On Tuesday, April 26th I attended a meeting at the ANF HQ in Arcadia which was one of three initial meetings intended to communicate about a possible non-profit association/foundation focused on supporting the ANF and gathering input from existing volunteer organizations and interested parties. I am going to briefly summarize what I understood of the discussions and include my remarks, which are personal opinions and include both information from other meetings and some deduction about things that were not explicitly stated. Besides myself, attendees included Steve Messer from CORBA, Mark Gage, Tom (Pirana), Bradley (Triple B), Gary Hilliard (Mt Disappointment 50K), Hal Winton (Angeles Crest 100 Run), Richard Nyerges (Bear Canyon Trail Crew), people from other trail work and volunteer groups, in-holders/permit holders, a paid organizer for the Sierra Club, USFS staff (the new Superintendent, Tom Contreas, Marty Dumpis, Gerald Reponen) and others.
The meeting was opened by Kathy Peterson, a retired USFS employee working on a contract as a consultant on the Station Fire Recovery. Nerissa Sintetos, an employee of the National Forest Foundation, [url=http://www.nationalforests.org/]http://www.nationalforests.org/[/url], talked about how the NFF became involved in the Station Fire Recovery and how one of their missions is to support local organizations that are involved in the welfare of the forests. They want to help the ANF community cooperate and become more effective. As a non-profit, they are able to receive funds from other organizations and disburse them to contractors and other organizations in a way the USFS cannot. They are involved this way in the reforestation project. Kathy returned and gave a shortened version of the Station Fire Recovery brief I reported on previously in the “Station Fire Update” thread. She noted that, while the conditions on the ground are very different from the ones described in the latest Forest Plan, the desired condition and goals of the plan remain valid and useful going forward.
Nerissa, Suzanne Avila, the Volunteer Coordinator for the ANF, and Kathy then explained some of the forms that a Friends/support organization could take, some of the questions that come up concerning forming an organization, steps that can be involved, and activities or functions previous internal sessions had envisioned for such an organization. Nerissa noted that the NFF does not take the place of local organizations and does not feel it should engage in advocating for particular viewpoints or advising the USFS on what they should do. There are other organizations that do this. They noted that although the number of support organizations for the National Forests is fewer than for the National Parks, a number of examples exist, the nearest being the San Bernardino National Forest Association. In relation to starting an organization, we would need to decide whether it would limit itself to coordinating the activities of existing and new volunteer/support groups or would in addition have its own corporate status and fundraising activities. Usually, one or a few people have to spend considerable time in the organizing stage, and some source of start up funding is necessary.
The Friends of/Association groups are typically non-profits, which facilitates fund-raising and allows them to channel funds to the USFS indirectly by purchasing land or materials, or paying contractors to perform work. They can help coordinate volunteer efforts. Especially since the Station Fire, the ANF leadership has felt unable to respond to all the offers of help and provide the mandated oversight. A need for a Forest-wide interpretive/education plan has been identified, this is also an area where volunteer help has been and can be used. There are needs for improved communications and data sharing both with volunteer groups and State, County and local agencies.
Paige Van Riper, a local consultant for the NFF then moderated taking questions and inputs from the audience. [u]Some[/u] of the points brought up included: a large need for volunteer coordination, USFS requirements and limited staff are a bottleneck, there is a need for fundraising above current volunteer groups abilities and into the future beyond the Station Fire Recovery, there is a great need and opportunity to educate the public and build wider support for the ANF, there should be an official advisory group for the ANF, and there is a need for better communications.
There was some frustration expressed about groups having volunteers and specific plans to help, but not being able to get permission to work. There was a general frustration with the extent and duration of the closures. There were some questions about where existing groups would fit in with a new, larger organization. I felt there could have been some concern about established roles and boundaries being disrupted by a new organization. That concern would be valid. Existing volunteer groups have years of experience and intimate knowledge of the forest and their constituencies needs. A concern I have is that the largest, best funded, forest advocacy groups might tend to dominate the board and policies of any umbrella organization. It will be important for mountain bikers to monitor this situation and seek representation in any organization which is developed, whether it officially engages in advocacy or not.
I left about 8 during a break in the discussion. I understand from Steve that no specific decisions about future action were made, but there will be email follow up after the last meeting (which was Thursday 4/28).