Forestry and environmental leaders seek common ground


Can environmental groups and the forestry industry co-exist? It’s a question still relevant two decades after the timber wars fought over the spotted owl and Northwest Forest Plan. And it’s a question still being asked by leaders from the environmental and forestry communities, as well as federal, state and local political leaders.

Strictly speaking, the answer to the question is yes. Of course, environmental groups and the forestry industry exist and will continue to exist, despite their sometimes divergent views. The real question is, can environmentalists and the forestry industry both get what they want? Can they both accomplish their goals? Is there a middle ground that will allow them both to thrive?

Some of these questions came up during a recent talk by Glenn Lamb, the director of the Columbia Land Trust, a Vancouver, Wash., conservation group. Lamb, who was speaking in Astoria, Ore., is the head of an environmental group that is interested not in lawsuits but in buying forestland from willing sellers and often keeping that land in forestry.

Here’s what we wrote in December about a major land deal Columbia Land Trust and Pope Resources brokered near Mount St. Helens:

(In the deal) announced this week, Poulsbo’s Pope Resources is selling development rights to 3,095 acres of forestland near Mount St. Helens to Columbia Land Trust, a Vancouver conservation group. The vast majority of the land (2,885 acres) will stay in active forestry.

The transaction is the third of a four-stage deal that will eventually protect 20,000 acres of forestland near Swift Reservoir in Skamania County from development. (We wrote about the second stage, Pope’s sale of 2,330 acres to Columbia Land Trust, last year.)

“This landmark project shows what can be achieved when a timber company, a conservation group and public leaders put their heads together to find lasting conservation solutions that benefit both people and nature,” Columbia Land Trust Executive Director Glenn Lamb said in a released statement.

Lamb, the head of Columbia Land Trust, told the Astoria audience last week that his group, as well as many others, are part of the “benevolent community,” committed to protecting the environment but also balancing it with economic needs.

He quoted Oregon rancher Margaret Magruder: “Balance is balancing an economy and an environment, and not just saying the words, but living them.”

There is so much reason for optimism, Lamb said, because people like Margaret Magruder and the watershed councils; Neal Maine, Katie Voelke and the North Coast Land Conservancy; Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce; and the thousands of people who support such groups. They’re all part of (author Robert) Reich’s social narrative of the benevolent community.

The Columbia Land Trust has partnered with private landowners to preserve in perpetuity nearly 30,000 acres, Lamb said, and more than 3,000 people in Portland have signed up to improve the habitat, down to their own backyards.

Lamb said the Columbia Land Trust is working with the Washington Farm Forestry Association to help forest owners with no heirs conserve the land and still gain revenue. The program sounds like similar programs from Oregon State University and the Pinchot Institute for Conservation that help aging forest owners stay afloat financially or pass the land on to their children or grandchildren.

The Land Trust has been successful in buying forestland from willing owners and keeping it in forestry, Lamb said, but “there’s much more work to do” in maintaining the balance between the environment and the economy.

Marbled murrelet populations are still decreasing by 10 percent per year, he said, and regulations meant to protect them are harming rural economies.

“It’s time to move past the antagonism of the timber-salmon wars,” Lamb said, calling for a common vision, possibly informed by the cultures of Native Americans who have lived with the land for thousands of years.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., is wrestling with the same questions. This month he’s holding a series of community meetings in his home state of Montana to figure out how to increase logging and boost the timber industry, while still protecting the environment.

Sen. Daines likes forest collaboratives (which we’ve written about many times), but he told the crowd at one recent meeting that collaboratives are just a piece of the puzzle.

He said he has some specific objectives.

“I think one is, ensure the Forest Service has clear set targets to keep out forests healthy and our mills working,” said Daines. “I also support the idea of incentivizing and rewarding collaborative based projects. We need to address the problem of obstructive litigation, it’s holding up responsible and often times collaborative forest projects. I think if we don’t ultimately fix the problem of litigation, we won’t solve this problem of trying to manage our forests so we produce more healthy forests. We need to streamline the environmental review process and discourage these endless appeals that are not adding any value to the process. And I think what I’ve also heard with a lot of feedback across Montana is we need to change the way the Forest Service is funded on firefighting.”

Frank Mills, an employee at a local timber mill, told Daines that he’s skeptical any kind of comprehensive timber reform will ever become reality. Daines said the only way anything gets done is if the environmental and timber communities sit down and find common ground.

Senator Daines told Mills that if the logging industry and conservation groups aren’t talking and working on new ideas, there will be no light, no improvement.