Getting things done in Idaho

Posted by Renee Magyar on September 26, 2013

A role model in forestry: the Clearwater Basin Collaborative


Earlier this month Sustainable Northwest's Dimitra Giannakoulias had the pleasure of speaking with Joyce Dearstyne, Executive Director of Framing Our Community, a non-profit organization in Elk City, Idaho. Joyce, representing Framing Our Community, is a member of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, a well-known and acclaimed forestry group working to restore jobs, forests, and the watershed in north central Idaho. We spoke about her work and about the success of this collaborative group.

SNW: You moved from New Jersey to Idaho in 1996, and quickly became involved in rural community issues. How did you get started in this work?

Joyce: My neighbor invited me to work on a local community project, which was the building of an outdoor classroom. The entire community - from kindergarteners to grandparents - was involved in it. I stepped in for project planning and grant writing for the project.

At the same time, we were facing drastic changes in the economy and losing the younger generation. So the project's core group - mill managers, the school principal, teachers, the forester, business owners - founded Framing Our Community in April 1999. Our motto is 'Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities' and we've been working towards that vision ever since.

SNW: Tell us about the origins of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative.  How did it start?

Joyce: Environmental interests and the timber industry were gridlocked in litigation. No solutions came out of the lawsuits. So representatives met and talked for a few years, discussing what worked and what didn't work in previous attempts at collaboration.

In May 2008, Senator Mike Crapo formally convened the CBC. The group had different interest groups - industry, environment, government, community - and we wanted to create a balance among these interests.

SNW: Why has the collaborative been so successful?

Joyce: Our protocol emphasizes respect and transparency. It's understood that everyone has to treat everyone else respectfully. You can have disagreements, but this is the middle ground. We have a clear decision-making protocol: four subcommittees make recommendations to the full group, then the full group discusses and votes on the issues. Our decisions are transparent, and anyone from the public can come to our meetings. This gives community members a chance to see how we function and learn more about us, while we learn more about them.

We've transformed from a group of individuals focused on their own interests to a true collaborative that is concerned with meeting the diverse interests of every member at the table.

SNW: Do you think that the mindset of collaboration can be taught and learned, or is it more of an innate characteristic?

Joyce: I think that many people hold the traits to be able to collaborate. For example, you enjoy working with other people. You can be in a conversation where there are two different sides, but you agree to disagree and leave as friends. You can disagree but still respect that person. Meanwhile, there are other people who will never be able to collaborate, no matter how many courses or workshops they take.  Their goal in any discussion is to be the winner.  That doesn't mean they shouldn't have a voice. Since our meetings are open to the public, we always have a formal period of public commentary. Anyone is welcome to contact us with concerns or interests, and someone will always get back to them.

SNW: Some people associate 'collaboration' with a liberal platform. Do you think it crosses party lines?

Joyce: It definitely transcends party lines. Senator Wyden is a supporter of collaboration as is Senator Crapo, and they're on different sides of the aisle.

We don't care about political leanings. The CBC has developed a tremendous depth in its work, and that's because it's mostly the same people who have stayed at the table for years. What matters is that the players stay at the table and commit to the process, not whether they're Republican or Democrat.

SNW: What is one of the collaborative's key accomplishments?

Joyce: It took time to reach our collective goals and I'm proud of the Agreement and Work Plan we've laid out for ourselves.  We found our common values and there's a lot of cross-over. For example, our recreation subcommittee is working on a trail that's 242 miles long, and that crosses over into our rural economies subcommittee because it involves creating jobs to develop campgrounds and trail heads.

Another accomplishment is the Selway-Middle Fork restoration project. The project is expected to create or maintain 380 jobs through forest restoration and wildfire reduction activities.  The Forest Service will be able to do a lot of work, thanks to an award of up to $40 million over 10 years from the federal Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program.

Members of the collaborative tour a field project
Members of the collaborative tour a field project

SNW: As a group, what are your challenges and obstacles?

Joyce: Time is a challenge, because it takes a long time to build trust and respect. Meeting expectations - because not everyone-s expectations can be met at the same time.  Another challenge is learning how to function with different groups, and understanding that it's not just about the old gridlock between timber and environmentalists.  For example, the Nez Perce Tribe has sacred places and they want to protect historical and cultural sites.

SNW: How about your goals and vision for the future?

Joyce: Eventually we'd like to help pass some form of federal legislation. There are things that can only be done legislatively. We want to find a way to stabilize our counties, which have so much public land. My county is 85% federally managed land. That doesn't leave a lot of tax base. In the past, 25% of the timber sales went back into the county. We had the Secure Rural Schools Act that replaced lost taxes and timber income for the counties. Those are gone and now we have a big gap to fill. We?re working on workforce development through biofuels and alternative energy from forest thinning projects. We've got increased recreation income, an equipment operators' school, and other projects in the works too.  

SNW: What motivates you, personally, to continue this work?

Joyce: We're part of a larger whole and we know we can integrate the goals of a healthy environment, good jobs, and quality of life. My work with the collaborative and with Framing Our Community is a way we can do that.  Plus I'm a problem-solver, I'm tenacious, and I enjoy being involved in finding the solutions.