Jobs vs. Owls.
Dams vs. Salmon.
The Economy vs. The Environment.
How many times have we seen these dichotomies featured as the subject of television and newspaper coverage? Debate over the economy and the environment has reached a fever pitch in the Northwest. The tension between economic development and environmental protection, which has existed for decades, is intensifying in the face of recent population growth, faltering rural economies, and increasing public interest in protecting the quality of the environment. And media coverage has perhaps exacerbated the sense of polarization.
But throughout the Northwest, what has escaped such attention is the fact that a growing number of rural community residents and environmentalists are working together to try to reconcile the desire for economic vitality and environmental quality. Residents are forming groups to advance simultaneously the health of their communities, economies, and ecosystems. In short, they are going beyond polarization.
Working to facilitate that goal are the researchers of the Northwest Policy Center, a unit within the Institute for Public Policy and Management of the UW's Graduate School of Public Affairs (see Institute for Public Policy and Management: Speaking Most Urgently to Regional Needs). A report on Beyond Polarization: Emerging Strategies for Reconciling Community and the Environment by center researcher Kirk Johnson, identifies a range of community and environmental initiatives that are underway and describes the tools, strategies, and models being tried. The report seeks to reduce duplication of effort and to help communities and environmental organizations learn from each other's successes and failures in this arena.
Another publication of the Center, Building Forest Wealth, is influencing policy and practice in the Northwest and beyond relating to the management of our forests.
Traditionally, the pursuit of economic and environmental goals in forest management has been seen as a zero-sum game, notes Johnson, co-author of the report. A gain for the forest products industry is a loss for the environment, and vice-versa. But many stakeholders in the debate are beginning to believe that economic and environmental goals must be joined, or both ultimately will suffer. One of the key policy tools for advancing this union is the use of economic incentives for environmentally-beneficial behavior.
Building Forest Wealth outlines specific incentive proposals: among them, reforming forestry taxation, increasing regulatory stability, enhancing landowner education and technical assistance, improving and expanding federal forestry incentive programs for small landowners, voluntary conservation easements to conserve productive forest lands, and technical, financial, and marketing assistance to expand the value-added and specialty forest products sectors.
These two reports pertain to the Center's research thrust on community and environment, just one of its five major research themes. Research also focuses on understanding the regional economy, creating an entrepreneurial economy, revitalizing nonurban communities, and preparing the workplace and workforce of the future. The Northwest Policy Center was created in 1987 with a grant from the Northwest Area Foundation and works to improve public strategies for maintaining a vital economy and a healthy environment in Northwest states.