Posted by: columbiahighlands | August 5, 2010

A balanced proposal for the Columbia Highlands

Last week, representatives from a diverse coalition of stakeholders, including timber companies, recreation-based business, public utilities and conservationists, shared their perspectives for the future management of the public lands that comprise the Colville National Forest.

Eight years of collaboration by the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition (NEWFC) has dramatically increased timber management activities in Northeast Washington and convinced many in the region that the time is right to seek help from Congress in the form of legislation and funding for forest protection and restoration. Proposed by Conservation Northwest and The Lands Council, both of which are NEWFC members, and supported by numerous business and community groups, the Columbia Highlands Initiative aims to preserve the natural, recreational and cultural heritage of Northeast Washington so it continues to provide for working people, communities and wildlife.

“Once we all sat down and looked at things on the national forest—for what’s good for the land and what’s good for people—we realized that those of us who thought we might be further aprt on our viewpoints and positions really weren’t,” said Russ Vaagen, of Colville-based Vaagen Brothers Lumber and member of NEWFC. “We were surprised that the lay of the land really fit all that we were looking for.”

The proposal seeks to balance forest stewardship projects with the designation of new national conservation, national recreation and wilderness areas on the forest. More than 400,000 acres would continue to be managed for active timber production under rigorous, science-based standards that would protect watersheds and wildlife habitat. Another 400,000 acres would be managed for restorative logging to thin overstocked stands and restore old-growth forest conditions. Areas designated National Conservation Areas and National Recreation Areas would be managed for habitat preservation and recreation; existing legal motorized and non-motorized recreation uses would continue in both area. Finally, 215,000 acres of the Colville National Forest, including sections of Kettle Crest and the Selkirk Mountains, would be protected under the National Wilderness Preservation System for wildlife habitat and primitive recreation.

The proposal would also seek to raise funding for conservation easements that would allow local ranchers to continue to manage their private lands adjacent to the forest for cattle production.

“When I look at decisions on the Colville National Forest I look at the economic impact, the social impact and the environmental impact,” said John Eminger, owner of 49 Degrees Ski Resort. “And if they’re not balanced you don’t have a good decision. When I look at this proposal I see the ability to take all of this together and create a beautifully balanced plan.”

Representatives from NEWFC acknowledged that, although their coalition is not unique in the United States, its achievements are; in the last eight years, the coalition has supported over two dozen timber projects on the Colville National Forest.

Said Vaagen, “If we look at this in terms of abundance, we’ll all get more than we have right now, but if we look at it in terms of scarcity and trying to hold out, we’ll all get less than what we currently have.”

“Wilderness areas ensure that those of us who prefer putting in the effort for a traditional hunt on foot or horseback will still have places like the Kettle Crest or Salmo-Priest area to share with our children and grandchildren even with ever expanding development pressures,” said Joe Mirasole, chairman of the Washington chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.



  1. The Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition highlights the positive outcome from of a simple idea: when you sit down and talk to your supposed enemies you find more in common than you suspected. In this case, a broad set of interests in northeast Washington found they share similar visions for what kind of future they want for their communities and natural heritage.

    There is literally no other place in Washington like the Colville National Forest and surrounding areas together known as the Columbia Highlands. Wilderness designation under the Wilderness Act of 1964 provides the strongest insurance to permanently protect the few remaining undeveloped wild places. Wilderness safeguards our natural heritage so our children will have the same opportunity to enjoy the solitude and peace and quite of the great outdoors.

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