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Report: Collaboration Wins in the Forest

PHOTO: A new report from The Wilderness Society shares the secrets of collaboration success in Montana, including locally designed projects to benefit thousands of acres, such as in the Kootenai National Forest. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service.
PHOTO: A new report from The Wilderness Society shares the secrets of collaboration success in Montana, including locally designed projects to benefit thousands of acres, such as in the Kootenai National Forest. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service.
December 5, 2014

HELENA, Mont. - Weeds, fire risk, logging, recreation, mining. Locals can come up with solutions for all those issues on National Forest lands.

A new report from The Wilderness Society takes a look at 15 collaborative groups around the state that have designed plans with input from businesses, conservation groups, land managers and recreation organizations.

Retired Montana Republican lawmaker Bob Brown participated in a collaboration and found that, even when people have very different views, talking it out uncovers wide swaths of common ground.

"It's real people at the grassroots level," he said, "looking at each other face-to-face to make decisions that affect all of us."

The report lists collaboration successes, such as the Southwestern Crown, which has created more than 200 jobs, treated more than 28,000 acres for invasive species, improved trails and campgrounds and restored wildlife habitat. But the report also warns that collaborations are threatened by lack of funding, and need more agency participation and support in Congress.

Even when opinions are diverse, said Gary Burnett, executive director of The Blackfoot Challenge, Montanans are civil folks and know how to build trust so solutions can be crafted.

"The public is clearly tired of old, position-based arguments that only lead to wasted time and no solutions," he said. "We've heard that repeatedly. We need to focus on interest-based, collaborative process that delivers real solutions."

For collaborations to work well, said Gordy Sanders, resource manager at Pyramid Mountain Lumber, they need participants with opposing views and opinions.

"We believe the more involvement by different interests in the discussion, both early on and in the final product, produces the right thing on the ground for the right reasons," he said.

He added that collaborations allow local voices to be heard and can pave the way for forest projects to receive approval more quickly.

The report is online at wilderness.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT