grow for the critical role that Washington forest landowners play in helping improve salmon migration.

This spring the Washington Legislature unanimously approved a bill that eases the permitting process for forest owners to clear fish passage barriers and help salmon. Then last month, the Washington state departments of Ecology, Fish and Wildlife, and Natural Resources honored 43 large forest landowners for their commitment over the last 15 years to improving forest roads and clearing fish passage barriers to help salmon and improve water quality.

Don Brunell, whose column appears in newspapers around Washington, then wrote about the state’s honor of the 43 forest landowners as “a milestone in collaboration and a remarkable turnaround from nearly a half-century ago when regulators, fishermen and loggers were at each other’s throats.”

Brunell said the road to collaboration was paved by “two visionary leaders,” beginning in the 1970s.

Billy Franks, Jr., the legendary Nisqually tribal leader, was a fisherman with an engaging personality and an abundance of common sense and wisdom. Even though he fought bitter fish wars and was arrested, he wasn’t resentful. To him, the battles weren’t about the past, they were about the future.

Stu Bledsoe was a World War II Navy fighter pilot who saw combat in the Pacific Theater. He had the same warmth, engaging manner, and genuine commitment to settling a feud which many thought was unable to be resolved.

Bledsoe was a rancher, former legislator and state agriculture director in the Evans Administration, and head of the Washington Forest Protection Association — the powerful organization representing private forest landowners.

Together, they were the “calmer heads” which were needed to reduce tensions and set a respectful tone. They started bringing leaders together to listen to one another’s perspective and research to find what would work.

The collaboration between Frank and Bledsoe eventually led to the Timber Fish Wildlife Agreement in 1986 and the Forests & Fish Law in 1999.


The bottom line was simple. Frank wanted fish runs restored and Bledsoe wanted timber landowners to be able to plant, manage and harvest trees. They soon realized their interests were compatible.

To Bledsoe and Frank respectful relationships mattered as did the words they wrote and spoke. They realized that unless they brought people with diverse views together and found ways to work out their differences, everyone would lose.

It’s the best way to build public trust and solve problems.