We suppose the big challenge for the Forest Service comes in framing the conversation it wants to have with collaborative stakeholder groups.
“If you are a wilderness advocate, you speak one language. If you support logging, you speak a different language. The Forest Service speaks its own different language. These collaboratives require people to understand each other’s language. It takes time, patience and a shared understanding that conservation and active forest management are not mutually exclusive goals. You first work on the things you can agree on, then you tackle your differences. And no matter what, you are honest and you always respect one another’s values.”
Christine Dawe, Director of Renewable Resource Management
Region 1, U.S. Forest Service, Missoula, Montana
Christine Dawe is the Director of Renewable Resource Management for the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Region, based in Missoula, Montana. As such, she is responsible for program oversight for all resource management activities involving timber, rangelands, water, fish and wildlife, on 11 national forests and grasslands in Montana, northern Idaho and parts of North and South Dakota. Before being promoted to the Regional Office, she was Deputy Forest Supervisor on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest in Coeur d’Alene. Ms. Dawe holds a graduate degree in Environmental Planning and Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania  and an undergraduate degree in Exercise Physiology from West Chester University . In this interview, she answers questions concerning Montana Governor, Steve Bullock’s Forests in Focus initiative, her work in forest collaboration and the Forest Service’s effort to make itself more relevant in today’s fast paced society.
Evergreen: Ms. Dawe, we last saw you a year ago at the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership conference in Boise, Idaho. You’ve had a fair amount of influence in the Forest Service’s Region 1 interface with the collaborative groups that work in Idaho and Montana. How’s this working?
Dawe: Let’s not give me too much credit here. Many of this region’s collaborative groups have been around much longer than me/ But to your question, collaboration is all about networking, building trust, sharing ideas, finding out what works and doesn’t work and moving forward a step at a time. It allows us to gain understanding, identify common goals and support each other to reach our natural resource management goals. It’s been a game changer in Region 1.
Evergreen: How does the Forest Service see itself in what is clearly a major transformation in the way the agency does business with its communities and stakeholder groups?
Dawe: Let’s divide your question into two parts. There are two major arenas of transformation. One has moved us beyond the era of timber management and into a new era emphasizing a more integrated approach to resource management. So rather than measure outcomes – and I’m all about outcomes – rather than measure outcomes only in timber volume harvested, we now emphasize the number of acres treated. And now, “treatment” typically includes a suite of activities with integrated resource objectives such as thinning in an overstocked stand, removing noxious weeds, protecting a stream corridor, creating elk habitat and recreation improvements.
Evergreen: So how has this more integrated approach altered the way the Forest Service does business with its communities and stakeholder groups?
Dawe: That’s the second transformation. There are many more opportunities for collaborative stakeholder groups to get involved with us than there were in the days when the major emphasis was on timber production. We work with people who have a broad spectrum of interests, often building projects from the ground up to address a variety of needs and values.
Evergreen: Doesn’t a lot of this has to do with changing the very nature of the dialogue – the conversation if you will – that the Forest Service has been having with rural communities since its founding in 1905?
Dawe: It absolutely does. For me, the collaboratives – the stakeholder groups – are an entry point, a place to start. Many of our collaborative have been around for several years, but it took some time and some successes for them to gain the traction they have now. So what we have here is an energized and hopefully more transparent conversation about what the Forest Service does, and why. Although these forests belong to all Americans, how we manage them has a disproportionate impact on those who live and work in the rural west. It is a responsibility we take very seriously.
Evergreen: By impact, we assume you mean the economic and environmental realities of things like wildfire, fish and wildlife habitat, and jobs in Montana’s timber and recreation sectors.
Dawe: That’s correct, and sadly most Americans living in urban environments do not know or understand what National Forests are and what they have to offer, particularly the significant role the play here in the west where the big national forests are located.
Evergreen: You participate in many collaborative conferences, workshops and symposiums around the west. How’s that going?
Dawe: The best and brightest of our stakeholders are involved in collaboration. I suspect we learn as much from them as they learn from us. The conferences, workshops and symposiums you mention give the Forest Service an opportunity to listen, learn and explain how and why we do what we do.
Evergreen: There are 30 percent fewer people working in the Forest Service than there were 15 years ago. Yet given all of the wildfire and forest health-related problems the agency faces, it seems as though the challenge is greater than it’s been at any time since World War II.
Dawe: I agree. This may sound trite, but we need a bigger bang for our buck. We need to come up with better approaches to getting work done than we have had in the past. Analysis paralysis has been a real challenge for us, and it has affected both efficiency and measurable success. And that has hurt employee morale and our external relationships. Our Region’s leadership has recognized the need to change and we are working hard at that.
Evergreen: Easy to describe, hard to do.
Dawe: It has been hard, but we are doing it – the work of integrating resource management is going well, and we have some very talented and dedicated collaborative groups in this Region that see an integrated approach as key to their success and ours. It’s an exciting time, full of opportunity
Evergreen: We suppose the big challenge for the Forest Service comes in framing the conversation it wants to have with collaborative stakeholder groups.
Dawe: If you are a wilderness advocate, you speak one language. If you support logging, you speak a different language. The Forest Service speaks its own different language. These collaboratives require people to understand each other’s language. It takes time, patience and a shared understanding that conservation and active forest management are not mutually exclusive goals. You first work on the things you can agree on, then you tackle your differences. And no matter what, you are honest and you always respect one another’s values
Evergreen: What’s the Forest Service’s role here?
Dawe: We bring science, technical expertise, and an understanding of our multiple use mission to the table, but the collaboratives have to sort out the values piece amongst themselves.
Evergreen: A big job for the collaboratives, and certainly the Forest Service.
Dawe: It is, and it’s important. The Forest Service hasn’t always been very good at telling its story, so having diverse stakeholder groups that are willing to step up publicly really helps. We are getting better, but the understanding and support of others makes a big difference.
Evergreen: We imagine you are equally appreciative of Governor Steve Bullock’s Montana Forests in Focus initiative.
Dawe: The Forest Service is extremely fortunate to have a governor who is as engaged and supportive as Steve Bullock. His 2014 Farm Bill Priority Landscape designations have really energized Region 1 and its National Forest staffs.
Evergreen: We understand the State of Montana has funded two positions, one in the Regional office, one to interface with you and one to interface with the counties.
Dawe: They have, and it’s very helpful in terms of coordinating work and problem solving. It’s helped us to identify opportunities to work together to get more accomplished than we have separately.
Evergreen: Sometimes the help you need comes from unexpected places.
Dawe: Governor Bullock is a quick study. He’s very transparent, very supportive of the collaboratives and really passionate about what he believes.
Evergreen: And come July he will be the new chairman of the Western Governors Association.
Dawe: We are ecstatic – especially knowing that federal forest management will be the focus of his tenure in that role. We plan to be very engaged.
Evergreen: Individual initiative still seems to drive a lot of this. Here we think not only of Governor Bullock, but of lumbermen like Roger Johnson and Gordy Sanders at Pyramid Lumber here in Montana, Marc Brinkmeyer at the Idaho Forest Group in Coeur d’Alene and Duane Vaagen, at Vaagen Brothers in Colville, Washington. And conservationists like Gary Burnett with the Blackfoot Challenge at Ovando, Montana, Joel Webster at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership here in Missoula and Mike Petersen at the Lands Council in Spokane, Washington.
Dawe: I worked in the private sector before coming to the Forest Service, so I’m well acquainted with the magnetism that strong personalities bring to the table, and those you mention have certainly added a lot of strength to the collaboratives and, more broadly, the Forest Service’s transition to a more integrated approach to resource management.
Evergreen: We can’t see how this transition can succeed without them.
Dawe: It can’t.
Evergreen: What would you want the public to know about the story that is unfolding in Montana?
Dawe: I would want the public to know that Governor Bullock’s forest initiative is huge for us, why publicly-owned forests are so important to every American, how hard we are all working to conserve the national forests for the economic and environmental benefit of the nation, and that humans are part of the environment, not separate from it. Even a decision to manage an area as Wilderness is a human decision. We humans must take responsibility for our environment and make conscious choices about how we manage and protect the things we cherish – clean air, clean water, wood products, fish and wildlife and world class recreation. That’s what the Forest Service wants the public to know.