By Dave Hurwitz
Chairman, Snowmobile Alliance of Western States
The Washington State version of the Montana Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership between the Montana Wilderness Association and three timber companies has raised its ugly head in this state with the "Conservation Northwest-Timber Company Partnership" proposed for the Colville National Forest (refer to article below).
SAWS has mentioned on several occasions in the past that Montana was just the beginning for this new approach which leaves off-trail snowmobile use out of the equation and we indicated that this idea would move into other western states before too long.
This is Washington State's first taste of this type of anti-recreation environmental group-timber company partnership, but unfortunately it is far from the last. Oregon and Idaho will most likely see a version of this type of partnership in their states too before long, if they don't have them already.
Here is a previous SAWS Alert from March, 2008, that mentions the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Partnership between the Montana Wilderness Association and three timber companies.
SAWS Alert: Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Plan Revision and FEIS
Recall our recent SAWS Action Alert where SAWS once again requested that you submit comments for the Colville, Okanogan and Wenatchee (COW) Forest Plan Revisions? We have been sending out alerts and requesting comments about the COW FPR for six years now. In the recent alert SAWS also warned you about the Wenatchee Mountain Coalitions non-motorized campaign for Wenatchee National Forest. Although their current campaign is a request for non-motorized areas outside of current Wilderness areas and they are not working with timber companies at the moment that we are aware of in their current proposal, the end result would be the same-no snowmobiling allowed in the areas these groups propose.
Please refer to the link below to our previous alert and tell the Forest Service that you oppose both of these proposals.
Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Plan Revision
If you haven't submitted your comment letter yet regarding the COW Forest Plan Revision, you best get moving soon (refer to the address in the above link). And if you have already submitted one or more comment letters (there is no limit to how many you can submit), it would be worthwhile to submit another comment letter to inform the Forest Service that you oppose the "Conservation Northwest-Timber Company Partnership" for the Colville National Forest and why you oppose it.
Proposal for Colville National Forest a collaborative effort
Plan keeps timber industry, environmental concerns in mind
A proposal to designate 215,000 acres of new wilderness areas in the Colville National Forest is drawing support from a broad coalition of forest users.
The plan would expand the existing Salmo-Priest Wilderness in Northeast Washington and create new wilderness along the Kettle Crest, protecting six peaks that are each over 7,000 feet tall. The acreage represents some of the most remote, untouched land left in the lower 48 states. It's home to grizzly bears, lynx and woodland caribou. And it's an important wildlife migration route that connects the Rocky Mountains to the Cascades, environmentalists say.
In an unusual move, the wilderness proposal doesn't stop there. The plan also calls for stepping up logging activity on other parts of the Colville National Forest and building new trails for mountain bikers, motorcyclists and ATV riders, who would have to give up some of their existing trails if Congress approves the new wilderness.
Timber industry representatives, ranchers and recreational groups all worked on the plan.
"We've been involved in exhaustive discussions over the past four years," said Tim Coleman, a director for Conservation Northwest. "This is as much about supporting working farms and ranches, jobs in the woods and new recreation opportunities as it is about wilderness."
With 1.1 million acres, the Colville National Forest has room for all types of users, said Russ Vaagen, vice president of Vaagen Brothers Lumber Co. By working together, different groups can find appropriate places to harvest timber, graze cattle, ride four-wheelers and still support wilderness for solitude and wildlife habitat, he said.
"If we look at it in terms of abundance, we'll all get more than we have right now," Vaagen said. "If we look at it in terms of scarcity, of holding out, we'll all get less."
Conservation Northwest is working to gain political support for the wilderness proposal. Ideally, federal legislation would be introduced this fall or next spring, Coleman said. The proposal also includes new "national recreation areas," which would trigger federal dollars for additional motorized loop trails, mountain bike routes and facilities such as warming huts and restrooms, he said.
But wilderness proposals often take years to win passage. The Wild Sky Wilderness, which protects 106,000 acres in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, was approved in 2008 after five years of congressional debate.
According to the 1964 Wilderness Act, wilderness designations are for forests that have kept their "primeval" character, showing little influence of human activity. Logging and mining are prohibited in wilderness areas, as are chain saws, motor vehicles and mountain bikes. Cattle can remain, but ranchers sometimes have to leave their trucks behind.
The Colville National Forest is currently evaluating whether 240,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas have wilderness potential through a forest plan update.
The collaborative effort that produced the wilderness proposal unveiled Wednesday grew out of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition, an 8-year-old effort by the timber industry and environmental groups to find common ground. Through the coalition's work, environmental groups began supporting timber sales and commercial thinning in the Colville National Forest. In return, they wanted allies for their wilderness proposal.
Vaagen said his company's two sawmills have benefited from the collaborative effort. The mills employ about 120 people and could hire more workers if the Colville National Forest's timber sales increased.
The forest sells about 43 million board feet of timber annually.
The industry wants 80 million board feet and they are willing to support wilderness," said Conservation Northwest's Coleman. In return, environmental groups are willing to support the higher cut rate, which includes thinning dense stands of trees and other forest restoration projects.
"It's acceptable to us to manage the forest to provide timber jobs," Coleman said.
Vaagen said he hopes the coalition's success will help bring other user groups to the negotiating table. Motorized recreation groups were noticeably absent from a press conference about the wilderness proposal. Designating new wilderness remains controversial with many ATV riders in northeast Washington, Vaagen said.
Ranchers have questions, too. John Dawson and his son, Jeff, graze about 400 head of cattle on the Colville National Forest. A portion of their allotment lies within a roadless area that could become part of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness Area.
The father-son team already does a lot of its work by horseback. That lessens the potential impact of a wilderness designation, Dawson said. But other local ranchers may need continued motorized access to check their herds or get work done on their federal grazing allotments, he said.
At the same time, Dawson said he and other ranchers support wilderness values.
"We like the solitude and quietness of nonroaded areas," he said.