Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition

Posted: Jul 1, 2005
Written by: 
Britta Beckstead


Updated February 2011

Location: Northeast Washington, Colville National Forest

Collaborative partners: U.S. Forest Service, local business owners including 6 mills, County Commissioners, Spokane Chamber of Natural Resources, 49 Degrees Ski Area, Conservation Northwest, and the Lands Council.

Objective: To demonstrate the full potential of restoration forestry to enhance forest health, public safety, and community economic vitality.


  • Overcoming initial distrust among the various groups 
  • Conflicts between motorized recreation and the timber industry 
  • The split among the ranching interests – there are some ideologically opposed to wilderness preservation and others who support protected areas

Project summary:

Established in 1906, the 1.1 million acre Colville National Forest quickly became intertwined with the area’s dominant industry: timber. As the environmental movement gained momentum in the 1980s and 90s, conflicts between loggers and environmentalists became common. Due to politics and concerns over sustainability, mills began to close and the number of jobs declined, forcing many families to move to urban areas. As a result, tensions between the parties escalated.

Mill owner Duane Vaagen first envisioned good-paying jobs coming from forest restoration work and wildfire protection—essentially thinning the dense stands in the Okanagan and Colville national forests and sending the wood to local mills. He first proposed the Coalition to Tim Coleman of Conservation Northwest and Mike Petersen of the Lands Council. The Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition evolved into a non-profit corporation which operates with bylaws, policies and procedures, financial systems, and annual plans and budgets. The Coalition’s collaboration process is based on creating land management proposals or “Blueprints” which in clued Active Management Areas (AMA), Restoration Management Zones (RMZ), and wilderness for most Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRA).

The goals of the group include designing and implementing forest restoration and fuels reduction projects as innovative models for other areas, demonstrating how a diverse coalition of stakeholders can work together successfully on these issues, and educating the public about the ecological and economic benefits of restoration forestry. “How do you balance the social needs of your forest, how the people interact and recreation, the environmental needs of the water and the animals, as well as the economic and extractive industries survive, there’s a need for all three of these,” says John Eminger, the owner of 49 Degrees Ski Area, “The Coalition has come up with a brilliant plan…it balances all three of those needs with the 1.1 million acres of the Colville National Forest.”

The Vaagen Bros. Lumber, Inc. crane at the Colville plant loaded with small wood for the HewSaw. In order to make thinning projects viable it's important to have a local outlet for small-diameter wood. Photo courtesy of Northeast Washington Foresty Coalition

Lessons Learned:

  • Realize the importance of collaboration. In the words of Tim Coleman of Conservation Northwest: “a community divided does not accomplish its goals, that’s why it’s so important for collaboration to succeed.” 
  • Be open to everyone. 
  • Avoid taking positions, because it isolates the group and can only serve a narrow interest. 
  • Focus on interests, recognize overlapping goals, for example, the conservationist and mill worker both share similar interests about wildlife, clean water, and scenic beauty.


The group’s collaboration on 25 projects has increased the annual harvest volume from the Colville National Forest from 18 to 61 million board feet, created economic value of over $50 million, and produced jobs even during the economic downturn. In addition, the Coalition has prevented litigation by creating another option for moving forward.

The newest project is a proposal to designate 215,000 acres of new wilderness areas in an important wildlife migration corridor between the Rocky Mountains and Cascades. As a compromise to the logging industry and recreationalists, the plan also calls for increasing logging activity and building new trails in other areas. The most exciting aspect of this proposal is its balance – it simultaneously supports timber jobs, healthy forests, fish and wildlife habitat, new wilderness, conservation, and recreation.

Additional Resources:

The Northeast Forestry Coalition’s Website:

Video on their project:

Contact information: Tim Coleman, Conservation Northwest:

Copyright © 2018 Red Lodge Clearinghouse. All rights reserved.