The PacMtn Workforce Development Council presents the Pinchot Partners with $22,000 as one of its High Impact Community Grants. From left: Lewis County commissioners Bobby Jackson and Edna Fund, Pinchot Partners board members Bob Guenther and Fred Norman, Pinchot Partners director Jess Martin, commissioner Gary Stamper and PacMtn career connected learning coordinator Kat Santana.
The Pinchot Partners nonprofit group is beginning work to outline its next long-term strategic plan, a process that will shape the mission of the organization for year to come. “We had had an old one, and we pretty much had checked the boxes on a lot of the stuff we had on our plan,” said John Squires, the group’s treasurer. “We need to get some new boxes to check.”
Founded in 2003, the nonprofit seeks to bring together a broad coalition — ranging from the timber industry to environmentalists to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe — to promote projects that provide economic, recreational and ecological benefits. Its work is focused on the Cowlitz Valley Ranger District in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, where communities have struggled with the loss of logging jobs.
“Historically, it’s been a challenge to get all those parties to really work together,” said Taylor Aalvik, the group’s board chair and a member of the Cowlitz Tribe. “That’s what the Pinchot Partners is all about, to bring those diverse interests and create a forum to find common ground.”
Jess Martin, the nonprofit’s executive director, said it’s still in the “baby steps” of its planning process. During a meeting on the group’s annual retreat in March, members — as well as local residents in attendance — were asked to outline their vision for the forest two, eight and 20 years down the road.
“We threw a whole bunch of fun, crazy ideas up on the board,” she said. Leaders within the group said they hope to build on the success of work its huckleberry restoration project, which so far has seen work on 750 acres to improve habitat and allow for public harvesting. Projects like that, which can benefit a variety of stakeholders, as well as the land itself, are what Pinchot Partners sees as its mission.
“We’re actually looking to help the health of the forest and create some jobs while we’re doing it in the east end (of Lewis County),” said Bob Guenther, the group’s vice chair. “We’re working hand-in-hand with the Forest Service on many of their projects.”
The strategic plan the organization is crafting, Squires said, will be designed to outline its goals for the next three to five years. At this point, the group has just begun the brainstorming stages of the plan. Meanwhile, it’s also working to create shared vision statements on a variety of topics. “We’ll look at riparian zone risk, treatments — should we do thinning treatments or regeneration treatments?” Squires said. “We’ll look at the trail system and the roads, we’ll look at soils and slope stability. Those are the basic nuts and bolts.”
Martin termed the vision statements “zones of agreement,” areas where it can outline for the Forest Service that there is shared consensus — hopefully helping to guide the agency’s work. One possible area of increased focus in the strategic planning is recreation, as the forest has proven popular for locals and tourists alike — but the Forest Service’s budget has led to a backlog of trail maintenance and road work.
“There’s still a lot we need to look at,” Aalvik said. “That’s a great component to understand, what are the uses out there recreationally and how can we improve those?”
Squires noted that focusing on recreation doesn’t just benefit visitors, but is also an important environmental issue. “The biggest environmental threat to the National Forest is not mechanical treatments, it’s us people loving the dang forest to death,” he said. “That’s a dilemma the Forest Service faces, and they have no money to deal with it and less money every year. … Maybe what we end up being is a convener pulling these diverse elements together and figuring out what everyone can do to help.”
Martin said Pinchot Partners is in a strong position to help as it identifies its future priorities. “What are the ways we can leverage our resources in the community to do monitoring work, to do field work — that’s where our partnerships with the White Pass Discovery Team and the Cowlitz Tribe allow the Forest Service to increase its pace and scale,” she said.
Guenther agreed that the group is in a position to build on its successes, because it’s built relationships with groups that had long been at odds. “The way the organization has grown is through time, we’ve developed more trust than we had in the beginning,” he said. “There was a big chasm between business, the Forest Service, the community and the environmental community after the curtailment of wholesale logging in the National Forest. The trust building has been a long process. It’s growing, it’s getting more evident all the time.”