Pinchot Partnership

Posted: Jan 3, 2005
Written by: 
Jane Braxton Little, updated by EMILY PLATT

East Lewis and Skamania counties and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in south-central Washington.

Objective: To promote policies and projects that create quality local jobs and benefit watershed health within the Cispus Adaptive Management Area and surrounding parts of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Participants: American Forest Resource Council, Cowlitz Tribe, Destination Packwood, Family Forest Foundation, Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Lewis County Commissioner, local contractors, local residents, Lumber and Sawmill Workers Local 2676, Conservation Northwest, University of Washington, and Washington State and Thurston/Lewis Central Labor Councils.

History: The Gifford Pinchot was one of the nation's top producing timber forests in the 1970s and 1980s. However, between 1997 and 2002, the gridlock over logging mature and old-growth forests and roadless areas effectively shut down timber production on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (GPNF).  The passage of the "salvage logging rider" revived production slightly until it expired in 1997.  Environmental groups - including the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance and the Gifford Pinchot Task Force - opposed to continued clearcutting and harvesting old-growth timber effectively shut down the forest by appealing 37 timber sales between 1997 and 2002, more than on any national forest in the Pacific Northwest. In Packwood and other timber-dependent towns, a steady drain of jobs resulted in unemployment as high as 30% and claimed the town doctor and a local elementary school. 

At the same time, there was growing realization on all sides that the long-term health and productivity of the forest and of the local economy depended increasingly on proper stewardship of the extensive stands of second-growth trees on the forest.
The clear cuts of the 1970s and 1980s and earlier were growing up as dense monocultures that did not support varied wildlife or productive watersheds, or produce high-quality timber. 

In response, members of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force and the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance initiated a new conversation with Gifford Pinchot Forest officials and with local communities based on the idea of replacing old-growth timber sales with activities that focused on forest thinning and restoration.

Door-to-door canvassing launched in Randle, Packwood and surrounding communities introduced group members to issues that were important to local leaders - business owners, loggers, firewood cutters and Cowlitz tribal members - and brought home the economic hardships that the communities had endured without the jobs Forest Service timber sales had provided for decades. Mutual recognition of past impacts on both the forest and local communities nurtured a growing commitment to a better way to manage national forests.

 Old growth on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Photo courtesy of USDA Forest Service
In October 2002, members of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, business owners and labor leaders organized a field tour with Gifford Pinchot Forest officials, timber industry representatives, tribal members, and local community members. Along with the predictable griping and finger-pointing, the two-day tour produced some unexpected confessions. When local woods workers shared the effects of mill closures and job loss on their communities, environmentalists expressed their dismay at this unintended consequence of their efforts. When environmentalists proclaimed their continued commitment to protect old growth and roadless areas, community members admitted they knew the previous rate of logging was not sustainable.

These declarations led the tour participants to meet again to focus on forest restoration and other shared values. Thinning, improving stream channels, and repairing or decommissioning roads could produce both jobs and healthier watersheds, they agreed. This came as a welcome revelation to Forest Service officials, who began tentatively to envision a future with less controversy, maybe even consensus.

The field tour gave birth to the Gifford Pinchot Collaborative Working Group, an alliance of environmentalists and labor, industry, tribal members, and community members. Its first test was the Smooth Juniper sale. Because environmentalists had promised to appeal and litigate over the sale's effects on roadless and riparian areas, Forest Service officials set the Smooth Juniper sale aside without issuing a decision. After the sale spent months on the shelf, a district ranger suggested that the new collaborative develop an alternative to the original sale. The option that the group devised drops some old-growth cutting units entirely and develops variable density-thinning prescriptions for others. Although the group struggled to find a balance between environmentally responsible thinning and economic viability, it came up with a timber sale that it believes will restore forest ecosystems through work contracted to local crews.

Accomplishments: The creation of the Pinchot Partners has led to thawing relations between various forest interests that have been warring for decades.  Working through various contract issues has helped the members understand the National Environmental Policy Act and the cumbersome process it imposes on federal agencies. It has also helped them understand one another. Although the members hold many significantly different values, they have learned they can work together in the areas where their interests coincide. In fact, the GPNF has evolved from one of the more appealed national forests in the country to one of the least-- there have only been two appeals in the last five years.

In addition to improving working relationships, the group has enjoyed many tangible successes. In 2003, the Gifford Pinchot Collaborative Working Group designed two restoration projects. One used a stewardship contract to perform pre-commercial thinning in a 50-year-old plantation. The other was a contract to improve roads and habitat for endangered salmon in Iron Creek. The group also worked with the Forest Service on future timber sales to incorporate good science and eliminate elements that might attract appeals and lawsuits. The group's efforts in 2003 contributed to the sale of 20 million board feet of timber on the Gifford Pinchot Forest - four times the volume sold in 2001.

Restoration projects continued in 2004, with funding provided by a local Resource Advisory Council, to decommission over two miles of road and conduct a programmatic environmental analysis of several thousand acres of forest plantations. The plantation review offers Forest Service officials a new planning process that provides a fresh perspective on plantations. It could result in up to three years of project work designed around non-controversial timber sales that help restore forest ecosystems and provide local economic opportunities. In February 2004, over 40 contractors attended a workshop held by the collaborative to educate them about stewardship contracting and other up-coming projects on the national forest.

 John Squires and Emily Platt are the coordinators of the Gifford Pinchot Collaborative Working Group
Photo by Jane Braxton Little
Recent accomplishments include a stweardship contracting workshop for local area contractors attended by over forty people; development of the Cat Creek Thin to test variable density thinning as a means to create habitat and to utilize unique contracting arrangements; and completion of two phases of the Iron Creek Watershed Restoration Project replacing culverts along two miles of road and decommissioning another .2 miles of road. 

The group is currently working on the Plantation Restoration Program, which sets forth the long-term vision for the effort.  Taking lessons learned from their previous projects, the group decided to scale up and work on a project that could have far-reaching implications for overall forest management.  The program aims to create a restoration plan and environmental planning document that would set the stage for a long-term, non-controversial program of forest work.  The Plantation Program will restore nearly 1,600 acres of plantations (previous clear-cuts) and watersheds, provideing two years of reliable work for local area contractors. 

Challenges/constraints: Despite its success in bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders, the group's long-term viability depends on its accomplishments on the ground. In addition to demonstrating that its work plan can restore forest ecosystems, the collaborative must develop a program of work that also provides a sustained level of local jobs.

The collaborative also must deal with the diminishing numbers and capacity of the local work force and the Forest Service. Both are losing jobs skills - tangible and intangible. And the group itself must weather internal changes as its members move on to other pursuits or leave the area. It cannot take for granted the trust that is one of its finest accomplishments.

For more information see:

Pinchot Partnership Homepage

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