Collaborative groups seek common ground in new ‘umbrella’ organization

Posted: December 19, 2016

Source: Independent Record

Tom Kuglin

Tom Kuglin – IndependentRecord

Collaborative groups working throughout Montana’s forests are looking for common ground with each other in a new organization.

Montana Forest Collaborative Network held its first conference in Helena on Monday. The two-day event brought together collaboratives and interest groups focused on natural resource management and engaging with the state and federal agencies.

While local collaboratives work in diverse landscapes, they share many values, goals and challenges, said Gordy Sanders, owner of Pyramid Lumber in Seeley Lake. MFCN is an evolution of smaller collaborative networks and restoration committees around the state.

“Over the course of time and various degrees of successes folks have had, we had the wherewithal and the interest to grow the organization to provide an umbrella group to actually help collaboration be successful statewide,” Sanders said.

Collaboratives are often born of local frustration with federal forest management, Sanders said. As those groups engage with the Forest Service and push the pace and scale of management, they have found varying degrees of success. Sharing those experiences and challenges through MFCN is beneficial for other collaboratives as they prioritize current and future efforts, he added.

Collaborative groups typically convene around a particular project or forest, bringing members from different viewpoints to pursue common goals.

“It’s a cross-section of interests, from conservation and the environment, industry, landowners and in some cases, government, but sharing the same interest of ‘we need to get something done,’” said Tim Love, conference coordinator.

Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Bill Avey told the conference that collaboration drives “civil and collective engagement” through “collective learning.”

But collaboratives have their share of detractors as well. Critics often see collaboratives as exclusive among groups with the funding and time to meet for weeks or months. Critics also pan compromise as softening bedrock environmental laws, particularly when land protections couple with timber harvest.

“I disagree with that,” Love said. “If anything collaboratives are inherently democratic because they represent a wide span of interests.”

Collaboratives must work within laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and cannot circumvent them, Sanders said.

MFCN is still in its infancy, recruiting members as it looks to ratify a charter early next year. The organization’s priorities will come from the members, Sanders said, noting funding and legislation as often mentioned challenges.