Our Environmental Engagement class, ENVS 295, went on a reconnaissance trip to encounter various environmental conflicts in Oregon that represent opportunities for inclusive engagement across differences. One of the presentations we experienced on the trip involved The Hood River Forest Collaborative (HRFC). The group presented in the form of a panel with various stakeholders related to the local and regional surrounding lands and forests of the Hood River Valley. Also referred to as the Stew Crew, the Collaborative strives for organized and efficient dialogue between Hood River Valley residents, government agencies, tribes, environmental agencies, the forest industry and recreation stakeholders. They also work closely with the Hood River Ranger District to ensure mutual understanding of needs, interests, and economic and policy constraints that may inform recommendations.
Goal for the Collaborative
The primary goal for the Collaborative is focused towards restoring ecological resiliency in and around Mt. Hood National Forest, while simultaneously sustaining socioeconomic benefits for the local communities. Their goals include forest health, soil and water quality, wildlife, fire resiliency, recreation, cultural opportunities of land use, and mitigation of climate change. They also promote mutual learning and try to develop consensus-based recommendations on management planning, implementation, and monitoring. To do this, they rely on data, local expertise and experience, field reconnaissance, and active dialogue. The panel included Janeen Tervo (District Ranger), Whitney Olsker (USFS silviculturist), Jon Paul Anderson (Mt. Hood Forest Products), Les Perkins (Hood River County Commissioner & LC alum), and Dale Hill (Thrive Hood River & LC alum). They represent a range of interests, all aiming to maintain and sustain the Hood River region.
In the Hood River Forest Collaborative’s charter, the following operating principles are listed and outlined:
- Interests represented: as we heard while visiting, the organization is open to the public, which encourages participation not only from the stakeholders interested in national forest management, but for citizens as well.
- Membership: members should participate and honor the collaborative process
- Representative commitments: includes things like ‘approaching discussions with the willingness to hear others’ voice so that you may solve problems together’ and ‘speak as though you are right, listen as though you may be wrong’
- Decision Making: the organization seeks to operate through consensus, meaning that they try to make agreement-based recommendations on all issues that the organization identifies. Consensus, in the Collaborative’s world, is defined as the willingness to live with the recommended outcome. If a consensus can’t be reached, the parties’ differing perspectives are reported to the US Forest Service.
Stew Crew project
The Stew Crew works towards these goals through collaborative projects. One project in which they shared with us was the Waucoma Huckleberry Enhancement Project. The goal of this project is to create and maintain important huckleberry habitat to benefit cultural and recreational uses. In order to create these habitats, thinning of the overstory tree growth is required to allow for sunlight to reach the forest floor. The practice of thinning forests created a disagreement among the Stew Crew stakeholders representing diversity within the community and highlighting the importance of community involvement for local decision making.There was some conflict regarding this project because of how many diverse/polarizing viewpoints were involved and each represented what was important to their organization.The USFS and the Stew Crew are currently collaborating to find a way to maintain the aesthetic of the natural landscape and ensure that huckleberry growth, as well as, the forest is properly managed. They ensure that each stakeholder (USFS, logging companies, members of various related organizations) is represented and strives to come to an agreement about the best way to achieve their project and benefit the forest.
UN Environment and Civil Society Unit (CSU)
Collaboration between different stakeholders applies on the local level, such as the previously mentioned HRFC, as well as on the global level, such as the UN Environment and Civil Society Unit (CSU) at the United Nations. Due to recent growth this past decade, over 500 NGOs have consultative status at the UN Environment. The CSU states, “Intergovernmental decisions will have stronger and broader recognition and support by the public if governments take Major Groups and other Stakeholders views into account as early as possible in policy-making and decision-making processes.”
Much like the Hood River Forest Collaborative, the Civil Society Unit helps facilitate communication between NGOs much like the United States Forest Service does in the Hood River Collaborative. This Collaborative creates a framework in which people from different perspectives such as the District Rangers, the County Commissioners and the neighborhood groups use the idea of coproduction of knowledge as a method of mixing perspectives toward a common interest for effective intergovernmental decision making. The UN Civil Society Unit acts similarly, but it encourages and provides a voice to communities on the international platform. The UN Environmental programme bridges the gap between national politics and the international politics, bringing voices from national platforms in collaboration with international discussions.
Collaboration occurs at all levels of government as noticed at the Hood River Forest Collaborative and the UN Civil Society Unit. These emphasize the importance of engagement across varied scales. Specifically, local entities such as the HRFC are helpful for including local stakeholders that are willing to participate in policy decisions in a historically elite world of politics. They practice engagement through community outreach and involvement represented in the panel format of their discussion. They include many stakeholders with different expertise and interests in mind but come together with the HRFC to discuss their varying input on a project. This gives different stakeholders a voice in policy decision making and incorporates them into the conversation which is the practice our class calls environmental engagement. After this visit, we gathered a better understanding of how engagement is put into practice amongst government entities and local community members through a conversation of panelists. This taught us the reality of the ways in which inclusivity and respect towards every opinion are practiced in policy debates.