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Friday, February 21, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

W. Thomas Soeldner: Colville plan is forest service failure

By W. Thomas Soeldner

The new (revised) Colville National Forest Land Management Plan (CFP) has been approved much to the dismay of committed conservationists. Even the few conservation organizations who collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service in developing the plan are distressed at the meager amount of roadless area ultimately recommended and therefore protected for wilderness (60,000 acres rather than the 200,000 acres requested).

It seems that the Forest Service, out of deference to county commissioners and area cattle operations, which at the end of 2018 had 58 grazing allotments covering 810,000 acres in the Colville, ignored the recommendation of the collaboration. The Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition is considered by some to be the most successful forest collaborative in the country. However, it “boasts” the highest timber volume production in the entire National Forest System and promotes “healthy” forests via “treatments,” aka logging. It appears that conservationists’ collaboration with the Forest Service is like embracing one’s abuser.

The Healthy Forest Restoration Act (2003) empowers the timber industry to “thin” forests in remote areas of National Forests for the sake of “health” and exempts logging from a number of other forest laws that promote sound forest management. The problem is that, since the timber industry is not a charitable institution, when it thins trees it expects to make a profit. That means timber companies take large, more fire-resistant trees and leave smaller ones which are subject to fire. The new CFP and its friendliness to logging also ignores the carbon sequestration value of older living forests in a time of climate change. Thus, “healthy” becomes a deception, a euphemism for “logged.”

One can understand the advisability of thinning narrow buffers around homes and communities. But for anyone who cares about our National Forests, building access roads and logging in the Colville’s treasured wildlands and thereby damaging sensitive waterways and consequently fish and wildlife populations is grossly irresponsible. The fisher has likely been extirpated from the CNF, and the grizzly bear, caribou, lynx, and others on the “sensitive species” list have also been extirpated or exist in the CNF in numbers well below their historic range. Furthermore, while CFP’s allowance for cattle grazing, which damages natural forest restoration, is questionable, allowing it in forest terrain which is prime wolf habitat is sheer foolishness.

A word about forest collaboratives. As one local “environmental” collaborator has noted, “What we really want to do is find common ground.” We should ask, “Common ground” for what: increased income and funding for the participants, making National Forest a cash cow for local interests?” This particular collaboration’s benefits don’t offset the tens of thousands of public forest acres that

collaborators traded away to logging to achieve objectives, e.g. wilderness, which they didn’t get. The new CFP pulls back the curtain on the charade and highlights the need to take a hard look at “environmental” collaboration and the jeopardizing of public resources.

The Colville collaboration disappointment underscores the need for reflection and reform. Reform should include adopting enforceable ethical standards including, for example, provisions covering the environmental industry’s receiving funding from business interests that exploit the resource conservationists claim to protect. In a time of climate change, ethical integrity should continue to be a high priority for environmental organizations, foundations, and their donors.

Our National Forests are national treasures, created late in response to centuries of forest destruction on the North American continent. Decisions about these forests must take into consideration more than the interests of the county governments and commercial interests immediately adjacent to the forests. With the new CFP, the U.S. Forest Service has relinquished its duty to the nation by failing to protect and enhance the pristine natural areas of the Colville, and over time that failure will impact even more tragically the very neighbors to whom the Forest Service has deferred.

W. Thomas Soeldner is a retired Lutheran minister and educator who continues to work as a consultant and executive coach. He lives on forty acres of managed forest south of Spokane and serves as the National Forest Chair for Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group.

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