|Collaborating on prescriptions on A to Z Project. Photo: Russ Vaagen|
Russ Vaagen is a founding member of the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition (NEWFC). In his recent blog post, he tells the inspiring story of the A to Z Project on the Colville National Forest - one that just may change the way land managers do business in the future.
Vaagen recounts the history of the project and the desire of the NEWFC to find new ways to achieve more restoration on the landscape. Their idea was to see if federal projects could be sold earlier in the process and include the NEPA work as service work. The answer was yes and the A to Z Project was born.
They hired a qualified third party contractor to do the NEPA. Once the contract was awarded, oversight of the NEPA process was retained by the Forest Service. Communication between the parties was a priority. The collaborative group worked directly with the NEPA contractor to ensure that the project met social and ecological acceptance. This took months of negotiations, discussions, collaboration and on-the-ground tours. In the end, the project was developed faster than the typical Forest Service process and reflected the desires of the local community.
This is where the story gets even better...
Near the end of the public comment period, a Montana group called the Alliance for the Wild Rockies (AWR) shared their concerns about the contracting of the project as well as the environmental impact to old growth portions of the forest. Following the comment and objection process, AWR filed suit against the project.
AWR had not expressed any desire to participate in the collaborative discussions or engage the collaborative group with their concerns. They turned down invitations to meet with both the collaborative group and the Forest Service.
The lawsuit was filed just as the project was getting underway. AWR has tried twice to have it stopped by the court, but after the judge reviewed the evidence and saw that AWR made no attempt to reach out to the group or the Forest Service throughout the planning process, he said no.
The project continues today. Forests are being thinned in accordance with the prescriptions developed by the collaborative group. AWR continues to protest and file for injunctions. It is Mr. Vaagen's hope that the courts will continue to rule in favor of projects that have been collaboratively developed.
This is a great example of a local collaborative thinking outside the box to find ways to improve efficiency in the NEPA planning process. Fantastic Cohesive Strategy behavior.
Click here for full blog post.