Collaboration? Not so much.

 

I read your article on the Bureau of Land Management’s new collaborative approach to planning with skepticism (“BLM rethinks land-use planning,” HCN, 5/30/16). In this same region of western Montana, the U.S Forest Service has been applying the word “collaborative” to its timber sales because the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) requires “public collaboration.” However, the HFRA does not define -collaboration, and so anything counts. The Forest Service’s usual tactic is to take a small project recommended by a local restoration committee, greatly expand that project to include commercial timber harvest and new road building, and then apply the collaborative label. Bitterroot National Forest’s recent approval of the Westside Collaborative Vegetation Management Project near Hamilton, Montana, is a good example. Here, BNF greatly enlarged a small Bitterroot Restoration Committee project to include more than 2 square miles of commercial logging and 7.6 miles of new logging roads. Despite a majority of public comments and objections opposing the new roads and commercial logging around a popular 9-mile hiking-biking-horseback trail, BNF approved the plan with no significant changes. Prior to reaching the final decision, agency officials had also marked all the trees, completed geotechnical work for the roads, and lined up workers for the project, suggesting that they never had any intent to compromise by considering public concerns. This behavior has only served to increase the public’s distrust of the Forest Service. 

I thought it interesting that you quoted a representative of Pyramid Mountain Timber as being “enthusiastic” about the BLM’s new collaborative efforts. I’ll bet he is: Pyramid might be the only real collaborator on the Forest Service timber projects. In contrast to the Forest Service, I hope the BLM will include the public as collaborators — after all, it is public land.

Jeff Lonn
Hamilton, Montana