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War In The Woods

collaboration cumulative effects land use planning scenario planning May 12, 2017

Have you ever spent a whole bunch of time making a plan, and maybe not only a bunch of time, but a bunch of money putting together a very comprehensive plan for something that you want to do? And you've tried to do your due diligence. You to tried to cover all the bases, meet all the requirements, you feel like you thought about everybody’s perspective in putting together your plan. After a good long time and a fair bit of effort your plan is finally done. Then you go out and share it with a bunch of other people you think will be interested. In my experience doing that results in one of two different responses; either it’s total silence and I mean like crickets…… and nobody even wants to hear you,

Or worse, you get a bit of a backlash, or maybe some resistance or maybe even anger. Why does that happen? You know you’ve covered all the bases, you’ve met all the legal requirements, you try to do things with the best intent but it’s not well received.

Here’s what I learned about that. 

It is way better to bring people that my plan is going to influence or affect into the planning process early - right at the very beginning. That’s a collaborative approach rather than a selling approach.  And it has been my experience that the rewards of taking a collaborative approach, whether you’re trying to organize something within your family or within your business or in a major project development – it is way better to have everybody engage with you at the beginning and collaborate. I talk a lot about this because we run into conflict a lot in land use planning by simply not engaging with others early enough in the process.

In this week’s episode of the Virtual Time Machine Podcast, I talked with my friend David B. Savage who is a collaboration and negotiation expert and author of “Break Through To Yes” about this. He asked me “is there a moment, a story an experience, a frustration… that lead you into really focusing as, I would say, as worldwide expert on cumulative effects”, on using collaboration? I thought ya, probably a few but there are some standouts.  

I answered David as follows:

“I’m a Registered Professional Forester in British Columbia. I started out working in the forest industry in Western Canada and in my training in University we learned about this concept of integrated resource management which meant that while you’re planning for the harvest of fiber from a wood basket, also known as a forest, that you are to take into consideration other uses like fish and wildlife, recreation values and the visual quality of the landscapes that people get to look at, things like that. And we also studied ecology extensively and so I understood the interactions between and within ecosystems. I had this understanding right from the beginning but in forest management it was made clear to me that there was this dominant perspective - that it’s about producing fiber at least cost in various forms for business that creates jobs, creates GDP, creates royalties and taxes for governments and is a resource to be taken advantage of. But later on when I became a Registered Professional Forester I understood my stewardship responsibilities for caring for that resource. In British Columbia we have the Foresters Act that actually legislates the responsibility of stewarding the public forest to Foresters on behalf of the public - which is a big responsibility! I think about 92% of the Province is publicly owned which is different than many other jurisdictions. 

So anyway I found myself working in the forest industry, designing cut blocks and engineering roads to get there, and bouncing ideas off of other stakeholders like ranchers, but not involving them in the planning just sharing with them my great plan and seeing how they liked it. Most often I’d have to figure out how to compensate them for the harm that I was creating. I could tell that wasn’t necessarily the best outcome. 

"it was maybe about 15 years ago in British Columbia there was a lot of land use conflict and they called it the “War In The Woods”

And later in my career I was working with the McGregor Model Forest, which was one of 11 Model Forests in Canada. The mandate of that model forest was to explore technology and land use forecasting tools that could help decision-makers make better decisions. So I had this tremendous opportunity to work with people like Carey Lockwood who built the simulated annealing algorithms for forest estate models that would eventually become the Patchworks model, which is used extensively by foresters and forest planners across North America. I was working on a project in the Robson Valley and it’s a bit of a story here but I think it’s the direct answer to your question. A number of years ago, don’t quote me on this, it was maybe about 15 years ago in British Columbia there was a lot of land use conflict and they called it the “War In The Woods”. If you Google “War In The Woods British Columbia” you’ll see all kinds of interesting information.  We were at a stalemate in many places in the Province between the environmental lobby and the Forest industry.  It was kind of pitted as a conflict between jobs and preservation or biodiversity versus putting food on the table. It was it was kind of nasty. 

Processes were put in place in the communities to do regional planning. The initial ones though we’re sort of an emergency response and so a few different boards were set up in a process called CORE, Commission On Resources & Environment. They tried using multi-stakeholder collaboration in communities to do zoning and figure out land use priorities for the really big hotspots. That was successful in two or three places - Clayquot Sound is one of the success stories. There was a provision in the legislation though that if they could not come to a consensus agreement, which didn’t mean that everybody agrees, but that everybody could live with it, if you couldn’t get to that point then the Cabinet would have to make a decision and that’s what happened in the Robson Valley. The two sides were so far apart and could not find any common ground mostly because I think they couldn’t see past their differences. So Cabinet had to impose a decision, which of course pleased nobody. While it met the legislative requirement, you still had communities split and in upheaval without a clear path forward. 

So we entered into this project with the McGregor Model Forest. We were trying to bring this innovative technology in and use scenario planning to get past this stalemate. It was so divided in the community!! I remember being in meetings and there were people standing on chairs yelling at the top of their lungs and storming out and the primary conflict is that there are some ancient, they call them antique, forests of Cedar and Hemlock that are over 2000 years old.  There hasn’t been a fire there in a couple of millennia. 

And of course you can imagine that is a tremendous wood basket as well for a couple of communities that are dependent on sawmilling and haven’t got not enough jobs for everybody. So we got into the scenario planning process where we decided to agree at the outset that we would explore some solutions rather than start out from positions. So everybody put their hat down for a year. And we explored what was possible using models and tools that allowed us to look back historically and well into the future. 

That was the first moment where I saw people get out of a very difficult “between a rock and hard place spot” by collaborating

We tried different management scenarios and the long and short of it is that we found a way to meet the timber supply requirements of the Forest Industry and not have to harvest one stick out of those antique forests. Nobody thought it was possible but that’s because we just had preconceived notions.  Once we sat down, did exploration, using scenario planning and tools like that we found a path forward! That opened my eyes big time and I saw community go from being very divided to being very united. They had full ownership of that plan and began being so engaged and making sure that it went ahead because they had found the solution together. That was the first moment where I saw people get out of a very difficult “between a rock and hard place spot” by collaborating together and using their creative energies to find a solution and move forward and yeah the technology in the planning approach facilitated that but the people came up with the ideas.”

To hear more of our conversation, Click Here and listen to Episode 3 of the Virtual Time Machine Podcast or subscribe on iTunes.

In case you didn't see, at the top of this blog you can search for land use planning and cumulative effects topics of interest to you.   And share your thoughts about this blogpost here and I'll respond.