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Environmental organizations unite, reach out to churches

Since fall, the former Kettle Range Conservation Group in northeastern Washington has been combining efforts with the Northwest Ecosystems Alliance in northwestern Washington to protect forests, wilderness and wildlife.

The organizations have united under the name Northwest Ecosystems Alliance.

Derrick Knowles
Derrick Knowles
The Kettle Range group’s four staff in Spokane, Republic,  Twisp and Orient join with the alliance’s staff of 19 with offices in Bellingham and Seattle.

They are Derrick Knowles and Crystal Gartner in Spokane, Tim Coleman in Republic, David Heflich in Orient and George Wooten in Twisp.

In a recent interview, Derrick said the former east-side group has a 30-year history of advocating to protect wilderness and wildlife in the Okanogan Highlands, Kettle Range and Selkirk Mountains.  The west-side alliance has a 15-year history of similar work in northwest Washington.

Both organizations have been watchdogs of federal and state land management agencies.

While much recent effort has been spent on the transition and changes are underway on roles, structure and organizational identity, Derrick said they have also been pursuing work to expand connections with churches, to seek solutions in recreational planning, to build coalitions and to deal with ongoing threats to the Northeastern Washington’s forests and wildlife.

The Northwest Ecosystem Alliance has engaged Jason Duba as an intern to develop a collaborative relationship with the faith community on environmental issues such as chemical contamination, water, forest and wildlife issues.

Jason will do outreach to churches, to develop ways the faith community and environmental organizations can be mutual resources.

Having grown up in Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Spokane Valley, Derrick went on many youth group trips backpacking in the wilderness and rafting on the Wenatchee River.  His family often went hiking, camping, fishing and hunting in the Inland Northwest wild areas.  So his appreciation for nature and wildlife in ingrained.

Being Christian to me means wanting to protect nature and take care of people,” said Derrick, who decided as a child that he wanted to be an environmentalist.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Eastern Washington University in 1999 and a master’s in English technical writing in 2002.  He volunteered with the Kettle Range Conservation Group and Sierra Club during college, and has been on staff since graduation.

“We are involved with the Recreation Travel Working Group for the Colville National Forest, which has brought together motorized and non-motorized forest users, recreationists and conservations for two years to find solutions to recreation challenges,” Derrick said.

“Right now we are working to protect wild areas from all-terrain vehicle routes the Forest Service proposes for old forest roads,” he said, and to come to agreement on resource and recreation uses.”

Hearings for input on quiet recreation, imperiled species, clean water and off-road vehicles began in March in Colville, Republic and Chewelah.  Other hearings are at 6 p.m., Tuesday, April 12 in the Ione Community Center; Wednesday, April 20 at Stratton Elementary School in Newport, and Wednesday, May 18, at the Bureau of Land Management office, 1103 N. Fancher in Spokane.

Derrick is also concerned about recent threats to the National Forest Management Act, particularly related to wildlife in the Colville National Forest. 

The Colville forest has many wild areas and much diversity of species—deer, moose, elk, black bear, mountain sheep, lynx, wolverines, grizzly bears, pine martens, bobcats and the mountain caribou, the most endangered mammal in the lower 48 states.

“Obscure rule changes in the act made in late December when people were focused on families and holidays threaten to undermine wildlife and forest protections,” he explained.  “The act, passed in 1976 when wild places began declining, provides legal framework for sustaining wildlife.”

Changes cut opportunity for public comment, and alter three sections:
1) Wildlife viability—the requirement to maintain a viable population for reproducing—has been changed to having a “goal to maintain” wildlife. 
2) The rule of science called for action to be consistent with the best science.  Now the Forest Service is required only to “consider” the best science.

3) Timber management was previously meant to limit the size of clear cuts, rather than allowing extensive clear cuts.

The conservation community challenges these rule changes that also include elimination of the requirement to do environmental analysis, receive public input on alternatives and write environmental impact statements as part of forest planning. 

“Many of our nation’s elected officials are failing to uphold our nation’s conservation legacy,” Derrick added. 

“Actions like the so-called Healthy Forest Initiative and proposed gutting of the National Forest Management Act show a disregard for many American’s conservation ethics,” he said.

For information, call 747-1663.




By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © April 2005






By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - © April 2005