The Stemilt Community Forest brings together Chelan County
Name: Mike Kaputa
Affiliation: Stemilt Community Forest
1. What first drew you to forestry work?
The opportunity for the County to purchase lands to protect ecologically diverse forestlands from development and partner with neighboring landowners and stakeholders to create the Community Forest was an exciting and unprecedented event for Chelan County. The obvious connection between this forest and the community that depends upon it was the force that drew us into the realm of community forestry. The importance of keeping this contiguous forestland intact to protect the needs of the community in terms of agricultural water supply, high-quality outdoor recreation, and protection of sensitive wildlife species was what really drove the momentum toward the Community Forest.
2. What is your favorite attribute of the community forest you’re affiliated with?
The Stemilt Community Forest supports complex ecosystems and a variety of wildlife that is really impressive given its proximity to an urban population. Thriving elk herds, old-growth larch and whitebark pine stands, unique wetland and meadow systems, and a handful of rare species make the biological richness of the Forest one of my favorite attributes.
3. From your perspective, what is the most important benefit that can be realized by developing community forests / practicing community forestry?
Engaging the community and really giving stakeholders the opportunity to plan for the future of their Community Forest can create that a shared vision for the Forest. This means that to the greatest extent possible, all needs and desires can be met. Sustainable forestry, recreation, and protection of fragile habitats and natural resources are all possible within the same forest, and collaborative planning is best way to give voice to each element to ensure they all have a place. It’s a holistic approach to forest management, and gives community members a chance to be involved in decisions. If people feel they have a say, they are more likely to want to be involved and to enjoy the benefits of the Community Forest that they helped shape.
4. What is the most challenging aspect of developing a community forest? Most gratifying?
The commitment and passion of the local community in establishing and protecting the Stemilt Community Forest has been really outstanding. Working with the Stemilt Partnership since its inception in 2007 and witnessing the evolution of the Community Forest has been deeply gratifying. Getting to know and work with the wide variety of stakeholders committed to the land and the Partnership continues to be a great experience. The broad spectrum of stakeholders has also probably been the greatest challenge in developing the Community Forest, as competing interests sometimes clash. The Partnership provides a great platform for mediation and an opportunity to collaborate to find solutions that work on the ground.
5. What advice would you give to communities interested in developing their own community forest?
Form a committed partnership that includes land managers, stakeholders, and interest groups to steer not only the development of the Community Forest, but the continued stewardship after establishment. The success of the Stemilt Community Forest depends on the continued commitment of the Stemilt Partnership in addressing issues that will invariably arise, and to address changes that occur in the Forest over time. The work isn’t over once the Forest has been established- long term guidance and involvement from the community is critical to make it truly work.