Beware the collaboration trap

By George Wuerthner
Reader Contributor

Many of the environmental/conservation groups in the West are participants in various collaboratives.

Groups participating in collaboratives include the Western Environmental Law Council, Northwest Conservation, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wilderness Association, Oregon Wild, Wyoming Outdoor Council, The Lands Council, The Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy and sometimes local Sierra Club chapters, among others.

Despite the participation of conservation organizations, most collaborative members are made up of people who generally believe in exploiting natural landscapes for human benefit. As a generalization, overwhelmingly collaborative memberships consist of people who represent the resource extraction industry or their sympathizers like rural county commissioners, ORV enthusiasts and so forth. Often agency personal like district rangers, foresters and others are also in attendance.

As a generalization, the participating environmental organizations have been captured by those who want greater access and greater resource exploitation.

When environmental groups participate in these collaborations, they provide “green cover” and legitimize the destruction of natural landscapes, wildlands and wildlife habitat. Afraid to alienate the other collaborative members, they no longer highlight the cumulative impacts of resource extraction or even in many cases, no longer oppose illegal proposals.

This is the collaborative trap. You spend your time and money trying to convince people who generally believe natural resources (I dislike that term but will use for now) are there for human consumption and enjoyment.

Within this paradigm, the intrinsic value of wildlands has no place.

There are many structural problems with collaboratives that defines the scope of questions, the science that can be reviewed, who gets to play the dominant role in these discussions and by default who has the time and money to attend countless meetings that go for years.

Many people participating in collaboratives have a financial interest in the outcome. If you are a timber company or even a forester with the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management, or a rural county commissioner you see logging as a good economic stimulant or directly affecting your employment. Certainly, without logging, there would be no reason for foresters, timber companies and so forth, so that biases most collaboratives from the start.

Many of the conservation representatives on collaboratives suffer from the Stockholm Syndrome where they come to identify more with the alleged grievances held by rural communities than identifying with promoting the ecological values of the land and wildlife they presumably represent.

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of collaboratives there is always the assertion of “win-win” where “everyone” gets something. But the “everyone” usually does not include the wildlife, forest ecosystems and wildlands. In the end, the “winners” are the collaborative membership not the public and most importantly the land and its diversity of life.

This gets to the central part of the problem. All these groups involved in collaboratives are spending huge amounts of staff time and money attending meetings with people who, with few exceptions, have diametrically opposed views on the value wilderness and wildlands. Is this really a productive use of time?

The trap of collaboratives is that it saps organizational time and money. It’s designed to silence oppositional groups and make them spend their limited time in meetings with people who hold diametrically opposed values instead of advancing the wildlands agenda with the public.

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has published 38 books including “North Idaho Lake County,” “Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness Foundation for Conservation” and “Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy.”

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