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Forest collaboration in Washington

Posted by Renee Magyar on December 14, 2017

Shared learning at an annual summit helps increase the pace and scale of forest restoration

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Forest collaboratives are community-embedded groups that bring together a wide range of government, timber industry, environmental advocate, and citizen stakeholder groups to find common ground and build compromise. This has become an important institution for increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration and for bringing economic development to rural areas. It can be challenging work, and members of forest collaboratives benefit from learning from their peers who are trying to accomplish similar goals in other areas. While modern technology has enabled ongoing connection through email and conference calls, it can’t fully replace face-to-face gatherings for fostering a community of practice.

That’s where the Washington Forest Collaboratives Summit comes in. The fourth annual Washington Forest Collaborative Summit was held Central Washington University in Ellensburg. For two days attendees take a deep dive into sharing information and working through common issues. The Summit connects forest collaborative members with agency partners, state and federal officials, policy makers, and leading scientists and practitioners. The annual Summit is a vehicle for building on collaborative successes in the state.

The Summit began with two panels bringing in policy experts from across the Pacific Northwest. The first one discussed the Good Neighbor Authority, a program relatively new to Washington that makes it easier for the Forest Service to contract with the state of Washington for forest restoration work. This program has the potential to expand forest restoration by adding to the Forest Service’s policy toolbox, and forest collaboratives can play a key role by identifying projects that have a broad base of support. The second panel discussed changes to Federal forest policy under the new administration. Summit attendees were updated on wildfire funding, the Forest Service NEPA process, and other salient national policies.

The afternoon kicked off with sharing session highlighting the accomplishments, challenges, and ambitions of the eight forest collaboratives. This laid the groundwork for meaningful discussions throughout the Summit among participants who are working through similar issues. In addition to identifying commonalities, it also was a showcase in the diversity of forest collaboratives in terms of age, geography, membership, and priorities.

The first day concluded with a workshop on identifying metrics for measuring success. With more and more interest in forest health generally, and the role of forest collaboratives in particular, many collaboratives are grappling with the same questions: how do we demonstrate our value in the forest policy ecosystem? How do we track our contribution to expanding forest restoration activities in our area? Of particular interest was identifying metrics that can be used in all eight collaboratives in order to track statewide accomplishments.

“Collaboratives are the collective memory of the district when there is turnover in the Forest Service” - Derek Churchill, Stewardship Forestry and Science

Derek Churchill kicked off the second day with a talk about the critical role of forest collaboratives in our democracy during an era of climate change and partisan turmoil.  Tom Bugert, State Director of Government Relations for The Nature Conservancy, provided an overview of important forest health legislation that passed with bipartisan support in Olympia this year. Hilary Franz, Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands, delivered the keynote talk. Drawing on the collaboratives’ emphasis on dialogue, she led a spirited question and answer session about Department of Natural Resources land management.

The Summit adjourned at noon on an energized note. With next steps identified for continuing to learn from each other’s efforts, including a new working group to move toward statewide metrics, many participants left for the Department of Natural Resources’ unveiling of the 20 Year Forest Health Strategic Plan. Sustainable Northwest convened the 2017 Washington Forest Collaboratives Summit with support from the Forest Service, the Northwest Fire Science Consortium, Wisewood Energy, Forest Energy Oregon, and Bear Mountain Forest Products.

Jenna Knobloch is a graduate intern for Sustainable Northwest’s Forest Program.