Opinion

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Guest Column

Partnerships Working for the Kootenai

The roadmap agreement developed in the coalition is our solution to produce results

Open the newspaper or start a conversation about the Kootenai National Forest and one topic is sure to come up: Lawsuits.

Frankly, this theme can be heard wherever there is a national forest. People often feel frustrated that lawyers and judges trump local professional land managers.

In the Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition, we are waist-deep in forward-thinking efforts to restore our national forest lands, supporting our communities economically while protecting diverse recreation, wildlife and wilderness values. We share public frustration, but aren’t content to sit on our hands and complain.

The Kootenai Forest Stakeholders Coalition is a collaborative that includes a host of groups and individuals who have been closely tied to the Kootenai for decades. This self-initiated group contains representatives from the timber industry, conservationists and wilderness advocates, hunters and anglers, hikers, county government, snowmobilers and ATV riders.

After a decade of working together in the coalition, we’re proud to announce we’ve reached a significant step toward solutions for the forest and surrounding communities, providing an alternative roadmap to the perpetual litigation and divisiveness.

Our solution represents a practical approach made to function alongside the current Kootenai Forest Plan. The coalition has found common ground on how to manage the Kootenai National Forest for the greatest good for the greatest number, over the long haul. We’ve essentially adopted an internal guideline document for land management that informs our comments and participation within the U.S. Forest Service processes. It’s comprised of three parts: timber harvest guidelines, recreation, and wilderness. This approach moves us beyond old conflicts underscored by tired stereotypes, and supports a productive, diverse and resilient future.

We know that working together in collaborative efforts can deliver real-world results. We can look at successful timber sales like Sparring Bulls and South Fork Fuels and know we make a difference – the best way to move forward is from the ground up. Although there is nothing easy about this approach, we actively participate in what makes our system so incredibly powerful: Democracy. We see collaboration as a way to find solutions that move us ahead, rather than being mired in inactivity where no-one’s needs are met, including that of the wildlife, ecosystems and communities. In short, we focus on what we agree upon rather than what splits us apart.

We’re also involved in court proceedings for the East Reservoir Project. Our coalition played a key role in developing the project and worked hard to shape the project so it could earn full support across the coalition. Now that the project is the subject of a lawsuit, we have been allowed intervenor status in support of the Forest Service decision. The litigation is moving forward, as litigants try to break down our multi-year effort to develop a balanced project to benefit the land, wildlife and communities. Restoring watersheds and creating prosperous communities are not mutually exclusive endeavors.

The roadmap agreement developed in the coalition is our solution to produce results with a better chance of withstanding the courtroom. We understand the Forest Service is the ultimate decision maker, and we believe our support improves their chances for success. We also recognize that collaboration is only one part of the public involvement process and it is intended to enhance, not replace the US Forest Service public process. We believe Montanans are practical people and aren’t satisfied with being stymied by litigation or a status quo that isn’t working for anyone.

Standing together, we will continue to work cooperatively alongside community members and the Forest Service to implement the recommendations. We welcome anyone to the table who is interested in working together from the grassroots up to find common ground and solutions to difficult problems. In our eyes, this is how change begins.

Robyn King, Chair – Yaak Valley Forest Council; Tim Dougherty, Co-chair – Idaho Forest Group; Ed Levert, Secretary – Lincoln County Forester; Paul McKenzie, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber; Amy Robinson, Montana Wilderness Association