The decision by two groups to withdraw from the Northern Blues Forest Collaborative is extremely unfortunate. It is imperative that stakeholders with all perspectives work together to address the challenging issues facing our national forests and communities.
The Northern Blues Forest Collaborative was originally developed to foster tough conversations and relationships between groups representing diverse perspectives and values relevant to public land management. The goal was to develop projects that would help restore and steward the forest ecosystem and sustain social and economic benefits to local communities. Regrettably, they objected to a simple briefing from the U.S. Forest Service exploring the continued use of the 21-inch screen under current forest conditions, and anticipated future climate effects. That’s not collaboration, that’s a “my way or the highway” type of attitude.
To be clear, the collaborative only agreed to discuss science behind the 21-inch rule, also known as the “Eastside Screens.” There has been no proposed action from the Forest Service, nor has the collaborative agreed to anything other than a discussion. Apparently, this potential discussion prompted these two groups to “pick up the ball and go home” rather than to listen, talk and work with others who have different views.
Today the 21-inch rule restricts opportunities for science-based forest restoration across at-risk forested landscapes. Fast growing grand fir have proliferated in the absence of fire, and are driving a shift from historically open forests in the northern blues dominated by fire-resilient species like ponderosa pine, western larch and Douglas fir, to densely stocked, closed forests.
It’s worth discussing solutions that give land managers more flexibility and give collaboratives more space to work together to reduce the risks of wildfires, insects and disease on national forests. These natural disturbances are occurring at unprecedented size, severity and frequency — and this trend is projected to accelerate under most climate models.
The 21-inch rule imposed decades ago was originally only an 18-month amendment to the forest plan. The one-size-fits-all solution does not reflect the conditions on the forests in 2020, which are at a high risk for uncharacteristic wildfires that drastically affect the ecosystems and local communities.
Rather than allowing our forests to burn and fill our air with unhealthy smoke, thinning overstocked stands reduces competition for sunlight and water, and enables trees to grow older and larger. This type of forest management also improves and enhances wildlife habitat for species that depend on diverse forest types.
Collaboratives do not succeed if they do not work towards the three legs of collaboration — which are ecological, economic and social. In having the nuanced discussions about these goals, the collaborative must be able to use all the tools available to meet the restoration needs of the forests and communities. Active forest management is one tool to address these issues, even if there are disagreements on where, when, and how broadly these tools should be used.
In today’s world, working and talking together to achieve common goals is as important as it has ever been. Collaboratives are where solutions are found and while they may be uncomfortable for multiple parties, it is imperative that we continue the spirit of working together rather than against each other.