Accountability vs. the "Collaborative Shield"

Bark staff

Fact check: The Hood River Stew Crew did not collectively endorse recommendations to the Forest Service regarding the Polallie Cooper Project.

Polallie Cooper Locator MapIn a June 1, 2016 letter from Mt. Hood Forest Supervisor Lisa Northrop to members of Oregon’s congressional delegation, Ms. Northrop likened the collaborative work resulting in the 2009 Omnibus Bill to that of the Hood River Stew Crew in its role in developing the Polallie Cooper project.  While it is true that each process involved a diverse set of stakeholders – many of whom took part in both – there is a key difference: the vast majority of the public and active stakeholders supported the outcomes of the 2009 Omnibus Bill, whereas concerns raised by the public and environmental groups about the Polallie Cooper Project were never resolved. As a matter of fact, there was not agreement in the Stew Crew on the final set of recommendations.

There are several aspects of legitimate collaborative process that are notably absent from the Stew Crew’s Polallie Cooper recommendations:

First is the lack of meeting notes that document the discussions that gave rise to the recommendations.  To the best of our understanding, these recommendations were written by a few members of the group and were finalized at the end of one rushed meeting. There are no notes for the meeting, nor any record of a group decision affirming these recommendations.

Second, the few notes included in the final recommendations indicate that some member groups had concerns with specific recommendations, highlighting the lack of agreement on some aspects of the project. For example, the recommendations indicate that Oregon Wild and Bark would advocate no logging in Treatment blocks 9 and 10 (Tamanawas Falls region), and that Oregon Wild has developed a wilderness proposal which includes land in treatment blocks 9 and 10.  They also indicate that the 44 Trails Association would like a completely undisturbed trail corridor 100’ wide on both sides of trails.  These concerns were not addressed or resolved, either by the collaborative group or the Forest Service in its planning of the project. 

Third, the process by which the recommendations were “finalized” was rushed and unclear. As noted by Stew Crew member Erik Fernandez of Oregon Wild in an email explaining why Oregon Wild did not endorse the recommendations:

[t]he final recommendations seem to have slanted in favor of more aggressive logging when the document was sent around. Some of that I think we could have clarified and worked through. That said, the rushed nature of the very end of this process and the resulting product of our recommendations is not something Oregon Wild can endorse. This just ended in such a troubling fashion at such a critical time when pen was being put to paper in a rushed manner.

Polallie Cooper map Critical Habitat
Fourth, reducing road density was a key issue for many collaborative group members and was included in the final recommendations, but the Forest Service did not incorporate this recommendation in its project development. This underscores the problematic reality of the “collaborative shield” which allows the Forest Service to willfully ignore recommendations supported by all members in favor of its own priorities while maintaining that the project as implemented was planned by a collaborative group. This dynamic led Bark to withdraw from the Stew Crew after a similar experience with the Forest Service disregarding collaborative group recommendations in the Red Hill timber sale.

If these process concerns are not sufficient to exhibit the lack of effective collaboration on the Polallie Cooper project, consider that several of the Stew Crew participants, including Oregon Wild, Bark, 44 Trails Association and the Hood River Valley Resident’s Committee, continue to express serious concerns about the “finalized” project.

It is clear that consensus was not reached in planning this project. It is inaccurate and misleading for Ms. Northrop to claim that this collaborative process resembled that which resulted in the 2009 Omnibus Bill and then use the collaborative group as a shield to deflect ongoing questions and concerns about the Polallie Cooper project.