It’s political season again and politicians are out roaming the streets telling us what they’ve done for us, how much they hate Washington and what’s wrong with General Motors. Some are suggesting that our liberal or conservative neighbors are actually our enemies. Divisive politics are getting us nowhere fast.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle are telling us how to run our lives. Generally what they all have in common is that they are not listening. Doesn’t matter which side of the political divide, they’re preaching a message they believe will satisfy powerful supporters and get them elected.
A favorite buzzword among politicians these days is collaboration. It’s like self-help for the masses, and seemingly an easy out. If our elected officials can’t find a reasonable middle-of-the-road solution, which happens all too often, they throw the problem back at us, under the cloak of collaboration.
Collaboration is now widely touted as a guiding principal for forest management. The recently implemented federal Farm Bill promotes collaboration to reduce reliance on overly cumbersome forest regulations. But what does collaboration really mean? Is collaboration only a lip-service, feel-good concept or will it become a widely applied reality?
In my forest monitoring work I spend time with a variety of “ordinary” citizen-volunteers. I am humbled by their wisdom and intelligence. I hear perspectives from all sides. It keeps me centered. Some people want to cut more trees; others want to cut fewer trees; still others are not sure. Most people like the U.S. Forest Service but are sometimes unhappy with the agency’s actions.
I have forest manager friends who seem frustrated with some members of the public; believing these folks need to be educated about good forest management practices. I have friends in the public who are frustrated because forest managers seem “inflexible” and “unresponsive” to citizen concerns. I have other citizen friends who believe the Forest Service is doing a good job under difficult conditions.
We can benefit from greater collaboration between the Forest Service and stakeholders, in particular local stakeholders and citizen-stakeholders.
Effective collaboration is inclusive. We learn not only from our allies but also from those with whom we disagree. Smart collaboration includes a diversity of stakeholders. We lose if we rely solely on familiar faces for feedback. It is not collaboration if we listen first and foremost to the large stakeholders and government entities, then set out to educate the public about what we’ve already decided. It’s not collaboration if we only want the other side to compromise, but we won’t budge.
I’ve been following recent letters to the Summit Daily, for and against clear-cutting. What I see so far is good forest regeneration both in clear-cut areas and in beetle-kill forests that have been left undisturbed to regenerate naturally. But forest management is a long-term proposition and what we see today doesn’t necessarily make a case for letting nature take its course, or for more active management.
Maybe the smartest approach lies somewhere in between? If so, finding that “sweet spot” in the middle will require listening, learning and compromise by all parties.
Howard Hallman lives in Silverthorne.
Effective collaboration is inclusive. We learn not only from our allies but also from those with whom we disagree. Smart collaboration includes a diversity of stakeholders.