As the owner of a small business in one of the most remote locations in Montana, my livelihood depends on public lands. And I’m not the only one who has a stake in these places – that was clear when over 30 groups came together five years ago to collaborate about the management of the Whitefish Range on the Flathead National Forest. I’m glad to say that the Flathead National Forest’s most recent revision of their management plan largely adopts the recommendations of the Whitefish Range Partnership.
The forest has taken leadership by listening to the needs and wishes of the community, and I hope that our elected decision makers will do the same. The Whitefish Range Partnership, the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition, and the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act are all shining examples of what is possible when community members sit down at the table and find common ground solutions in land management. We need to look for answers from the people who know the land best, and within the communities that will feel the outcomes the most.
This significant op-ed on the importance of the collaborative process for developing public lands policy was written by Noah Bodman, a board member of the Flathead Area Mountain Bikers and Amy Robinson, a regional field director for the Montana Wilderness Association. It was posted to the Daily Inter Lake on April 23.
Working together locally counteracts the divisiveness that is splintering our nation and communities. Too many Americans are allowing pride, principles and politics to distract from the reality that we actually have a lot of common ground together. Reaching out to someone who does not agree with us takes courage and curiosity. Like many Montanans before us, we choose to respectfully sit down together and do the tough work to discover a path forward.
If a wilderness advocate and a mountain biker can overcome the division, then anyone can.
About four years ago, we entered into a collaborative group known as the Whitefish Range Partnership. The partnership consisted of about 30 individuals from across the Flathead Valley area that cared about how the public lands of the Whitefish Range would be managed. Everyone was aware that the Flathead National Forest would revise their forest plan, which would lay out a management blueprint for the next 20 or more years. Instead of reverting to old, ineffective fighting tactics of the past, people agreed that it was worth trying something new. Working together.
So, private landowners, businesses, timber mills, horsemen, motorized users, mountain bikers, and wilderness lovers worked together. After two years, the entire group reached an agreement that supported extraordinarily diverse values. We then presented the agreement to the Flathead National Forest to consider in their forest planning process. We won’t lie, the process of working together was not easy and we oftentimes wondered where it would lead, but we pressed on.
Here’s a pretty straightforward op-ed from the MWA’s Brian Sybert on public lands issues and the importance of working together to address them . . .
It’s been near impossible to miss the headlines about armed extremists and radical politicians trying to destroy our national public lands legacy. From Washington, D.C., to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, selfishness and delusional interpretations of the U.S Constitution have come together in support of a disastrous agenda aimed squarely at one thing: taking national public lands away from the American people.
But neither the armed militants at Malheur nor the suit-clad lands transfer zealots in Utah and D.C. have anticipated how much the American people, Westerners in particular, value public lands. In January, Colorado College released its sixth-annual bipartisan Conservation in the West Poll, showing that Western voters, including Montanans, see American public lands as integral to our economy and way of life and overwhelmingly oppose efforts to weaken and seize those lands.
The poll also revealed that Westerners strongly support people working together to find common-ground solutions to public land challenges, and herein lies the antidote to the toxic anti-public lands agenda represented by the likes of the Bundy gang and the American Lands Council. Community-driven collaboratives not only result in the protection of wild places, the creation of new jobs and the advancement of our public lands legacy, they also nourish our nation’s democracy.
In preface to commenting on Stewart Brandborg’s opinion piece on wilderness issues (Dec. 16 Beacon: “Today’s Wilderness Challenge”), I would like to acknowledge with gratitude the service that he and others like Howard Zahniser, Mardy and Olaus Murie, and Aldo Leopold rendered in establishing the framework of our National Wilderness Preservation System. These men and women fought for decades to establish a legacy that benefits all Americans from active users to passive appreciators. Nonetheless, I must offer an alternative perspective to Stewart’s injunction to “resist the fuzzy, fuzzy Neverland of collaboration” when addressing critical wilderness issues.
The Wilderness Preservation System certainly made my career with the U.S. Forest Service immeasurably more rewarding. In my final career assignment, I was supervisor of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, a forest of 6.3 million acres, including 1.2 million acres of congressionally-designated wilderness. In addition, the H-T has about 3 million acres of roadless areas, de-facto wilderness as it were, that was the subject of intense battles to determine what part should be formally included by Congress in the Wilderness Preservation System.
Managing wilderness is also challenging and much more than a passive exercise in “let it be.” Stewardship of designated wilderness areas is bound by the mandates of the 1964 Wilderness Act. And therein lie many of our management challenges. The introductory section of the 1964 Wilderness Act is inspiring and oft-quoted: “an enduring resource of wilderness…where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man…” But as a counterpoint to these two paragraphs of poetic vision the Wilderness Act concludes with two pages of exceptions allowing various non-wilderness practices to continue. A cynic might say “Yeah right, untrammeled by man except for multiple airstrips, irrigation reservoirs and ditches, livestock grazing, mineral exploration and mining” – all allowed under the 1964 Act.
This is a decent summary of the status of the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition, including a discussion of a couple of rather contentious lawsuits stirring the pot over there . . .
A collaborative group representing stakeholders in and around the Kootenai National Forest announced an agreement last week that will guide its input on proposed land management projects.
The Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition includes representatives from environmental, industry and recreation groups that often are at odds on forest policy. Robyn King, executive director of the Yaak Valley Forest Council, said the group was formed in 2006 to come up with a set of shared objectives to minimize litigation blamed for slowing down projects in the national forest.
“This is the guiding document that we would use, as a group, to make our comments to the U.S. Forest Service,” King said. “This is an organic document, so as we get out on the ground and see different applications being proposed by the U.S. Forest Service, we may make changes over time.”
Seems this public-private collaboration idea is spreading . . .
An unprecedented attempt to protect sage grouse habitat across parts of more than 900 square miles of privately owned land in Nevada will begin under a deal Thursday involving the federal government, an environmental group and the world’s largest gold mining company.
The agreement comes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approaches a fall deadline for a decision on whether to protect the greater sage grouse, a bird roughly the size of a chicken that ranges across the West, under the Endangered Species Act.
Commercial operations, including mining companies and oil and gas producers, are entering into such deals in an effort to keep the bird off the threatened or endangered list because the classification would place new restrictions on their work.
Here are a couple of familiar names addressing some familiar issues . . .
We’re a strange pair of fishing buddies, the retired Republican lawmaker and the environmentalist, but we sure do enjoy each other’s company. Together, we tramp through thickets, scramble down riverbanks, wade icy currents – all for the shared pleasure of laying a fly in front of a handsome westslope cutt.
This fall, as we bushwhacked into a secret hole, we couldn’t help but notice each other’s hats: the veteran GOP campaigner was wearing a ballcap touting Trout Unlimited; the conservationist was bearing the badge of the local lumber mill. Maybe that’s why we get on so well. We’re willing to fish a mile in another man’s hat.
We both believe, generally, that there’s room enough in Montana’s wilds for all sorts of folks. We agree that there’s room enough for compromise, that it’s better to talk than to shout, that we’d rather negotiate than litigate. And we both believe that when neighbors cooperate in good faith to help manage their own backyards, then the powers that be should pay very close attention, and think twice before tipping the scales on behalf of special interests.
A recent study from The Wilderness Society concludes collaborative land-use efforts in Montana are often very effective. The Whitefish Range Partnership, in which several North Fork organizations participated, gets a mention . . .
Right behind an historic show of bipartisanship in the Montana congressional delegation, a new study of collaborative efforts in the state claims that playing nice together can reap big rewards.
The “Collaboration at a Crossroads” report looked at 15 of the 37 active roundtables trying to fix land-use issues in Montana.
Accomplishments ranged from 15,000 acres of noxious weed treatment backed by the Blackfoot Challenge to a dozen detailed recommendations for the Flathead National Forest management plan provided by the Whitefish Range Partnership.
Over the weekend, Jim Mann of the Daily Inter Lake posted a nice article on the recently completed work of the Whitefish Range Partnership . . .
After meeting regularly for 13 months, a group of people representing a highly diverse range of interests recently signed off on recommendations to the Flathead National Forest for long-term management in the North Fork Flathead drainage.
Considering there were 30 signatories going along with a requirement for complete consensus or no recommendations at all, the accomplishment of the Whitefish Range Partnership is remarkable, particularly at a time when divisiveness dominates the national political stage. “Polarization is real easy,” said former state legislator and Secretary of State Bob Brown, who chaired the partnership. “It’s easy for politicians and political leaders to play to their own loyalists and it’s hard to compromise, but when you’re sitting across the table from someone who is your fellow community member, you see how much you have in common.”
And that’s exactly what the privately organized partnership did, meeting roughly twice a month at venues where home cooking and beer were on tap. The idea was to work through differences on wildland fire management, weed management, wildlife, timber management, backcountry trails, mountain biking and trail use, fisheries management, snowmobiling and recommended wilderness.
Bob Brown, a former secretary of state and longtime Whitefish legislator, pulled into the snow-caked parking lot outside Ed and Mully’s Restaurant at the base of Big Mountain, his car bearing a bumper sticker that read, “Compromise is not a Four Letter Word.”
Ever the diplomat, Brown was there to broker a meeting organized by a coalition of longtime adversaries turned unlikely bedfellows — tree huggers and tree cutters, eco-warriors and timber sawyers, hikers, horsemen, mountain bikers, cabin owners and nearly everyone else with a stake in the management of public lands on the Flathead National Forest.
They represented three-dozen interest groups who historically clashed over public land use on Montana’s forests; who for decades pitted wilderness against timber production, non-motorized against motorized recreation, commercial interests against wildlife. They were advocates accustomed to digging in their heels, entrenched in their ideologies and not given to making concessions.