COLVILLE, Wash. - Can loggers, recreational land users and conservationists see eye-to-eye on management of the same national forest? In northeastern Washington, they've been trying.
For almost a decade, an unusual coalition has brought conservationists and the timber industry together to brainstorm about how to best manage the forestland in a three-county area of Washington. A new poll shows local voters support the progress they've made.
The Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition
wants more federal wilderness to be designated within the Colville National Forest, and 57 percent of those polled like the idea. Russ Vaagen, the interim president of the coalition, is also manager of Vaagen Brothers Lumber. He says the proposal also includes areas for recreation and for timber harvest.
"When you tie it together with collaboration and managing lands in a socially acceptable way, people are even more in favor of it - because they want to see the whole package. They want to see not only lands protected, but they want to see the community be able to develop and sustain itself."
The collaboration has not been without controversy, and Vaagen says it has taken time to build trust. The group has been frustrated with the turnover of Forest Service personnel on the Colville, and wants to build a better relationship with forest managers. Vaagen hopes the poll results will help.
"Partly, these initiatives and this push forward is to try to, in a way, almost force the agency into managing forest planning-level decisions based on what the community wants - and to get the folks who are the naysayers to come to the table."
He adds the coalition wants to fine-tune its proposal with more input from recreation groups and ranchers in the area, with a goal of convincing the district's congressional representatives to back the federal wilderness designation for the Colville. Voters in Ferry, Pend Oreille, Spokane and Stevens counties were surveyed.
The poll of 552 likely voters was conducted Feb. 25-27, 2011, by Moore Information and the Mellman Group. The coalition website is www.newforestrycoalition.org.