USFS Chief Bosworth's visit a time to celebrate collaborationYou only get one chance to make a first impression.
That advice, first dispensed in a television commercial years ago, might be worth bearing in mind later this month when the chief of the U.S. Forest Service comes to town to meet with county officials and citizens concerned with shaping future natural resources policy.
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth is scheduled to visit Wallowa County on May 29-30 at the invitation of Wallowa Resources, the local nonprofit group that is focused on the dual goals of healthy forests and a healthy communities.
Wallowa County should not miss the opportunity to make a good first impression on the chief.
Persuading the Forest Service's top brass to visit this remote corner of the world is a noteworthy achievement for which Wallowa Resources is to be congratulated. With that honor, however, comes an awesome responsibility. Wallowa Resources Executive Director Diane Snyder and her colleagues have only a few precious hours to articulate Wallowa County's story, clearly and concisely. There will be no time for soapbox speeches or long-winded whines about logging curtailments, sawmill closures, catastrophic fires, the Endangered Species Act, rampant unemployment, business failures or declining school enrollment.
The story that needs to be told is how Wallowa County, which has been described as "The Little Community That Could," refuses to roll over in the face of overwhelming adversity and instead chooses to play the hand that it has been dealt with all its might. The remarkable story is that rather than whine and complain, Wallowa County residents are working proactively with the federal government to find innovative solutions to complex and difficult natural resources problems.
That is the kind of reputation Wallowa County is building, and the chief's visit is an opportunity to amplify and celebrate that theme. The solutions emerging from this corner of the world are practical, common sense community initiatives like the Wallowa County Nez Perce Salmon Recovery Plan, which is an outstanding model of how a local community can do everything within its power to honor the federal Endangered Species Act. As a result, every local land use decision in Wallowa County now takes into account its effect on endangered salmon. Similarly, the Grande Ronde Model Watershed is another excellent community-based solution to a federal mandate, namely the Clean Water Act. The latest community initiative is something called "stewardship contracting," a process which Wallowa Resources and local Forest Service staff believe has the potential to put people back to work in the woods restoring the health of our national forests.
Wallowa County will have failed if its leaders go to Chief Bosworth looking for sympathy or a handout or to whine or complain or point fingers. In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, state budget crises, and the war in Iraq, the line of communities trying that approach is very long indeed. This community needs to distinguish itself as something different, something better. So let's not ask Chief Bosworth what he and his agency can do for us but what we can do for them, our country, and ourselves. Let us also remember that dialogue is a two-way process and to come prepared to listen. R.S.