DARRINGTON — A new partnership between loggers, conservationists, lawmakers and educators is aimed at creating more sustainable timber harvests in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin and others announced the Darrington Collaborative at a news conference Friday in Darrington.
The collaborative approach seeks to avoid the logging conflicts during the Northwest timber wars of the 1990s. Members will work with the U.S. Forest Service’s Darrington Ranger District to develop sustainable thinning and logging projects while also improving salmon habitat and water quality.
Leaders say the effort grew out of trust and goodwill created between conservation groups and the local community following last year’s Oso landslide that killed 43 people and leveled a riverside community. The disaster drew national attention to the rural area, which has struggled economically after years of legislation cut back the logging industry.
“A lot of people think of economic development as an urban thing, or as something to do with computers and technology,” said Oak Rankin, who is on the steering committee for the collaborative and coordinates STEM education programs for Darrington students. “The idea of working on the land and having that connection with the forest is something we often miss as part of our identity in the Northwest.”
The collaborative is modeled after other successful programs in forests around the state, he said. It lets the community have a say in how their forests are managed and how the logging and timber industry develops. The group plans to research and suggest projects in the forest that would allow for more timber sales while helping the ecosystem. Thinning an area can increase the diversity of plants and animals there, Rankin said.
He’s focused on getting young people involved. It’s a chance for students in Darrington to get hands-on learning experiences about forestry, biology, business and economics.
“The collaborative as a whole, it’s an interesting idea to grasp onto,” he said. “It’s all about sustainability.”
Darrington has been recognized for its “grit and uncommon optimism,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a news release. It’s no surprise local leaders found a way to unite people with different interests and find the best option to sustain businesses and the environment.
The collaborative’s mission is four-point: improve the health of forests and waterways; increase timber harvests; create more local jobs; and provide forestry and business education for young people in the Stillaguamish Valley.
“By engaging in ecologically sound timber harvest under the Northwest Forest Plan through the collaborative, we improve local watersheds and enhance clean water and habitat while supporting local jobs,” Murray, a Democrat, said in a statement.
The group includes representatives from the town government, Darrington Area Resources Association, the Wilderness Society, Washington Wild, Washington State Society of American Foresters, logging companies, education programs and the Pew Charitable Trusts.