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Conservation, Timber Come Together for Conference on National Forests

Groups from Idaho, Montana and eastern Washington are at the "Resilient Landscapes, Thriving Communities" conference to speak about national forests. (USFS/Flickr)
Groups from Idaho, Montana and eastern Washington are at the "Resilient Landscapes, Thriving Communities" conference to speak about national forests. (USFS/Flickr)
March 20, 2018

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho – A diversity of stakeholders in the West's national forests are coming together for a two-day workshop in Idaho.

The "Resilient Landscapes, Thriving Communities" conference is taking place in Coeur D'Alene today and tomorrow in the spirit of collaboration between conservationists, the timber industry, the U.S. Forest Service and local elected officials.

Gov. Butch Otter will give the keynote address on Wednesday.

Will Whelan, the director of government relations at The Nature Conservancy in Idaho says that these groups have overlapping interests.

"What they found is that they can actually work together on projects that help restore the resilience of forests," he says. "These are projects that might include thinning near towns; projects to improve watersheds, streams; and also projects that result in timber being harvested in ways that help the local economy."

The conference is sponsored by the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership and Montana Forest Collaboration Network. This will be the Idaho partnership's eighth collaborative conference. It will feature groups from Idaho, Montana and eastern Washington. Whelan says the growing threat of wildfires to forests will be one of the focuses.

Tim Love is a coordinator with the Montana Forest Collaboration Network which serves 22 groups in the state. The network began in 2016 and this its third time partnering on a conference. Love says they've come away from past conferences with collaborative solutions that are being implemented in Montana.

He adds that getting diverse and seemingly opposing voices at the same table is what makes these events successful.

"It's the heart of democracy when you can get people that represent that cross-section of interests and find solutions," Love says. "We don't always agree on everything but, surprisingly, we probably agree on 80 percent of things and that's what we focus on."

Rick Tholen, a retired forester who volunteers with Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership, agrees with Love that this conference represents democracy in action. He says it's in sharp contrast to the lack of bipartisan work at the national level and is also ending decades of gridlock between groups on how to manage national forests.

"I think that's pretty unique and pretty exciting, and I think if more people knew that that was occurring, they'd maybe have a little more faith in our system that we can work out our differences if we just build trust and get to know each other and eventually we'll come to some solutions," Tholen explains.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID