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.
If you’re a regular listener and donor to Montana Public Radio, then you’re familiar with the voice of Brian Kahn, the host and producer of “Home Ground Radio.” Brian sat down with Paul McKenzie and me to discuss the challenges and successes of finding common ground on national forest management issues.
The interview aired on MTPR last Sunday, May 29, but is available for your listening pleasure anytime by clicking here.
In typical Home Ground Radio style, Brian led the conversation from introductions to a ‘take home message.’
Paul McKenzie works for Stoltze Land and Lumber Company in Columbia Falls, Montana, as the land and resource manager. It’s been my pleasure to get to know Paul as a sincere, intelligent and committed individual who cares deeply about the forest resources he manages and the people employed at Stoltze’s lumber mill.
Anyone who worked in or with the Whitefish Range Partnership will see some familiar faces in this segment from This American Land. A big hand to Amy Robinson, Bob Brown, Heidi Van Everen, Frank Vitale, John Frederick, Paul McKenzie and Erin Sexton for participating in this video . . .
The Whitefish Range Partnership held a meeting last Monday to discuss what could be done to further the ideals of the agreement established last year. The usual suspeccts were there, including the NFPA and the first official appearance of the Trail4 organization. (More on that one later.)
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.
The Daily Inter Lake posted a friendly editorial on the work of the Whitefish Range Partnership Saturday evening . . .
A group called the Whitefish Range Partnership should be commended for efforts to guide long-term forest planning on the Flathead National Forest north of Whitefish and Columbia Falls.
To say that the group of about 30 people representing highly diverse interests were not on the same page at the beginning would be a huge understatement. But after meeting regularly over a 13-month period, with a specific rule that all parties involved would have to sign onto a complete package of recommendations or abandon the effort entirely, the partnership came to a complete consensus on a 58-page set of recommendations.
They addressed potentially conflicting issues such as recommended wilderness, motorized summer use, mountain biking, snowmobiling, and timber harvesting.
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.
Rob Chaney of the Missoulian posted a first-rate article about the final Whitefish Range Partnership meeting and the agreement’s significance.
Recommended reading . . .
In the Bible’s First Book of Kings, Solomon nearly has to chop a baby in half before two women claiming to be its mother can resolve their dispute.
No swords were pulled at the table where the Whitefish Range Partnership found a way to let loggers, wilderness advocates, snowmobilers, mountain bikers, river rafters and cabin owners share 300,000 acres of the Flathead National Forest. But the roomful of longtime adversaries agreed having a Solomonic deadline actually helped them build the trust to share the land.
Last Monday, partnership members shared chili and champagne as they presented Flathead Forest Supervisor Chip Weber with their final agreement. Thirteen months in the making, the deal could help the U.S. Forest Service settle even bigger debates across the Rocky Mountains.
The Hungry Horse News posted their article on the recent Whitefish Range Partnership meeting . . .
A group of stakeholders have reached consensus on a collaborative document for future management of the North Fork area.
The Whitefish Range Partnership has been meeting for the past several months in preparation for the upcoming Forest Plan revision process for the Flathead National Forest. The meetings were moderated by former state senator and secretary of state Bob Brown, of Whitefish.