A fool’s errand: The feeling you may get when trying to participate in a comment period on proposed public lands management projects.

Governmental agencies speak in agency jargon with convoluted terms and aphorisms for the work to be conducted. The process is long – sometimes by years -- filled with drafts and revised drafts, and lots of acronyms for various stages of analysis the common person has little to no understanding of their relevance function in the work. And in the end, is anything I have to say going to be heard, much less given consideration in the final decision?

We’ve not seen those frustrations in our recent attending of public meetings hosted by the Clearwater Basin Collaborative (CBC), in cooperation with the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests, on projects – both under way and in the planning – within the agency’s regional jurisdiction.

The CBC and Nez-Clear have done a solid job so far, in both last week’s event in Kooskia and one in Grangeville last October. In less than two hours, attendees at the Kooskia meeting received an informative overview of more than two dozen projects: why they were needed, what would be done, numbers on timber harvest, and what environmental work was planned.

That’s the apparent message.

Behind this -- and what we see just as valuable in these meetings -- is the CBC and Nez-Clear getting out ahead of potential problems by inviting inspection of everything on the table; and as part of that, emphasizing the public has opportunities here to be more effective in its contributions to help shape final decisions. Area residents have an opportunity here to be better informed on forest projects, and at earlier stages in the process to allow more time to learn about the work and, in turn, provide constructive comment.

What has stood out at these two meetings, so far, has been civil discourse. Attendees have had concerns, and a few have been pointed on how the Forest Service should be doing things better; but it’s been respectful. In turn, agency folks speak the language of the room; no jargon, and they provide answers that empower attendees to better use and involve themselves in the process.

More meetings are planned, with the next set in Orofino in three months to detail additional projects. After that, plans may call for special meetings on topics of local interest. We’re behind this continued effort, as its intent is better education about the work being conducted on lands we all have interest in, and that it is carried out with respect to the economic well-being of local communities and the range of multiple-use interests – from recreation to protecting wildlife habitat – we come to expect from our public lands.

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