Restoring Forests – and Communities

Instead of litigation and animosity, an Idaho project uses collaboration to restore the region’s forests. In the process, they helped turn back a fire that ravaged nearly 340,000 other acres. The director of the stewardship project explains how diverse stakeholders work together for common good.

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Salmon Valley Stewardship

TheIdaho Mustang Complex Fires destroyed nearly 340,000 acres of forest in 2012. It became more manageable near Hughes Creek, where forest restoration had occurred.

The LCFRG is currently working on a new 40,000 acre restoration site in the North Fork, and are no longer approaching issues as “us vs. them” That’s still a progressive notion in some parts of the country.

“Even though Idaho is right now the second most conservative state in the nation, and Lemhi County is considered one of the most conservative counties in this state, people here have incredibly progressive ideas. It turns your thinking on its head. You don’t have conversations where you can stereotype,” Knudson explains.

“I’ve been out on a rancher’s land and he’s taken me past wolf dens and said, ‘There’s pups there right now. Please don’t tell anyone about this. I wouldn’t want them to get hurt.’ And his cattle are right there.”

She recalls being out in the field with former loggers who look at cuts they worked on in the 80s and they express remorse where they were directed to cut too much.

“I think the rest of the world got the impression that people here only cared about extraction and greed. But I’ve come across these people who never plan to leave here. The last thing in the world they want is to create a situation where their kids couldn’t enjoy the place as much as they have. There is a deep conservation ethic here.”

Knudson feels fortunate that her family has been able to grow up in the river valley and experience the strong connection to the land. She describes how different the feeling is here than in the desert. “On the Snake River plains in southern Idaho the wind blows just to blow. Here when the wind blows it means something is shifting in the atmosphere; there’s a big storm coming. When you walk to work every day, you cross a river, and from that river you can determine what’s going on in the world around you. If the river is muddy that means upriver something is happening. There’s been a mudslide or something like that. It’s a more grounded lifestyle. Nobody lives here for the money. To be able to live in an environment like this is really special, and it’s what some people only get to experience on vacation.”

Knudson’s measure of success is seeing young people who’ve grown up in Salmon, gone away to college, bringing their degrees and skills back to the community. “That is pretty rare for a small town right now.” Now that Knudson’s children are in their teens, she’s hopeful they will make the same choice.

This article first appeared on the website of Sustainable Northwest, where Renee Magyar is communications director. 

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