News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Collaborative promotes forest restoration

The prescribed fires touched off southwest of Sisters last week are representative of the kind of work the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project is built to promote.

The Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project aims to restore local forests to a healthier, more resilient condition through science-driven restoration projects. The Collaborative is comprised of a volunteer stakeholder committee of 19 community members representing land management agencies, tribal groups, the timber industry, environmental nonprofits, recreational and tourism interests, scientists, government officials, and wildlife specialists.

Rod Bonacker of Sisters is part of that steering committee.

“The conversations that are had there are very open and very science-focused and they really forward the mission of forest restoration and fuels reduction,” he said.

The Collaborative plays an active role in community education about the need for active forest restoration — and in lobbying to get the funds allocated to actually do the work.

“The Forest Service can’t lobby for more funding for forest restoration and fuels reduction,” Bonacker said. “But the Collaborative can — and has.”

The Collaborative seeks to promote safer communities, and improved wildlife habitat, and to protect water resources. By promoting forest projects, they seek to grow opportunities for jobs working in the forest, while protecting local economies from the often devastating effects of disruption from wildfire.

Dave Stowe has been a part of the Collaborative for a dozen years, through his affiliation with the Sierra Club.

“I grew up on this forest and I’ve loved it my whole life,” he said. “And my family has lived on this forest for generations before me.”

Stowe didn’t like a lot of the changes he was seeing on the forest as the area grew, and he sought a way to engage effectively in protecting and enhancing the landscape he loves. The Collaborative seemed like a place to do that.

Initially, he said, “it wasn’t much fun.” There was a lot of the traditional head-butting between environmentalists and loggers. But gradually, simply through the process of working together, relationships developed, and common goals emerged.

“It was extremely challenging at the start,” he said. “It went from that to having really great relationships with all these different members of the community… you start to trust people and see their point of view.”

Bringing together people from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests, and working with people at the cutting edge of forest science, the Collaborative was able to move onto a wide swath of common ground.

What that common ground amounts to is a pretty simple proposition, Stowe notes: Whether you want to work in the woods, ride your bike, hike, fish in the streams and lakes, “the common ground in all that is, you need a healthy forest to do that in.”

Defining what a healthy forest is requires a deep understanding of the science, which Stowe feels he has received.

“The decisions we make in the Collaborative are deeply science-driven, which I really appreciate,” he said. “I’ve learned a ton in this Collaborative. I’m a richer person for it and I have a better understanding of the forest.”

For more information on the Collabvorative and its work and how to get involved, visit http://deschutes


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