Letters From the West

Clearwater Collaborative reaches milestone

Republican Sen. Mike Crapo and his band of unlikely partners reached an agreement this week on how to work together to increase forest jobs, restore the Clearwater ecosystem, advance tribal interests and help Idaho County’s struggling economy.

Following the model he forged with the Owyhee Initiative, Crapo and his staff got the Clearwater Basin Collaborative group to agree to a work plan after five years of discussion. The plan also includes wilderness and Wild and Scenic River designations.

Members of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative tour the forest

Members of the Clearwater Basin Collaborative tour the forest

Timber companies, county officials, the Nez Perce Tribe, motorized recreation groups, sportsmen, conservation and preservation groups have not had to wait for Congress to deliver some of the benefits. The Forest Service embraced the group and already has delivered millions of dollars in funding for projects.

When the Owyhee Initiative group had reached this point they had developed a great sense of trust, but still had years to go before legislation passed. “Each participant must be as committed to helping others reach their goals and objectives as that participant is committed to advancing their own interests,” Crapo said about the Clearwater group.

It hasn’t been easy this time either. Idaho Rivers United dropped out of the talks so not to be an issue after it decided to sue the Forest Service to enforce the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act on U.S. Highway 12 that runs through the heart of Clearwater country. Idaho Rivers won, by the way.

Idaho County Commission Chairman Skip Brandt ruffled feathers when he told a House subcommittee that the collaborative had not produced any timber. Other fights over trail maintenance, wilderness boundaries and other issues had to get worked out.

“The best hope we have of preserving the way of life we value in rural Idaho is to try and find ways to work together,” Brandt said in the collaborative groups’ press release. “If successful, this agreement will create more jobs, provide better school funding for rural schools, and reduce conflict.”

Alex Irby, the enthusiastic former resource manager for Konkolville Timber, is a co-chairman of the group and a man whose integrity and commitment to his community were indispensable for the group. He showed in his comments he has no illusions about the work ahead.

“In order for this plan to work all the components must move forward simultaneously,” he said. “This is the beginning of a long-term process, not the end.”

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West