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Locally-grown solutions 

In most simple terms, there are five ways to manage conflict:

Avoidance, just turning and walking away; or, as my ex preferred, to just ignore the problem.

Accommodating, which is the yielding behavior I did to placate her.

Compromising, when each side gives up something they want in order to reach an agreement.

Or, competition, when each side digs in its heels to fight for what they want, without credence to the other side's wants, and what was the prevailing attitude over Oregon's forests during the '80s and '90s, and led to heated debates between loggers and forest service agents, and pushed bands of environmentalists to sabotage federal timber sales.

Or, finally, collaboration, which has emerged more strongly in the past decade, and has been keenly on display in the several years of discussions leading up to the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project, a modest effort to clean up the mess made in our forests over the past century.

Ostensibly, the project is one of 10 pilot projects in the country that is part of a renewed push to deal with forest fires, which are predicted to double in numbers by 2050 in the western United States. Moreover, the average annual cost for firefighting and prevention rose from $1 billion in the '90s to $3 billion by 2002.

To cut that problem off at the pass, in 2009, Congress allocated $40 million in annual funding through the next decade to restore forests and protect them from unnecessary fires. That initiative took root in the region with representatives, and has the backing of $1 million each year. The project aims to take steps to sensibly reduce unnecessary fire hazards, like removing invasive weeds and thinning overgrown brush. The project also looks to restore watersheds, improve fish habitats (and even, potentially, re-introducing steelhead salmon), and reconsider road access to the area.

Starting last month, the Forest Service began the first piece of this project, the West Bend Vegetation Management Project: mowing and cleaning up 25,000 acres.

"We're dipping our toe in," said Kassidy Kern, public affairs specialist with the Deschutes National Forest.

This first step is an exciting culmination of years of talking and planning—and, in the process that has led up to this action, the elected officials, loggers, skiers, mountain bikers and environmentalists have been exemplary. They have been problem solvers, not just naysaying problem observers.

The entire region in question is a dynamic mix of 200,000 acres of national forests and 50,000 acres of private land—a swath of towering ponderosa pines and rolling terrain that blankets the land west of Bend, reaching from Sisters nearly to Sun River, and encompasses some of the most popular spots in the region, including the mountain biker's paradise, Phil's Trail system, and the web of Nordic ski trails at Meissner. This is land that is important to residents in the area, and defines the personality of our region.

How we manage this land is equally defining.

This is how it should be done—and hats, and Slippers, off to the coalition of loggers, conservationalists, U.S. Forest Service representatives and recreation nuts that have brought about, and brought into action, the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project.

What has been most refreshing about the five-year process is the tone used to reach a consensus; it has been in plain language and with a profound sense of accountability. "After a century of widespread logging, grazing, and fire exclusion, our forests are overcrowded and out of balance," states the lead sentence on the website for the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project. It continues, "and they will not get better on their own. If no action is taken, the health and long-term sustainability of this unique treasure will remain in jeopardy."

This is simple problem-solving: accepting responsibility—yeah, we screwed up. But optimistic: figuring out how to best move forward.

Twenty years ago, the Pacific Northwest was torn apart by controversies over forest management. It is refreshing to see the very same topic pull together the region. Glass slippers for all involved.


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