STAYING THE COURSE
“I would absolutely encourage anyone to pursue a career in forestry or any other natural resource-based career. In fact, that’s exactly what the Clearwater Basin Youth Conservation Corps is trying to do. The more we can introduce local kids to the career opportunities available in their backyard, the better. There are currently over 40 vacancies on the Nez Perce – Clearwater National Forests and more retiring all the time. There’s also a shortage of professional truck drivers. We need young people to bring their families back to their hometowns to fill those jobs, especially in light of recent mill closures that will have serious social and economic impacts on communities.”
Tera King, Partner
Northwest Management, Inc.
Tera King is a University of Idaho forestry school graduate and partner in Northwest Management, a Moscow, Idaho forestry consulting firm with clients scattered across the western United States. She is a Grangeville, Idaho native, and grew up hunting, fishing, hiking and riding horses in the four million acre Nez Perce Clearwater National Forest, which covers about 74 percent of Idaho County, easily Idaho’s largest county. In this wide-ranging interview, she answers questions about her career, forest collaboration, the public discourse and her hopes that forestry’s best days are dawning now.
Evergreen: We think it’s remarkable that a Grangeville kid would stay in Idaho after she graduated from high school. Many leave to find jobs. Why did you stay?
King: I think I was like most small town high school kids in that my main goal upon graduating was just to get out, whatever that meant. It wasn’t until after I left to attend school at the University of Idaho that I realized what it really meant to be part of a small community. When all that support is stripped away, you really find out who you are and what’s important. I guess that’s what keeps me here mostly. I like knowing my neighbors. Besides, where would I go that’s better than Idaho?
Evergreen: Grangeville, population 3,141, is the county seat of Idaho County, Idaho’s largest county by far. At 8,500 square miles – most of it heavily forested – it is larger than Rhode Island, Delaware and Connecticut, combined, yet it has only seven incorporated towns. What did a kid growing up there do for fun?
King: Anything and everything. Obviously, there are not a lot of services in town to spend your money on. Most kids learn to drive early on the farm or ranch or hauling firewood for Grandma, so by the time you actually have your license, its total freedom. You make your own fun and you have millions of acres in which to do it. Our family made full use of the wealth of public land in Idaho County. We rode horses in the back-country, buzzed around the trails on motorcycles and ATV’s, hiked to many of the wilderness lakes, fished, hunted and camped. Oh yeah, and you drag Main Street and cruise the back-roads with your friends!
Evergreen: With so much forest in Idaho County, we assume most everyone’s livelihood is related to forests in one way or another. Are we correct?
King: That’s certainly the way I see it. My grandpas and many of my uncles logged or worked at one of the mills at some point. One of my grandpas even owned a logging company and a post and pole outfit in the 1970’s and 80’s. Most of the longer-tenured families in Idaho County probably have similar histories, but even if there’s not a direct connection with forest industry in the macro sense, all of the support services that go along with it – the machinists, the mechanics, the fuel stations, the tire stores, all of those families depend on that forest-to-market infrastructure too. Now, forest management on public lands also includes all kinds of “ologists” to help with recreation, wildlife, fisheries, fire, roads, archaeology, etc. A lot of those people raise their families in the local community, but many are contracted from out of the area, which means they’re supporting the local restaurants, hotels, and supply stores as well. It’s all connected.
Evergreen: You went off to the University of Idaho – exactly 100 miles from home – in 1999. Thinking you wanted to be a forensic psychologist. What sparked your interest in forensics and why did you switch to forestry?
King: Too much CSI. I’m not sure I really knew what the words even meant, but it seemed exciting at the time. I made it one semester before the reality of having to go to medical school and live in a large city really set in. I was sitting in class one day and realized that these were not “my people.” So I had that internal dialogue that many college students probably have. “Dear Self, what do I really care about and what am I good at doing?” I knew that I wanted to stay in Idaho and that I wanted my kids to have the opportunity to experience the outdoors in much the same way that I did. When I really started looking into forest management as a career, I realized that I had taken the resource for granted and that I could do something to help protect it.
Evergreen: Did you work your way through the University of Idaho, and if so, what did you do to make your school money?
King: I did work my way through school. I had a few small scholarships, oddly from the military, but I worked 20-30 hours a week first at an alpaca farm and then at one of the local hardware stores. I spent my first summer not taking the advice of my counselor and went to Colorado to work on a ranch, which is where I met my husband. Thank goodness for those rebellious stages! The last two I spent working for the Nez Perce National Forest as a back-country ranger and then as a firefighter and trail crew foreman.
Evergreen: You’ve worked for Northwest Management since you graduated from Idaho. Tell us a bit about the company?
King: Northwest Management Incorporated [NMI] is a natural resource consulting firm with offices in Idaho, Washington, and Montana. We’ve been around since 1984 and do everything from traditional forestland management, helping all types of landowners to stream restoration, wildlife management, fire and hazard mitigation, and planning and research for tribes as well as local, state, and federal agencies. We have about 37 full time employees and 20 or so seasonal workers. Over the last seven years, we’ve added a central dispatch office for trucking called Northwest Timber Logistics, LLC; a real estate arm called Northwest Rural Properties, LLC; and, most recently, a remote sensing and LiDAR hub at our Moscow office.
Evergreen: What has been your career track at Northwest and what do you do now?
King: Like almost everyone at NMI, I started as a seasonal worker, cruising timber, marking trees, and helping with prescribed burning. Once my boss realized I could write coherently, I started working mostly on county land and fire management plans, which helped me learn how the various local, state, and federal agencies do business. I picked up my MBA in 2013 and now I’m a partner and I’m in charge of NMI’s Management Services Division, which includes all of the company’s environmental and management planning, forest inventory, growth and yield, remote sensing and LiDAR Light Detection and Ranging}, wildlife management, and technical service and research programs.
Evergreen: Walk us through a typical work day.
King: Emails, emails and more emails; a few phone calls and a meeting or two. I rarely get out in the field anymore, but I do enjoy working with our clients. So many people love the resource and want to do what’s right, but that is becoming more and more of an uphill battle, particularly on public lands.
Evergreen: The federal government is by far Idaho’s largest forestland owner, yet provides only a fraction of the timber reaching Idaho’s wood products manufacturers. Is most of your work concentrated on private, state and tribal-owned timberland?
King: Most of our field-based work as well as technical services is for private, industrial, state or tribal ownerships. But we do some NEPA work as well as monitoring and data collection for federal agencies. We also contract our fleet of firefighting equipment to the federal incident management teams. Some of the new tools available, like the Good Neighbor Authority, will hopefully make it easier for the Forest Service to tap into private sector resources to help stabilize the federal timber supply flow.
Evergreen: Speaking of federal forests, we understand you have some involvement or administrative role in the Clearwater Basin Collaborative, which is tightly focused on restoring degraded federal forestland in the Clearwater Basin. What exactly is that role, and can you tell us a bit about the collaborative’s history?
King: The Clearwater Basin Collaborative [CBC} was initiated by U.S. Senator, Mike Crapo, in 2008 in hopes of reducing public conflict over the management of national forests in north-central Idaho. CBC has a large focus on forest restoration, including timber harvest, but their goals also include economic restoration of the resource-based communities in the Basin, a focus on protecting resources and areas significant to the Nez Perce Tribe, protecting areas with high conservation value, wildlife management, and promotion of all forms of recreation.
Evergreen: What are the nuts and bolts of your involvement?
King: NMI contracts with CBC to help manage the Selway-Middle Fork Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project (CFLRP), which is a joint venture involving the collaborative and the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. We also oversee a third party monitoring program that evaluates the effectiveness of projects and funds spent within the CFLRP area, and we implement and manage the Clearwater Basin Youth Conservation Corps, which employs about 25 young people in the Basin every summer. We also help coordinate project-level reviews and field trips for CBC members and Forest Service specialists.
Evergreen: We’ve interviewed 25 or 30 people who are members of collaboratives in Idaho, northeast Washington and western Montana. There seems to be a lot of frustration with the pace and scale of their work, and a belief that Forest Service foot-dragging is the main problem. Would you agree?
King: There is a lot of frustration about the pace and scale of forest management on the national forests, particularly in areas designated for “active management.” However, I think there’s just as much frustration with the system coming from the Forest Service side, if not more so. After getting to know many of the Forest Service professionals setting up projects and working on the NEPA analyses, they typically are trying very hard to do their jobs.
Evergreen: We’ve heard some of the same frustrations voiced by younger Forest Service professionals.
King: They’ve been given an impossible task – make literally everybody happy. There are certainly some foot-draggers as there are in any organization, but I think the main problems are top-down and often conflicting leadership within the organization, employees that are dis-incentivized to stay on one national forest and actually become familiar with the resource they are managing, not to mention the communities they serve, and just the difficulty of navigating the layers and layers of regulations and bureaucracy that nearly ties their hands before they even start.
Evergreen: Congress has provided the collaboratives with lots of tools to do their work. What’s missing?
King: There are lots of authorities and tools for collaboratively-developed forest restoration projects. But they come with their own sets of opportunities and limitations. The real challenge is hitching the power and goodwill of a group of volunteers to a wagon that contains the administrative and technical support required to develop even a single project, which often takes months, if not years. Teaching non-agency volunteer stakeholders from all walks of life the rules that the Forest Service lives with, as well as the opportunities and limits of the various legislative and administrative tools, is challenging. Many of the authorities, including those in the 2014 Farm Bill, are new. Even the agencies need time to figure out how to use them effectively and efficiently. Several tools are meant to help streamline the required environmental review process, but I’m not sure that’s happened yet.
Evergreen: We also hear lots of grumbling from collaborators about serial litigators spoiling years of work done by all volunteer collaborative groups. What’s your assessment?
King: Those grumblers need to keep grumbling. It’s really a philosophical argument. On one hand, its very noble – and frankly American – to say that everyone big or small, rich or poor, educated on the issues or not, gets an equal say in what happens on public lands all the way down to the individual acre. In practice; however, that’s what has led to the extreme environmental review process that takes years to complete and costs taxpayers millions of dollars.
Evergreen: And the public comment process is beyond tedious.
King: The Forest Service is required to respond to every single yayhoo that has an opinion on every single project, even if they clearly haven’t read the information and submit the same regurgitated garbage for every project. The current process works for those that have good questions and real concerns, and ultimately their input results in a better solution. But there should be some protection, especially for collaboratively-produced forest management projects, from serial litigators that are clearly on extreme ends of the spectrum, won’t come to the table to find a workable solution, and aren’t adding value to projects. Unfortunately, suing the Forest Service has become a profitable business for some organizations – and they’re good at it because that’s their full time job.
Evergreen: We understand Northwest Management is also playing a quite significant role in Anchor Forestry projects in forests owned by the Colville and Yakama Indian tribes. Tell us a bit about Anchor Forestry and what you are doing for the tribes?
King: The Anchor Forest concept is based on multiple land owners working together to support sustainable long-term wood and biomass production to achieve forest health objectives at a meaningful scale. The whole effort was spurred by the alarming and increasing impacts of insects, disease, and wildfire on forests across the West and the apparent inability of land managers to effect change at a landscape scale.
Evergreen: We recently completed Phase 1 work on a communications package tribes will be using to tell their forestry story – and it’s a terrific story.
King: As you know, tribes are very concerned that we’re losing not only the ecological values and benefits that forests provide, including clean air and water, wildlife and fish, and traditional foods and products, but also the economic, cultural, and social values that long-term forest stewardship yields. While these concerns are generally shared by everyone, tribes are better at managing their resources with a more holistic view. So, what’s good for the forest is good for the fish and the people, not just in the long-term, but in perpetuity. Northwest Management is trying to help the tribes build relationships with their neighboring land managers so that insect, disease, wildfire, and other issues can be tackled by leveraging the strengths of each to do more of the necessary restoration work faster.
Evergreen: Our sense is that Anchor Forestry answers a lot of management-related questions involving Inter-mountain, mixed conifer, dry site forests. Would you agree?
King: I do. The Anchor Forest study focuses on forest management issues in eastern Washington, although the concept applies anywhere. The final report contains six focus areas: the state of forest infrastructure and commodity production, a look at how existing collaborative structures might support the Anchor Forest concept, institutional capacity and barriers to cross-boundary forest management, other types of barriers hindering cooperative cross-boundary management based on focus group information, a database of information and resources that might support an Anchor Forest project, and socio-economic forestland values and non-market benefits of ecosystem services.
Evergreen: So how do tribes move forward with their Anchor Forestry hopes?
King: All of the information needed to implement an Anchor Forest project on the ground in eastern Washington is available. The tribes are willing to take the lead, but they still need the other partners to come to the table and help define what an Anchor Forest project is going to look like locally, what tools and funding they need and what types of cross-boundary projects will meet their shared objectives.
Evergreen: A more personal question: would you encourage a young man or woman about to graduate from high school to consider a career in forestry or the forest products industry?
King: I would absolutely encourage anyone to pursue a career in forestry or any other natural resource-based career. In fact, that’s exactly what the Clearwater Basin Youth Conservation Corps is trying to do. The more we can introduce local kids to the career opportunities available in their backyard, the better. There are currently over 40 vacancies on the Nez Perce – Clearwater National Forests and more retiring all the time. There’s also a shortage of professional truck drivers. We need young people to bring their families back to their hometowns to fill those jobs, especially in light of recent mill closures that will have serious social and economic impacts on communities.
Evergreen: Forestry and forest products manufacturing have undergone quite dramatic transformations over the last 20 years. What skill sets or academic credentials are needed today?
King: Early foresters were generalists responsible for all aspects of forest management, but over the last 50 years or so, many specialties – “ologists” we call them – have entered the mix. General forestry has also become more specialized. Interestingly, several recent studies done by the Society of American Foresters and others show that forestry employers value communication and interpersonal skills just as much as technical abilities. Not only do you need to have the educational background, but you need to be able to communicate your ideas effectively in both oral and written formats, be able to work as part of a team, and respond to public questioning. Most foresters are introverts by nature, so people that have the technical expertise as well as the communication skills are in high demand.
Evergreen: Any closing thoughts concerning forestry’s future prospects in Idaho?
King: If we can do a better job of managing for healthy forests, particularly on federal lands, we can produce a more stable supply of forest products that will support the remaining logging, hauling, and milling infrastructure. If we can’t, then it will slowly dwindle as it has in Montana and other places. Then our management options will become more and more limited, and ultimately we’ll be forced to deal with, rather than manage for, the effects of severe wildfire. I prefer the more optimistic view. The pendulum has been swinging away from active forest management since the 1980’s, but I think we’re on the verge of a course correction. As sad as the losses from recent wildfires have been, it has changed the public’s perceptions and perspectives concerning the need to manage our forests. It’s pretty clear, at least in the front-country, that neglect is not the answer.
- Jim Petersen, Evergreen