Yay! After a long and sometimes contentious slog, the Flathead National Forest just announced that the final piece of the revised forest management plan is in place. Barring unforeseen complications, the plan — the first successful update in more than 30 years — should go into effect by mid-January.
This op-ed has been making the rounds of local and state newspapers for the past week.
The NFPA has been a member of the Whitefish Range Partnership from the beginning . . .
There’s a lot of bad news about divisiveness in America. Here’s a local good-news story: Folks with very diverse interests in the Flathead Valley met over a 13-month period, got way past “No!” and achieved a unanimous agreement on national forest management. Sound impossible? No, not really. The Flathead Forest has formally adopted most of the Whitefish Range Partnership’s recommendations in their recently released revised forest plan, proving that local input matters, and that people who work together in good faith can have a positive impact.
The Partnership focused exclusively on the Whitefish Range, located north of Whitefish and west of Glacier Park. Our group is composed of nearly 30 members from landowners, business owners, wilderness advocates, motorized recreationists, horsemen, fishermen and women, mountain bikers, timber interests, and wildlife and trails advocates, among others.
The Partnership came together early in the Flathead Forest plan revision process. This was the first time that many historically divergent interests in the Flathead sat in the same room together to try and talk it out. In the beginning no one was sure what we were doing or what would come of it. But, after the first few meetings, we were able to define our collective vision for the Whitefish Range and began putting our results on paper.
We worked in sub-committees on ten subjects ranging from wildland and prescribed fire, to fisheries, weed management, recreation, and more. Experts came and shared information about each topic to inform our work, and keep us within the Forest Service laws and guidelines. Committees reported back to the larger group for further debate and a vote. By our own rules, we had to reach 100 percent consensus on each topic before we could proceed to the next.
So, what’s resulted from this hard work?
In the end, we agreed unanimously to submit our recommendations on ten subjects to the Forest Service. Everyone felt that by supporting one another, each of our values could be elevated in the planning process for the Whitefish Range. Where and how was timber harvest best? Where are the areas that snowmobiling is important and desired? Where should there be more trails? What special areas should be protected as Wilderness? These are examples of the elements of our agreement.
Ultimately, for our partnership to succeed, we need to see a signed forest plan. It’s important that officials in Washington DC allow the Flathead Forest plan to proceed and conclude without top-down interference. The Final Plan should be signed following the official “objection period” that is currently underway.
Collaborative groups and processes represent the best available opportunities for resolving socially complex, natural resource decision-making. Other Montana-based collaboratives, like the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Project and the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition, can only succeed if our elected officials and our local decision-makers consider and act on citizen recommendations.
In this period of American history where many people – and many elected officials – seem to think that their point of view is the only point of view, we recommend talking and listening, and coming up with forest plans, community plans, even state and national legislation, that reflects the consensus of the community served.
We wish to thank the Flathead Forest planning staff for taking time, providing resources, and listening to citizens. While the Flathead staff clearly considered other points of view and suggestions for the North Fork Geographic Unit (the Whitefish Range), as reflected in the Final Plan, the plan also reflects the consensus of the Whitefish Range Partnership.
Noah Bodman, Flathead Area Mountain bikers; Allen Chrisman, North Fork Compact; Paul McKenzie, F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company; Amy Robinson, Montana Wilderness Association; Heidi Van Everen, Whitefish Legacy Partners; Bill Walker, North Fork Preservation Association; Larry Wilson, North Fork landowner
As the revised Flathead National Forest Plan enters the most recent phase of public comment, members of a diverse coalition of stakeholders who collaborated on the draft document are regrouping to weave a spirit of collaboration into the final plan.
Formed in 2012, the Whitefish Range Partnership is a coalition of longtime adversaries who banded together to help inform management of public lands on the Flathead National Forest.
After nearly three years of meetings and analysis, the Flathead National Forest released the draft version of its revised forest plan last month, unveiling a proposed blueprint for all aspects of management on the Flathead National Forest, from recreational opportunities to designated wilderness, timber production, wildlife and habitat.
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.
Larry’s column is nicely timed this week. A lengthy series of Flathead National Forest Plan revision “stakeholder collaboration” meetings winds up tonight. Several North Fork folks have been participating.
In the more than 60 years I have been on the North Fork, I have been involved in a lot of planning efforts. These involved six years on the Flathead Basin Commission, 20 years on the Montana Governors Team negotiating with British Columbia, the Flathead County Planning Board, the North Fork group that started the Interlocal, and then the North Fork Land-Use Advisory Committee, which guided the Flathead County Commissioners from no planning to adopting a North Fork plan.
In addition, I have spent countless hours and several decades on groups or committees involved directly or indirectly with Flathead National Forest planning. All of these were slow-moving and acting and at times very frustrating, and I had decided I had done all that I could and would withdraw to the sidelines where I could comment on the new generation without spending time in meetings.
Then the Whitefish Range Partnership came along. I didn’t just jump on board but drug my feet for a month or more and finally agreed to be on the group, representing no one but myself as a North Fork resident.
We’ve updated the web site Archives section with the final Whitefish Range Partnership Agreement documents. Included are the full, 57-page final agreement, as well as a handy two-page overview, consisting of a map and a summary of the agreement itself.
For those of you interested in the Whitefish Range Partnership Agreement, but who don’t wish to wade through an entire ring binders’ worth of material, a two page summary of the agreement is now available to view or download in PDF format.