Differences of opinion about National Forest stewardship, and the “winner take all” structures, have led to decades of polarization among our citizenry and near paralysis on-the-ground. Over time, responsible people on many sides of forest issues concluded the present system was failing – failing our timber workers and timber-dependent communities, failing the ecological health of our forests, failing our responsibility to future generations. That left a question: Despite our differences, could key parties come to the table to see if there was a “zone of agreement” we share, a common ground set of ideas we could build on to generate positive work on the ground?
In August, 2006, Artemis Common Ground invited nine people from industry, the conservation community, U.S. Forest Service, state of Montana, and the non-profit sector to explore that question. After an all day meeting, everyone concluded that common ground might be created around the idea of on-the-ground restoration: work to restore the health of our National Forests. The group formed a Steering Committee whose mission was to engage more community interests in an effort to develop Restoration Principles and an action plan to have those implemented on the ground.
In January, 2007, thirty-four representatives of conservationists, motorized users, outfitters, loggers, mill operators, state government and the Forest Service held its first meeting at Lubrecht Experimental Forest in western Montana, facilitated by the National Forest Foundation.
All present agreed the restoration goal was worth pursuing; they agreed to work by consensus—meaning that everyone had to agree before a proposal was accepted; they set August 1st as the deadline to finish their work; and they all personally committed to help get the job done.
The group was dynamic, and represented a broad range of interests. Success depended on honesty, ability to listen, to disagree respectfully, and most centrally, on learning how to focus on building the “zone of agreement.” In such a process, loggers do not become environmental activists and conservationists do not change into timber mill managers.
People retain their different perspectives—but they develop the ability to be able to say, “We disagree on these issues over there, but we can agree on this specific point. Let’s start with that, and see if we can broaden areas of agreement, and if successful, figure out a better way to make good things happen on the ground.”
That is what the Montana Forest Restoration Working Group did. At their last meeting, August 1, 2007, all recommendations were given final, unanimous approval. Next, the group agreed to change its name to the Montana Forest Restoration Committee (MFRC)—reflecting its new mission to see that the approved Restoration Principles and Implementation Plan are put into practice. Finally, members of the group were asked if they wanted to continue to be involved in the effort by serving on the new MFRC. Every person in the room raised their hand. The group published a booklet, Restoring Montana’s National Forest Lands, outlining the process and the restoration principles.
Since that August meeting the MFRC Steering Committee has kept up the momentum created by the original group. Three forest-level collaborative groups were formed on the Lolo, Bitterroot and Helena National Forests. Each has been meeting as a volunteer body regularly to accomplish the mission of the MFRC and its Principles and Vision for restoration in Montana.
In July 2008, the MFRC and Restoration Committee efforts were recognized by Montana‘s Governor, Brian Schweitzer, through a letter of appreciation to each of the Committees commending them for their work and dedication.
Also in July 2008, the MFRC was awarded the Regional Forester‘s Honor Award for “Gridlock Breaking.”
Founding Members (Montana Forest Restoration Working Group)
Below is a list of the founding members of the MFRC with the professional affiliations they had at the time. The group was originally named the Montana Forest Restoration Working Group.
Julia Altemus, Montana Logging Association
Debbie Austin, U.S. Forest Service
Len Broberg, Sierra Club
Dave Bull, U.S. Forest Service
Caroline Byrd, The Nature Conservancy
Al Christophersen, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Tony Colter, Sun Mountain Lumber
Marnie Criley, Wildlands CPR
Orville Daniels, Retired U.S. Forest Service
Bob Ekey, The Wilderness Society
Ellen Engstedt, Montana Wood Products Association
Pat Flowers, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Rick Franke, Smurfit-Stone Container
Pam Gardiner, U.S. Forest Service
John Gatchell, Montana Wilderness Association
William Geer, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
Dave Harmon, Backcountry Horsemen
Bob Harrington, Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation
Dale Harris, Great Burn Study Group
Jeff Juel, WildWest Institute
Tim Love, U.S. Forest Service
Julia Riber, U.S. Forest Service
Jack Rich, Rich Ranches
Chuck Roady, FH Stoltze Land & Lumber
Paul Rumelhart, Kootenai River Development Council
Gordy Sanders, Pyramid Mountain Lumber
Dan Thompson, Ravalli County Off-Road Users Association
Mark Vander Meer, National Network of Forest Practitioners
Mike Volesky, Governor’s Office
Brian Kahn, Artemis Common Ground
Mary Mitsos, National Forest Foundation
Karen DiBari, National Forest Foundation
Chelsea Pennick, National Forest Foundation