Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

As the cleanup of mine waste contamination in the Coeur d’Alene River basin moves ever-so-slowly downstream, government agencies are beginning to prepare. Studies are being done, computer models assembled, and basic data gathering is well underway. In response, some citizens are also coming together to make sure that community input is not forgotten.

At an initial exploratory meeting October 18th, community members and agency officials gathered at the Rose Lake Historical Society to discuss collaboration as a new way forward. In a facilitated discussion, local residents, farmers, ranchers, conservation and environmental interests, homeowner associations, agency officials got a very quick briefing on the environmental cleanup problems in the lower Coeur d’Alene and then considered whether more formal collaboration was worth pursuing.

Collaboration is used increasingly nationwide for complex, multi-stakeholder conservation problems, such as land management, forestry, and environmental cleanup. The process is designed to facilitate information exchange and to find common ground.

Susan Mitchell and Julie Bowen in Rose Lake. Photo by KEA BlackberryCam

At the Rose Lake meeting, community members raised a number of questions and concerns and areas for further discussion: What are the early opportunities for community involvement in the cleanup? How do we know which cleanup options are on the table and which cleanup options are being eliminated? What agencies are responsible for flood control decision-making in the lower basin? What about new repositories? Are agencies looking at innovative cleanup technologies? What sorts of rules, regulations and standards apply to the cleanup? What can agencies other than EPA contribute to the cleanup?

In mid-November, the Basin Environmental Improvement Project Commission (BEIPC), which manages the cleanup, will decide whether to allow the new collaborative to be established under its organizational umbrella.

We think the BEIPC – itself a creature of Idaho state law that infused local representation and input into the federal Superfund process – should show strong support for the collaborative.  Especially after the very encouraging meeting in Rose Lake.

The thoughtful ideas from local residents in the lower Coeur d’Alene basin should be encouraged and facilitated. Moreover, without early community involvement, alternatives may be narrowed, options eliminated, and opportunities lost. The collaboration establishes a venue and a process for meaningful engagement with the citizens who will live with the cleanup for years and will feel the impact most directly. This grassroots call for collaboration in the lower basin should be answered by the BEIPC Commissioners with a resounding yes.


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Superfund cleanup isn’t limited to the Silver Valley. The Coeur d’Alene River, the chain lakes and wetlands from Cataldo to Harrison are contaminated with heavy metals from the last century of mining upstream. Every flood season, another layer of contamination is deposited throughout the drainage.

The EPA, charged with the cleanup responsibilities, is in the process of finalizing a controversial plan for the upper basin, but the next area slated for cleanup is the lower Coeur d’Alene River basin from Cataldo to Harrison.  In fact, EPA has begun initial studies on the ways contaminated sediment moves in the Coeur d’Alene River and lower basin waterways and wetlands. Based on the scientific and engineering studies, and as constrained by Superfund laws, EPA will develop a comprehensive cleanup plan for the lower basin over the course of the next several years.

KEA has been part of a small group meeting since May 2010 to develop a better way for citizens, stakeholders, and agencies to work together on cleanup in the Lower Basin.  We’ve created the Lower Basin Citizen Collaborative.

Why a Collaborative?

In a lower basin cleanup, there will be a wide range of interests and values to be weighed and considered: public health, wildlife protection, recreation, private property rights and land-use planning, watershed protection and restoration, cultural resources, job preservation and creation, economic development, and water quality and fisheries.  All of these will need to be weighed in a context that should include sufficient public education, meaningful public involvement, and science-based and evidence-based decision making by the agencies.

Collaboratives provide a way to address controversial natural resource issues, making sure everyone has a seat at the table. In many locations in the U.S., they are achieving broad citizen, stakeholder, and agency satisfaction. This collaborative model is currently used in Shoshone County and elsewhere in Idaho for forest and land management and collaboratives are now being used or proposed in other parts of the country for land management and complex environmental problems.

In our envisioning of the collaborative process for the lower basin, everyone is invited to engage early in the process. Competing interests work out consensus-based solutions together. Participants work for outcomes that meet or exceed federal and state regulations, and agencies shift their focus to connect with, rather than direct, the collaborative effort.  In theory, if stakeholders work together, cleanup decisions can be made with everyone’s interests considered. Rather than agency decisions being handed down unilaterally, collaboratives work toward outcomes that everyone feels they can live with.

Collaboratives can be controversial, they don’t always work, and they’re not always appropriate. However, this cleanup in the lower basin will be extremely complex and will have a significant impact on the landscape. In this instance, we believe local voices involved in the planning from the beginning will make for a better cleanup. And we believe a collaborative will be the best venue to engage the local voices.

Reaching Out

The Lower Basin Collaborative is ready to launch and we invite your participation. A kickoff meeting will be held next Tuesday, the 18th, 2:30 pm, at the Rose Lake Historical Society Building, 14917 S. Queen Street & Hwy. 3 in Cataldo.  If you want to know more or be involved at any level, let us hear from you. Write us at LowerBasinCollaborative@gmail.com.  Stay up to date at lowerbasincollaborative.wordpress.com.

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Just back from vacation in the pine-beetle-ravaged Colorado mountains, I was pleased to see the letter (reproduced below) from Idaho Panhandle National Forest Supervisor Ranotta McNair regarding KEA’s request for long-overdue monitoring reports. The annual reports, required under several provisions of federal law, have not been produced since 2007.

 McNair explains that Recovery Act projects have taken USFS staff away from the reporting requirements, but that the reports are on track to be complete by the end of August.

 We certainly hope so. These reports are critical in understanding the state of our local forests, and understanding whether efforts to manage the forests are actually achieving their purposes or not. Moreover, as “collaboration” becomes the new paradigm for localized forest decision-making, availability of good science and good monitoring data becomes increasingly important to those doing the collaboration.

 We’re pleased with the IPNF’s prompt response to our letter, but we remain anxious to see the actual reports.

 The letter in its entirety:

 Dear Mr. Harris,

 With regard to your recent letter expressing concern about the current state of monitoring efforts on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests, I want to assure you that we are working hard to issue the monitoring reports as expeditiously as possible.

 Forest monitoring has been completed for each year since 2007, but due to staffing shortages we have been unable to complete all of the written reports. In addition, national priorities have diverted personnel from completing the reports. Our highest priority this past year has been creation of jobs for citizens in the Northern Rockies through Recovery Act projects. Our staffing shortages have been solved, and the majority of the $18 million in Idaho Panhandle National Forests ARRA projects have been contracted. Therefore, we expect to release the overdue monitoring reports no later than August 31, 2010. In addition to the 2007 and 2008 reports we will also be releasing the 2009 monitoring report at the same time, which will bring our forest up to date on monitoring and reporting requirements.

 In closing, I want to assure you that our forest takes these reports seriously and our staffs are working diligently to complete our monitoring reports as soon as possible.


Ranotta K. McNair

Forest Supervisor

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We were pleased to have the opportunity to watch today’s live webcast of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests hearing today regarding the Boulder-White Cloud bill which would bring new wilderness to central Idaho.

In a press release issued after the hearing, Idaho Conservation League noted that “the legislation will protect as wilderness 332,775 acres in the Boulder – White Clouds, including the proposed White Clouds, Hemingway-Boulders and Jerry Peak Wilderness areas, including 150 peaks more than 10,000 feet high, headwaters of four Idaho rivers, spawning beds for salmon, wildlife habitat and backcountry destinations for hikers, anglers, hunters, campers, and wildlife watchers.”

Rick Johnson, Executive Director at Idaho Conservation League testified ably about the lengthy process that led to the legislative initiative. More than ten years of negotiations and compromise led to a bill finally supported by Senators Crapo and Risch, and Congressman Simpson, who all spoke at the hearing. Motorized recreation interests still oppose the bill.

Remarkably, though, Idaho Governor Butch Otter sent a letter dated only Monday (pdf available here) in opposition to the bill too. Opposed to “more wilderness acres and federal red-tape” Otter says the bill will “negatively impact state wildlife management, mechanized recreation and grazing.” He proposes several “suggestions” regarding hunting, trapping, water rights, noxious weeds, and conveyances.

Immediately, though, Otter’s gubernatorial opponent this fall, Keith Allred put out a statement in support of the legislation.  Allred said the legislation “preserves motorized access areas where my family and I have long enjoyed snowmachining. It extends wilderness protection to the pristine areas where we love to backpack, ride horses, and hunt. With these protections, future Idahoans will enjoy those areas in the same way we do today. [The bill] also respects the cattle ranchers’ and local communities’ interests.” Allred, no doubt, understood that recent polling in Idaho shows strong support for this particular bill and all its component parts.

So, on the merits of the legislation, Otter has chosen to be out of touch with the entire Idaho Republican delegation to Congress, and has given Allred a clear issue on which to campaign. More concerning to us at KEA, however, is Otter’s willingness to undercut a 10-year collaborative process. As collaborative conservation and landscape-scale land management becomes more of the norm in the western U.S. (whether we like it or not) this does not bode well for any similar collaborative possibilities in North Idaho.

UPDATE 6/18 : Rocky Barker from the Idaho Statesman writes about these concerns today. Not only the nascent North Idaho collaboration, but collaborations in the Clearwater, the Payette, Shoshone County, and Lemhi County will be looking at how this Otter-caused fiasco plays out.

UPDATE 6/19: Kevin Richert of the Statesman writes a scathing editorial about Otter’s misguided opposition.

UPDATE 6/20: The Times News in Twin Falls weighs in with jeers to Gov. Otter.

UPDATE 7/6: Rep. Simpson addresses Otter’s concerns.

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Our friends at Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness are ramping up their efforts to get commitments for wilderness designation for some of North Idaho’s best landscape.  The idea has been around for a long time, and we agree that it’s about time that we see some movement. Indeed, here in the KEA offices, we just came across an old fact sheet about Scotchman Peaks describing an early proposal.  So it got us to reading some stuff:

— Let’s protect Scotchman Peaks Wilderness once and for all — Idaho Conservation League, and an op-ed in the Bonner County Daily Bee.  (Take action at a nifty Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness page which will allow you to email your congressional representatives.)

— Meanwhile in Montana, EarthJustice has problems with Sen. Tester’s proposals about logging and wilderness — New West

— Politically, how’s Obama doing on western land policy? — Rocky Barker’s blog

— Climate and wilderness forces should be combined — Firedoglake

— Fine dining and wild rivers (featuring our friends at ROW Adventures) — New York Times

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At their excellent website, the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks Wilderness have an interesting and optimistic glass-half-full take on the recent convening of a “Panhandle Collaborative” to discuss lands and forestry issues in our northern region. The brainchild of Congressman Walt Minnick, the collaborative will attempt, maybe, to sort through the many issues with many stakeholders to come up with some way forward on wilderness, forests, and economic development issues that have been extraordinarily tough to navigate in the past. 

KEA attended the Monday meeting in Sandpoint, and we’re still sorting out our current levels of optimism. But we certainly hope, like our wilderness advocates just north of here, that the momentum and support for the Scotchman Peaks wilderness will not be sidetracked by the many other issues that the collaborative will need to sort through.

UPDATE 11/23 :  Check out the Friends of the Scotchman Peaks no-nonsense (but still optimistic) take on the prospects on the Montana side of the border.

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