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Getting Conservation, Collaboration to Pay Off in Rural NW

March 6, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - The links between public lands, conservation efforts and strong local economies are the focus of people from rural communities in 15 states who are meeting in Vancouver, Washington, for the next three days.

It isn't easy for some groups to work together, but Maia Enzer, policy director for Sustainable Northwest, says there are good, local examples of places that are preserving public lands and creating jobs. Enzer, who is an organizer of today's Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC) event, just returned from a Washington, D.C., conference on the topic, and says the Obama administration is encouraging more local collaboration to solve local issues.

"They know that these are tight times, and that public-private partnerships are going to be one of the most effective ways for people to work together, because I think it creates a different kind of social dynamic, but also because it means that we can leverage many of the assets that we have."

She says those assets include grants, donations and volunteers. The White House conference was part of the president's Great Outdoors Initiative, announced last year to expand recreational opportunities on public lands. Obama told the group that having to choose between environmental protection and growing the economy is a "false choice."

Conservation groups have voiced concerns that this Congress is unfriendly to the environment, with continued pushes to roll back protections for public land, clean air and water. However, Enzer points out that the same lawmakers also voted to fully fund the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, for its combination of forest-health benefits and jobs.

"And that means that here in the Pacific Northwest, we now have three projects in Oregon and two projects in Washington. So, this is really exciting; even Congress is seeing that there are certain programs and certain approaches, that there is common ground around that."

Those grants were announced last month, although Enzer notes that it's hard to depend from year to year on federal funding. She says that with local collaborations, there are more potential funding sources as well as greater interest in the outcome.

The RVCC's 11th Annual Policy Meeting starts today at 1:00 p.m. at the Heathman Lodge, 7801 N.E. Greenwood, Vancouver, Wash., and runs through Thursday, March 8.

Information is at www.sustainablenorthwest.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR