I’ve spent a good deal of the summer researching and learning about why collaboration on our National Forests is so invaluable, but there’s nothing like the opportunity to observe the collaborative process in action on a beautiful day out in the field.
In late July, the Beaverhead Deerlodge Working Group and members of the Anaconda Sportsman’s Club met with Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest personnel to go over plans for the Pintler Face Project. This 74,000 acre project proposes to integrate numerous restoration actions on a variety of vegetation and habitat types. During our day in the field, we traveled to several project sites and discussed proposed actions.
A successful plan for a Forest Service project requires all kinds of knowledge. I was struck by the diversity of expertise among field trip attendees and Forest Service personnel as they went over everything from scientific details to which roads were most used by hunters. An open dialogue like this made room for an exchange of ideas that could lead to better understanding for all those involved in the decision-making process
While the official conversations with the whole group were essential, I also realized the importance of many side conversations as we walked from place and place.
The official dialogue might be where the decisions are made, but relationships are often built in the little conversations about related topics. There was a vast wealth of knowledge exchanged about many current issues in casual conversation, reinforcing that these opportunities to converse are vital to better informed decisions.
One of the major parts of the proposed project was road closures. Even though some in attendance were hesitant about any road closures, they were willing to identify some that were less important than others if roads needed to be closed to better wildlife habitat.
Those people that were advocating for road closures listened and validated the concerns others expressed about closing them. They even presented compromises such as seasonal closures or partial closures. To me, this speaks to the heart of collaboration: respectful dialogue that incorporates everyone’s concerns in order to reach tangible outcomes.
Valan Anthos, a Master’s student in environmental philosophy at the University of Montana, was an intern at the National Forest Foundation during the summer of 2017.