Recently, our organizations made the difficult decision to withdraw from the Northern Blues Forest Collaborative. As founding members of Northeast Oregon’s forest collaboratives, our organizations have spent countless hours working in good faith to guide U.S. Forest Service projects that support our local communities while providing better ecological outcomes for the forests we care so much about.
Unfortunately, like many other stakeholders before us, we have determined the NBFC has devolved to a point where we can no longer lend it credibility with our continued participation.
The premise of collaboration is one we still support. Strongly. As the Forest Service sees its funding continue to dwindle and the public it serves becomes ever more polarized, we need functional collaboration now more than ever.
Good collaboratives provide a platform for representatives from diverse interests to address problems in a landscape we all care about. Good collaborators speak to be understood and listen to understand. We recognize the legitimacy of all interests. We agree on lofty goals of trying to guide willing public agencies toward projects that lead to outcomes that benefit our communities economically, socially and ecologically. We then seek consensus with give-and-take on all sides. Increasingly at the NBFC, when it comes to protecting things like old growth, roadless forests, wildlife and salmon, there is no give.
Respect for one another’s values is written into the NBFC’s operating principles. Yet fellow collaborators have marginalized conservation groups and others with whom they disagree. This and more egregious violations of collaborative principles makes legitimate collaboration impossible.
The Forest Service is under increasing pressure to log our public lands more aggressively, rush scientific review and reduce public involvement. If it were functioning as intended, the NBFC would be an inclusive place where this pressure is balanced by a diversity of viewpoints rather than serving as a platform for advancing one-sided agendas.
Forest management and collaboratives work best when there are agreed upon rules and sideboards. For 25 years, one such set of rules, commonly known as the “Eastside Screens,” have provided a safety net for old-growth forests, large trees and the wildlife that depend on them in Eastern Oregon. Now, over the objections of independent scientists and the conservation community, the Trump administration is rushing through a process to undermine those protections. Unfortunately, some interests have pushed this divisive process into the collaborative arena, not only in Northeast Oregon, but around the state.
We know collaboration can be successful and have found success in the past — even winning awards for our efforts. We know what good collaboration looks like.
The NBFC has been devolving for years, which explains its dwindling participation. There aren’t many places in Northeast Oregon where conservation voices are given a fair shake. Sadly, the NBFC has become another such place. Therefore, as the last two conservation advocacy members, we felt our continued participation was lending credibility to a dysfunctional collaborative.
While our groups have withdrawn from the NBFC, we remain ready and willing to work in good faith with stakeholders and agency staff to protect and restore the public lands and other places we care so deeply about.