“Collaboration at a Crossroads”: New Report Highlights Recent Successes and Serious Threats to the Future of Collaboration in Montana

Dec 4, 2014
Montanans are successfully tackling natural resource issues through collaboration, strengthening communities and economies along the way. But more support is needed from Congress, the Forest Service and local citizens to continue this legacy.

For more than a decade, Montanans from all walks of life have come together to successfully tackle natural resource issues, strengthening communities and economies along the way. But this legacy is threatened without increased support from Congress, the Forest Service and local citizens, according to a new report released by The Wilderness Society today.

Collaboration at a Crossroads” tells the stories of 15 collaborative groups working together across the state to improve national forest management for the benefit of a variety of users. Montana’s forest landscapes face increasing pressure from severe wildfires, climate change, shifting economies, weed infestations, expanding recreational use and divisive policy proposals originating outside Montana.

“That’s why I support these collaborative efforts—they are based on the fundamental premise that people can produce a much better result when they work together,” said Bob Brown, former Montana Secretary of State and former president of the Montana State Senate.  “Compromise isn’t a four-letter word. In fact, it’s the foundation for a civil society, and it’s at the very heart of good governance. When Montanans come together to find common ground, then our Montana leaders should pay very close attention.”

Despite numerous challenges, ranchers, loggers, land managers, local business leaders, conservationists, equestrians, hunters, anglers, and motorized and non-motorized recreationists are finding common ground and developing local solutions that tackle difficult natural resource management issues such as forestry, public lands grazing, recreation use, land protection and water resource management.

“As our history of conservation success over the last 20 years shows, a collaborative process that begins with community values, encourages participation by all stakeholders, and works to build an open dialogue and trust can accomplish great things,” said Gary Burnett, executive director of the Blackfoot Challenge in Ovando. “By looking for areas of agreement and supporting partnerships with good science, we have found durable solutions that value people, land and wildlife.”

One of the groups featured in the report is the Southwestern Crown Collaborative (www.swcrown.org). Since 2010, the Collaborative has:

  • Created/maintained up to 239 full- and part-time jobs annually
  • Treated 28,817 acres of terrestrial and aquatic invasives/exotics
  • Reduced fuels over 13,113 acres in the wildland-urban interface, protecting communities from wildfires
  • Restored and enhanced 28,083 acres of wildlife habitat
  • Maintained/improved 1,412 miles of trails and restored 106 miles of stream
  • Maintained and improved 49 trailheads and campgrounds

“The members of the Montana Wood Products Association applaud The Wilderness Society for taking a hard look at collaboration and the collaborative process across Montana,” said Julia Altemus, executive vice president of the Montana Wood Products Association. “Several members of the Association participate in collaborative groups and believe collaboration is a tool to guide discussions for Montana’s future, an opportunity to consider the needs and interests of the timber industry, conservationists, recreationists, hunters, anglers and others looking to restore landscapes and sustain timber-dependent communities.”

These collaborative efforts to bring diverse stakeholders to the table to solve complex issues should serve as a model for how Montana’s Congressional delegation can work together across party lines to preserve both iconic places and Montanans’ legacy of working together for the future.

“All Montanans want good jobs, healthy forests and national parks, vibrant communities and clean waters,” said Michael Jamison, Crown of the Continent Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.  . “That’s why we live here. Collaborative efforts provide the promise to achieve all these goals — but only if we work together, and only if we have support from Congress. When our lawmakers propose a bill, the first thing we should ask is, ‘Who in Montana worked with you do develop this? Who participated? How diverse is the support?’”

As natural resource management issues intensify, Montanans are self-organizing around local initiatives to improve forest management, strengthen communities and economies, and conserve habitat. Without on-the-ground results, the collaborative energy that has preserved Montanans’ special places and way of life might dissipate. Montana needs leadership at all levels—Congress, the Forest Service, elected officials and citizens—to ensure the success of locally led efforts.

Montana collaborative efforts need more funding, more agency buy-in and better rules that can help ensure their success and prevent them from being undermined by those who oppose collaborative solutions.

“Locally led, consensus-based collaboration is far more effective than divisive, top-down solutions to land management challenges,” said Scott Brennan, Montana State Director for The Wilderness Society. “These projects bring Montanans together to strengthen communities, expand forest restoration, increase recreation access and protect habitat.”

Collaboration ensures local voices are heard, improves processes with the Forest Service and Congress to get projects approved and moving more quickly, and leads to solutions that are supported by local citizens and best serve the unique needs of their landscapes.

Find the full PDF of the “Collaboration at a Crossroads” report here:

Additional comments regarding this report:
“F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Company continues to participate in a multitude of collaborative efforts in Montana as an avenue to help us provide a dependable and sustainable supply of timber resources to our manufacturing facilities. The collaborative process has allowed us to develop a better understanding of the goals and values of our fellow stakeholders and partners, all of whom strive to achieve improved management of our federal forests. The Wilderness Society deserves huge credit for their foresight in taking a leadership role in promoting the collaborative process to help all parties come together at the same table to find solutions that work for everyone.” 
–Chuck Roady, General Manager, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber, Columbia Falls, Montana

 “‘Collaboration at a Crossroads’” is an accurate description of the situation facing our national forest lands.  Having proven that community-based collaboration works in forest restoration projects, we in the American West face a choice:  We will step up our effort—increasing the pace and scale of work, or we will fail.  And the possibility of failure is real:  A return to the ‘timber wars’ is not merely possible.  ‘Winner-take-all’ policies are actively advocated by some elements of industry as well as those anti-collaboration ‘environmentalists’ who regularly use litigation as leverage to influence Forest Service policy.  In Montana, we are lucky to have visionary leadership in the Forest Service and Governor’s office.  What we need now is bipartisan action—from our congressional delegation, and from Congress—legislation and funding to provide tangible incentives to increase the pace and scale of work that’s good for our people and good for the land. The need is great. The time is now.
-Brian Kahn, Director, Artemis Common Ground, Helena, Montana

“A durable land use plan can be likened to a really good stew: many ingredients are transformed into a delicacy that sticks to the ribs and satisfies…And so it has been with the creation of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act. There has been no rushing here, no high heat, just the steady goal in mind, with the additions and adjustments from many quarters that have culminated in the RMFHA we have today.  It is flavored with the efforts of many, over nearly a decade.  I was late to the kitchen, but when the crafters addressed my concerns that grazing rights might be adversely affected and protections for ag producers was included, I signed on as a proponent.  Bon appetit!”
-Susan Good Geise, Lewis and Clark County Commissioner, Augusta, Montana

“Collaboration at a Crossroads demonstrates the value of collaborative groups working on forest restoration and resource protection and the insight provided through this report will be a valuable tool for the Custer Gallatin Working Group and other efforts working to get ‘boots on the ground.’ I hope Montana’s political leadership takes note of the stories presented of Montanans working together. As this report shows, we can do great things if we do them collaboratively.”
-John Prinkki, Carbon County Commissioner for the past 26 years and Chairman of the Custer-Gallatin Working Group, Red Lodge, Montana


The Wilderness Society is the leading wild public lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect nearly 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org

Scott Brennan
(406) 600-7846