Forest landowners prove cooperation works | Brunell

The state’s largest environmental, wildlife and natural resources agencies recently recognized 43 large forest landowners for their “exemplary efforts” to upgrade forest roads and stream crossings that improved salmon habitat and water quality.

After investing more than $300 million collectively, these landowners rebuilt 25,000 miles of forest roads, replaced more than 6,000 in-stream barriers to migrating fish, and opened in excess of 3,500 miles of previously blocked spawning habitat.

The recognition is a milestone in collaboration and a remarkable turnaround from nearly a half-century ago when regulators, fishermen and loggers were at each other’s throats.

It took a couple of visionary leaders from vastly different backgrounds to set up the problem-solving framework which is in place today.

Billy Franks, Jr., the legendary Nisqually tribal leader, was a fisherman with an engaging personality and an abundance of common sense and wisdom. Even though he fought bitter fish wars and was arrested, he wasn’t resentful. To him, the battles weren’t about the past, they were about the future.

Stu Bledsoe was a World War II Navy fighter pilot who saw combat in the Pacific Theater. He had the same warmth, engaging manner and genuine commitment to settling a feud, which many thought unresolvable.

Bledsoe was a rancher, former legislator and state agriculture director in the Evans Administration and head of the Washington Forest Protection Association – the powerful organization representing private forest landowners.

Together, they were the “calmer heads” which were needed to reduce tensions and set a respectful tone. They started bringing other leaders together to listen to one another’s perspective and conduct research to determine what would work.

At that time, Judge George Boldt, a Tacoma federal jurist, issued game-changing rulings which were upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the landmark decisions didn’t settle differences, they only exacerbated them.

Boldt ruled that natural fish spawning and rearing habitat must be restored. That meant reducing silt in spawning beds, curbing soil erosion from logging roads, and reducing harvest areas along streams to keep water temperatures low.

The overriding fact was wild salmon and steelhead runs were declining. Something dramatic needed to happen outside the court room and legislative chambers.

Bledsoe understood that forest landowners were in for dramatic and costly changes, but his members could not afford another round of prolonged litigation nor to be shut out of the woods.

Frank felt the same way. He would repeatedly say that while the lawyers argue, fish runs decline. Litigation meant paralysis for everyone.

Both took enormous risks and recognized they had a hard sell with their constituents. The talks were emotionally charged and at times, were on the verge of unraveling. Somehow, Frank and Bledsoe kept the train from derailing.

After a decade of hard work, the forests and fish agreement was ratified by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Gardner in the 1980s. It led to streamside buffer zones, road culverts revisions, which allowed migrating fish to pass, and put sensitive areas off limits to logging.

The bottom line was simple. Frank wanted fish runs restored and Bledsoe wanted timber landowners to be able to plant, manage and harvest trees. They soon realized their interests were compatible.

To Bledsoe and Frank respectful relationships mattered as did the words they wrote and spoke. They realized that unless they brought people with diverse views together and found ways to work out their differences, everyone would lose.

Too bad Frank and Bledsoe aren’t around today. We could all use a good dose of their common sense, wisdom and good manners. It’s the best way to build public trust and solve problems.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Opinion

Tribes celebrate the return of salmon | Loomis

We must continue recovery efforts

Straw pulp looks like a good option | Brunell

Columbia Pulp project is a win-win for the environment and the economy

Taking the guess work out of recycling with the Waste Management Recycle Corps

At its core, recycling is an act of optimism. An investment in… Continue reading

Signature of registered voter is a coveted commodity

The competitive nature of the initiative and referendum season now peaking in Washington.

Lt. Dan needs lots of helping hands | Brunell

Gary Sinise making year-around commitments to help veterans and their families

Growth, knowledge, learning at your library | KCLS

Spring is the time of year when many of us focus on… Continue reading

Photo by Michael O’Leary/Everett Herald
                                Photo by Michael O’Leary/Everett Herald
Eyman says he will spend $500K of his own money on initiative

The conservative activist’s self-financing claim points to a lack of deep-pocketed donors.

New approaches needed to fight super wildfires | Brunell

With Western States wildfires growing in size and destroying more homes, farms… Continue reading

Cleaning up the complex | Metzler

Solving the multifamily recycling puzzle

Eyman putting his latest fight on his tab

Activist using own money in signature-gathering drive to place a $30 car tab measure in front of voters

Cooperation spawns hope

Call to reach common ground and a shared pain

Candidates gear up to run in a crowded House

Dynamic in four contests reflects what is occurring in many House contests across the nation in 2018