Pinchot Partners 15th anniversary celebration, August 2017
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. Tension between stakeholders ran high, the forest sat neglected and forest industry jobs all but disappeared in East Lewis County.
In 2002, a Gifford Pinchot National Forest assessment found that 45-50% of the stands on the forest were between 40 and 120 years old. Many of these stands are overstocked plantations which lack the structural complexity critical to both wildlife and overall stand health. The lack of active management to restore these plantations hinders recovery of endangered species such as the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, and salmon and trout species.
Traditionally dependent on forest products from federal lands, the once timber-rich rural communities in East Lewis County grappled with severe socio-economic issues, including woefully deficient budgets for schools, population declines, loss of family-wage jobs, and the struggle to recreate vibrant towns. Since 1998, hundreds of the best paying jobs disappeared, and the unemployment level shot up to 30%.
It was these dire conditions that brought a group of community leaders together with the idea of organizing a field tour of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in 2002. The objective of the field tour was to explore whether any areas of common ground existed between forest stakeholders who had very different perspectives. At the field tour, approximately 50 individuals representing local community and tribal members, timber industry, conservation and labor representatives, and Forest Service officials cautiously agreed that projects that restore previously managed plantations, failing roads and degraded creeks could be the key to getting people back to work in the woods.
In February of 2003, the Gifford Pinchot Collaborative Working Group (now called Pinchot Partners) was officially born following an exercise in which stakeholders each set forth their vision of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and surrounding communities in the year 2103. Local residents told of their desire for livable communities that afford their children the opportunity to grow up and raise families next to “the most beautiful forest in the world.” We heard from labor and industry about the need for living wage jobs working in the woods to help supply the ever-growing demand for wood products in the U.S., and how it makes sense for our domestic forests to provide a sustainable wood supply instead of getting our wood abroad where little or no environmental safeguards exist. And finally we heard a common desire to once again know that wolverine, lynx and wolves roam the landscape, surrounded by a healthy and resilient forest that provides clean air, clean water and a diversity of plants, fish and wildlife.
This powerful exercise inspired all of us in the room that day. We recognized that our visions were not only compatible; combined, they created a stronger, more integrated, and ultimately more sustainable vision than we could accomplish by simply pursuing our various individual “special” interests. It is this shared vision that has inspired trust between stakeholders that had once declared “war” with one another, and today the Pinchot Partners use this vision to problem solve together.