By Natalie Johnson
A meeting between representatives of the North Central Washington Forest Health Collaborative and the U.S. Forest service on April 1, intended to find common ground on the Twisp Restoration Project, didn’t get as far either side would have liked, but both expressed hope for the next installment.
“There were certainly some lessons learned, maybe I’ll start with them. We had a fairly ambitious agenda with the district,” said Mike Liu, co-chair of the collaborative’s projects work group, which called the meeting with the forest service. “We didn’t get very far down the list.”
Liu briefed the collaboratives’ steering committee April 7 on the smaller projects work group’s meeting the previous week.
The next meeting between the work group and the Forest Service is scheduled for Thursday (April 15).
The 77,000-acre Twisp Restoration project, intended to do wildfire mitigation through timber harvest and prescribed burns, habitat restoration and other aspects, received nearly 1,000 comments during an initial comment period last year, many of which supported the idea of conservation in the area but noted concerns about logging strategies, including plans to harvest some of the largest trees in the Twisp River valley.
The collaborative, which includes a variety of conservation organizations, community groups, timber companies and other interests, many of which submitted comments that were critical of or questioned aspects of the plan.
In the week before the “deep dive” meeting, as both sides were calling it last week, Liu told the Methow Valley News that the collaborative hoped to learn more about the proposal, particular regarding plans to cut trees above 20 inches in diameter, potential damage to species including the spotted owl, and get a better idea of the scale of the project.
Liu said on April 7 that the meetings are intended to “find agreement” and “build understanding.” District Ranger Chris Furr clarified the Forest Service’s perspective.
“These are aren’t meant to be negotiating type conferences. What it’s meant to be is a deep dive … and a time for question and answer,” he said. “We’re not having those whittling conversions here.”
Furr and Liu, speaking at the April 7 steering committee meeting, agreed on the need to be more specific about the topics they plan to discuss at the “deep dive” meetings. The next will likely focus on spotted owl habitat and late-successional reserve areas, Liu said.
Steering committee co-chair Chris Branch, also an Okanogan County commissioner, asked if the meetings were delaying the process of finishing the EA.
“We are putting significant energy into these deep dives that we would be putting into updating the EA, but having said that there is a value to trying to bring everyone together on this,” said Furr. “It is taking energy from my staff. … But we understand the need to do it. We won’t move forward fully until we’ve gotten through these.”
Several collaborative members at the April 7 steering committee meeting asked about trips to areas included in the plan, so they could see on-the-ground conditions and consider the proposed treatments.
Forest Service staff have previously committed to holding field trips later this year, but Furr said April 7 that there is still too much snow on the ground to get to the locations. He also said ever-changing COVID protocols are making it difficult to plan ahead.