Forest Communities Become Partners in Management

By Little, Jane Braxton | American Forests, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Forest Communities Become Partners in Management


Little, Jane Braxton, American Forests


Lynn Jungwirth should be fuming. It's snowing on the second day of spring and her town's sole sawmill is about to close.

Instead, Jungwirth has rolled up the sleeves of her gray hooded sweatshirt and is planning a local industrial center to process logs hauled into Hayfork, California, from nearby Trinity National Forest. The industrial center will generate jobs and electricity, improve the forest health, and, she says, create more well-being than the town of 2,500 residents has known since the first load of lumber was shipped out of the valley in 1943.

"If the community takes care of the forest, the forest can take care of the community. This will work," says Jungwirth, a member of a third-generation logging family.

Across the country, local leaders in scores of forest-dependent towns are gathering up the tatters left by decades of national timber politics and knitting their communities back together. It's more than a mending. The process evolving in tiny rural towns is creating new ways to manage forests using new players and familiar players in new roles. It is restructuring the economic relationship between public lands and their neighboring communities.

"It's a new way of doing business across a landscape and a real test of how we recognize and engage public participation," says James R. Lyons, U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources and the environment.

In southwestern Oregon, private landowners and public agencies are collaborating to manage the 500,000-acre Applegate Valley watershed. They have prepared 40 million board-feet of timber for sale, protected streams with over a mile of fencing, installed fish screens, and reduced erosion from roads.

The Ponderosa Pine Forest Partnership in southwest Colorado is a coalition of county, college, and San Juan National Forest officials who are developing a market for small-diameter timber. The partners are using local companies to harvest trees that are nine inches and less for use as house logs, specialty furniture, erosion mats, and power plant fuel.

In northern Vermont, farmers, loggers, retirees, and business owners comprise the Vermont Natural Resource Council's "living room coalition." Their discussions about sustainable forest practices contributed to the recommendations of the Northern Forest Lands Council for 26 million acres of forest stretching across four states from Maine to New York. The group's current focus on Vermont's two million-acre northern forest has affected statewide policies on clearcutting, herbicide use, and taxation.

In northwest Montana, the Flathead Forestry Project developed federal legislation to encourage stewardship in timber sales on the 2.4 million-acre Flathead National Forest. The coalition launched by loggers has completed two timber sales - one on federal land, one on state - to demonstrate how woods work can be separated from timber sales to focus on forest health rather than volume.

Diverse as they are, the community partnerships share the common goal of managing forests on a large scale for the long-term. They work closely with state and public bureaus and make their decisions by consensus. No agency, legislation, or political official authorized these groups.

"We all simply gave ourselves power," says Jack Shipley, a community activist and member of the Applegate Partnership. "We authorized ourselves to do whatever we can to create healthy ecosystems and healthy communities."

Cooperation Spawned by Gridlock

The community forest movement was born out of gridlock. After decades of free-wheeling timber harvests on forests throughout the West, the public, spurred by environmentalists, said "enough!" Court orders and policy changes forced U.S. Forest Service and private timber officials to reign in the logging. Federal timber harvests plummeted from nearly 14 billion board-feet in 1960 to just over 4 billion in 1994 while national lobbyists for industry and the environment continued to duke it out in law offices and conference rooms. …

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