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How America's forests should look

'in a generation or two" -- Swan Valley Vision Statement

by Suzanne Vernon
For the Pathfinder
May, 1996

The Vision Statement | Guiding Principals | Next Steps

Swan Valley residents, working through the Ad Hoc Committee, earlier this winter developed a vision statement about how they felt America's forests should look "in a generation or two." That statement recently made its way to the American Forest Congress in Washington D.C. (see Vision Statement).

Tom Parker, local outfitter and guide, carried the vision statement to Washington last month. At the March 28 meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee in Condon, he presented a summary of his experiences.

The American Forest Congress brought people from widely different backgrounds together in one location to try and develop an overall vision statement regarding the future of America's forest lands.
According to Parker, the development of a general forest vision statement that could apply to all of America's forests "was pretty hard to do."

"But, if you defined what forests-public, private, industrial-then you could accomplish that goal," Parker said during a recent interview.

The goals of the Congress were inhibited by the failure of the planners to recognize that it would be difficult for a single vision statement to apply across all descriptions of forests, Parker explained. He was very pleased, however, with the process utilized at the Congress to bring people together to discuss their various ideas.

"It was one of the most unique experiences of my life," he said.

The Swan Valley Ad Hoc Committee was one of only about 50 groups nationwide asked to conduct roundtable sessions in their communities to develop a local vision statement that could be presented and discussed at the Congress. The process used locally to write the vision statement was very similar to the process used inWashington.

At the Congress, Parker explained, the problem solving methods cultivated an atmosphere where people could develop an understanding of other people's beliefs and values which enabled the participants to find common ground. Strict rules of order were enforced. The structure of the meetings allowed participants to build and maintain trust and respect for each other, and each person was held accountable for enforcement of rules within his or her group.

Ad Hoc meetings in the Swan Valley employ similar problem solving techniques that allow residents to develop a positive dialogue.

The 1400 people who attended the Congress inWashington D. C. represented a wide spectrum of interests. Rural communities, such as Swan Valley, were represented, along with urban areas. Industry was "heavily represented" he said, along with people who had extreme, single-purpose objectives - "protectionist" type attitudes.

Overall, Parker saw that the vision statement developed by Swan Valley residents was quite similar to other statements presented by representatives of small rural communities.
The only criticism he had of the process, was that, by nature, the final products are "diluted" somewhat, in order to reach consensus.

"In trying to develop a comprehensive vision, some key elements are trying to integrate everybody," he said, adding that local people who worked on the vision statement through the Ad Hoc Committee, also experienced some frustration because the process tends to dilute some critical and important contributions. "But other things get improved in the process," he said, indicating that participants acknowledged that tradeoffs and compromise were sometimes necessary.

The Vision Statement | Guiding Principals | Next Steps

Swan Valley Vision Statement for America's Forests

Our Vision for America's forests in a generation or two is:

America's forest ecosystems are healthier and more productive than in the past. They exist under laws which protect the air, the land, the water and biodiversity. Healthy forests are beautiful to look at, have clean air and clean water, and are composed of diverse habitats that adequately support a large number of plant and animal species. In many forests, all of the biotic and abiotic parts and linkages are present and thriving. Forest productivity is measured not only by what is taken from the forests, but also by what is left in them.

Humans, like all life, are seen as a natural part of, and needing to derive resources from, forest ecosystems. However, human entry gives first priority to maintaining the health of the forest in most cases. Where other objectives are necessary, suitable areas are intensively managed to produce resources which are extracted to meet the needs of the American people. These areas are complemented by roadless areas, open space and quiet places throughout other parts of the forest system.

When citizens visit American forests, either public or private, they see evidence of stewardship and sustainability. Researchers, educators, foresters and laborers work to take care of the land. People work together to achieve forest health and productivity that meets specific management objectives for individual forest ecosystems. Objectives are defined by cooperative groups of local citizens, land managers, experts and researchers. Americans understand that forest products are dear-highly valued and expensive. Forest products are not wasted.

Together, the different kinds of forests in America-small private, industrial, and public lands-contribute to a quality of wholeness that thrives because of the complementary relationships between the various smaller forest parts and the broader American landscape.

The Vision Statement | Guiding Principals | Next Steps

The Principles we believe should guide us in achieving this vision are:

Ecosystem management, including the idea that humans are a part of the ecosystem, is understood and applied on all forests. This relatively new management idea is recognized as a process for learning about forests, as well as a concept of land stewardship. It is understood that achieving forest health must include restoring those forests that are less productive due to past practices.

Healthy forests are sustainable and reflect the cultural, economic and spiritual values of the people-values that include a respect for the land and its natural processes along with respect for the people who work on the land. These values also include an appreciation of the unique elements of forest ecosystems, and an understanding of the need to balance resource use and consumption with resource protection and conservation, especially in light of the world's increasing population. Human activity and industry mesh with nature's designs and constraints; nature is not made to conform to human activity.

Landowners-public and private-work together with local communities and continue to strive for sincere cooperation in order to avoid damage to each other's objectives.

National Forests, parks and wilderness areas continue to be held by all Americans, and are managed by the Federal government. Existing laws that protect the air, the water and endangered species, remain intact.

However, forest managers have some flexibility in establishing sustainable objectives as they work with community partners, including neighbors and local citizens, but they also have more responsibility and are more accountable for their actions as they relate to forest health. People value and respect scientific knowledge but recognize that science doesn't have all the answers. The expertise of scientists is supplemented by the practical experience of those who live in or near the forests.

Wilderness areas and national parks continue to be protected from development and resource extraction. Historic components of wilderness areas and national parks, including natural and man-made phenomena, are protected and preserved because of their educational and cultural importance. Roadless areas where the value of wilderness transcends potential benefits from commercial resource extraction are added to the National Wilderness Preservation System and managed accordingly.

The needs of the people continue to be met with a sustainable supply of forest products from American lands, rather than with forest products resulting from overcutting in Third World or other foreign countries.

The people's recreation needs are met by low-impact opportunties provided on both federal and private land. Campgrounds and interpretive sites are available and affordable for public use and education.

The Vision Statement | Guiding Principals | Next Steps

The concrete Next Steps that we believe individuals and organizations can take to move us toward this Vision, based on our identified Principles are:

* Identify ecosystems and define "ecosystem management" on public lands. Start using the concept and let experience define it. (Don't agonize over the definition.) Go slow-learn as we go.
* Carry out demonstration research projects on local ecosystems, with input from knowledgeable local residents and communities.
* Adopt successful research projects on a larger scale.
* Base management theories on successful research.
* Make results of research projects available to the public.
* Allow forest administrators to enter community partnerships.
* Assure a sustainable supply of forest products by addressing both sides of the supply-equals-demand equation.
* Increase supply by reducing waste and with aggressive silviculture (principally on private forests but also on particularly suitable public lands.)
* Decrease demand by changing consumption patterns and by substituting other materials for forest products in many applications.
* Use managed and unmanaged forests as classrooms to develop appreciation for land and forest processes and to relate concepts of earth ecology.
* Provide incentives for forest workers and private landowners to become trained in forest stewardship.
* Stop exporting logs.

Public Lands.

* Streamline top levels of the Forest Service, Parks Service, etc., and put more money, accountability and responsibility on the ground level and in the forests. Make Forest Service District Rangers more accountable.
* Increase the number of people working on the land and decrease the number of people in administrative positions (middle management).
* Revamp fire management policies in wilderness, taylored to specifc ecosystems.
* Some areas need fires to be induced to reverse decades of non-management.
* Other areas must have some management to prevent catastrophic fires.
* Other areas should be left completely alone-no human interference.
* Use wildlife needs, not arbitrary boundaries, to determine the necessary extent of protected corridors.
* Harvest blow-down and burned areas where this is the best use.
* Minimize new roads on public lands.

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