All across the State of Montana, collaborative groups are working together to solve problems and develop solutions for our public lands. At the same time, we encourage our congressional delegation take a similar, collaborative and inclusive approach to charting the future of federal land management in Montana.
Unresolved differences regarding National Forest management and a ‘winner take all’ attitude have led to decades of bitter polarization and management challenges on the ground. Over a decade ago, we realized this attitude was extremely detrimental to achieving good public lands management outcomes. Forest restoration work was not getting done, timber harvest was rapidly declining, wilderness discussions were absent, everyone was frustrated and tired of pointing fingers. It was time to come together and work through deeply held beliefs and complex issues to provide good stewardship of our National Forests from the roaded frontcountry to the wild backcountry.
So, for the past 12 years, representatives of the timber industry, conservation community, U.S. Forest Service, nonprofit sector and the State of Montana have been working to get to “yes”. Despite our differences, we have been successful in working within a shared common ground and a set of values and ideas that generates positive outcomes.
The process has not been easy, but the benefits of using collaboration as a tool to provide federal land managers a shared local vision are immense. Nothing crystalizes what you bring to the table more than when you're forced to articulate your interest and help others achieve their goals. More effective problem solving happens when you combine experiences and turn disagreements into agreements. Honoring differences and working to identify what is complementary about them leads to better decisions.
The Montana Forest Collaboration Network (MFCN) is comprised of 22 collaborative groups. Together, we represent more than 100 years of experience working cooperatively to assist collaboration in forest and grassland restoration, land protection, conservation and resource utilization for the benefit of all. The MFCN encourages the “autonomy of individual collaborative groups and celebrates the diversity of practice” among the groups.
At times, individual collaboratives have worked to develop approaches to federal forest management that would require Congress to consider and pass. The MFCN welcomes these approaches when they are locally-driven, inclusive and collaborative. At other times, the MFCN has weighed in on federal issues requiring congressional action that would positively affect regionwide federal forest management, such as the recent passage of a wildfire suppression funding fix.
Collaboration forces the long view. Sometimes things don't work out when you collaborate with others, no matter how hard you try, how patient you are, and how well you listen. Seasoned collaborators take the long view about perceived failures, and above all, learn, learn, and learn some more from each other! Each time we collaborate with others, we optimize our capacity to extend ourselves beyond our comfort zone, and we grow and stretch the boundaries of deeply held beliefs and attitudes.
Many collaboratives appreciate the relationship they have with Montana’s congressional delegation staff and with Governor Bullock’s office. As local collaboratives continue to find ways to reduce conflict on a wide range of natural resource issues such as vegetation management projects, fire management, wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and travel management etc., we urge our elected officials to actively seek input from local collaborative groups as they weigh forest management decisions or contemplate public land reform legislation. Collaboratives are working to create a new path, and they look forward to future engagement with our elected officials to advance and incentivize collaboration and its untapped potential.
—Gordy Sanders is the chair of the Montana Forest Collaboration Network Advisory Council