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Face-to-face discussions among diverse parties creates collaboration to resolve land issues

Environmental, timber, Forest Service, local business and recreation interests in the region have turned from conflict and litigation to dialogue and collaboration to resolve some issues. 

Tania Ellersick2
Tania Ellersick

In face-to-face meetings, group discussions and dialogue, the parties are establishing relationships to deal with once-contentious divisions.

As Forest Watch director with The Lands Council in Spokane, Tania Ellersick attends these meetings through the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition.

Discussing concerns from an ecological standpoint adds perspective about dynamics such as tree species and age variation, soil quality, hydrology and erosion.

That helps the group recognize areas in need of restoration and helps communicate concern about old growth, road density and maintaining nutrients on the landscape. 

Tania, a 1993 graduate of Lewis and Clark High School, earned a bachelor of science degree in forest management, with a minor in conservation of wild-land resources in 1998, and completed a certificate in wetlands science and management in 2004.

Accompanying her parents hiking and camping in the region and traveling with them as a child instilled an appreciation for forests and wild areas, and an appetite for travel.

She developed her fascination about the natural world in work and volunteer opportunities. With the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, she compared functional assessments for wetland and habitat restoration projects.  As a volunteer neuropathology lab associate with the UW Medical Center for two years, she learned about hippocampus tissue from patients with chronic and severe epilepsy.  For a while, she lived in Hawaii, researching and restoring habitat for hawkbill sea turtles that nest there.

Tania Ellersick3
Tania brings global experience and fascination with life processes.

She also traveled to Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, England, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico, Costa Rica and Bolivia, hiking and adventuring.  She has traveled with family numerous times to Indonesia, where her mother’s family lives.

In Bolivia, she volunteered at a wildlife refuge rehabilitation center, working with capuchin monkeys and birds.  The center helps endangered animals that have been stolen or sold illegally, and become pets or circus animals.

“Most had poor diets, had been beaten, had atrophied muscles and were stressed.  I worked with those animals post quarantine, introducing them to members of their own species and their new habitat, making sure they were disease free, eating a nutritious diet and learning to forage and nest on their own,” she said.

Tania is fascinated by natural processes that existed long ago, like the transitions from simple to complex plants, or the interaction of natural fire and changes across the landscape.

“I enjoy feeling insignificant in a valley carved by glaciers centuries ago.  I like the morphology of feathers and the structure of flowers, or just observing the social dynamics of capuchin and spider monkeys in Bolivia,” she said.

In the year Tania has been at the Lands Council, she has been active on the Northeast Washington Forestry Coalition Board, a coalition of environmentalists, mill owners, loggers and local business owners.

“We encourage people in the communities to join us and help us find common ground.  We hope to provide an example of positive collaboration and move forward in solving points of contention about forest usage.  As we work on the forest revision process for the Colville National Forest, we hope more members of the community will become involved.

“We are finding new solutions to issues that have plagued our organization, the forest industry and the federal government for years,” Tania said.

One example of a solution is that the coalition has developed community wildfire plans for two communities to address protection and educate people on how to create defensible space on their own property.

“We help people understand that wildfire is natural and an integral part of the ecosystem,” Tania said.

Chewelah and Lower Kettle River have wildfire plans.  A plan is in process in Stevens County.

Since 2002, the coalition has worked to create common ground and find innovative approaches to forestry.

“Previously, interests in the Colville National Forest had a divisive disconnect,” she said.

Tania Ellersick
Tania values strength of relationships.

“Now that we sit across the table from one another, we can minimize miscommunication, establish trust and find common solutions,” she said. 

“In person, we are able to be direct and try to mitigate litigation,” she said. 

“A request to decommission a road in a project area is much easier to communicate face-to-face,” she said.  “By speaking with Forest Service staff, I gain a better understanding of their concerns and time constraints.

“This process makes it evident to participants that there are many types of solutions to these issues across the nation,” she added.  “The Lands Council is still active in litigation as an important tool, too.”

In the Colville National Forest, the coalition came to agreement on a fuel reduction project, because all parties had input at the inception and each reflected on concerns of the larger community. 

One committee focuses on stewardship contracting, small local timber company input and a commitment to restore areas in the Colville National Forest.

The coalition includes a Forest Planning Committee, a Stewardship Contracting Committee, a Community Wildfire Protection Committee, a Project Committee, and an Education and Outreach Committee.

The Northeast Washington Forestry website, www.newcommunityforestry.org, publishes minutes, decisions, meeting schedules and locations.

To advocate for wild areas, Tania and a coalition of Eastern Washington groups will take people on hikes into surrounding natural areas this summer and early fall.

She will share with others what her father, an avid hunter, hiker and outdoor person who grew up in Bonners Ferry, taught her about the outdoors, as well as her insights from the dialogues and study of nature.

“It’s important to be attentive, still and conscientious in the natural environment, so we can be moved and inspired by the ecosystems and open to respect and protect the areas,” she said.

For information, call 838-4912.

 

By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - © April 2006