Economy and ecology — topics that are often at odds with one another — were the focus of a visit by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Congressman Derek Kilmer in Aberdeen Wednesday in an effort to bring major players from both sides to the same table.
The meeting at Sierra Pacific Industries came after a tour of the facility and was followed by a press conference, where Kilmer discussed the importance of collaboration among players from both timber harvesting industries and forest conservation advocates.
The gathering centered on Kilmer’s Olympic Peninsula Collaborative, an initiative he announced in late 2013 and officially launched in May 2015. The collaborative aims to organize representatives from both groups in an effort to see past their competing interests and work together on making the area’s forests sustainable.
“The fact is, driving rural economic development matters,” Kilmer said, kicking off the press conference. “That’s why we’ve put together this collaborative in the first place, to try to embrace both the value of our forests for job creation, but also in terms of maintaining that forest health.”
Vilsack spoke to the importance of cooperation between both interests as a way to move forward mutually.
“I think what this collaboration has shown is that they are not exclusive if people are willing to sit down and listen and create this sense of trust and understanding,” he said, adding more funding would help the U.S. Forest Service fulfill some of the collaborative’s goals.
“In order for us to change the dynamic and be more supportive of this effort, we need to have a budget fix focused on the forest budget,” he said. “Congressman Kilmer understands this, he knows the importance of it, and he, I think, has started something pretty significant here with this collaborative effort.”
Vilsack said 23 collaborative landscape initiatives exist nationwide, but added more needs to be done.
Accompanying Kilmer and Vilsack were people from throughout the Peninsula and from a variety of groups and companies, including Sierra Pacific President George Emmerson, Connie Gallant, president of the Olympic Forest Coalition and Matt Comisky, Washington state manager of the American Forest Resource Council.
“It’s a good opportunity to work together, build trust, and out of that should hopefully come a lot of good benefits from the community at large, not only from an economic standpoint with providing jobs for the families that live in these communities, but on into the future,” Comisky said. “We’re not just talking about today’s generation. A lot of the industry folks who are engaged here, they want to be around another 50, 100 years, so we need to build that sustainability.”
Vilsack said the collaboration serves as a good model for how industries that seem to compete could help further one another’s growth.
“I think this is an example of what needs to be done more of in this country,” he said. “You’ve got competing interests, that have in the past … basically stymied each other. They have gone into courtrooms and they have fought out lengthy court battles, despite the fact that they have a shared interest and shared value, which is to have a sustainable forest.”