Pinchot Partners celebrate 20 years of seeking common ground for often-conflicting forest interests


Access to schools and family wage jobs, healthy wildlife populations, trails through towering evergreens, clean air, clean water, an abundance of fish, and wood processed in local mills. 

This is the Pinchot Partners’ goal for the year 2103.

In 2003, this vision of a multi-use Gifford Pinchot National Forest that benefits stakeholders, the environment and the economy seemed unattainable for most. Protections for the old growth forests — especially for habitat preservation for the Northern spotted owl, a “threatened” species under the federal Endangered Species Act — formed contentions between groups rallying for conservation and the timber industry and “effectively shut down timber production in the Gifford Pinchot,” the partners’ website states.

For more than a decade earlier “Save a logger, eat an owl” bumper stickers had been plastered across cars, sawmills and bars in Western Washington. With the rapid decline in timber and U.S. Forest Service jobs forcing families elsewhere, closure of the Packwood Elementary School was imminent.

The Gifford Pinchot Task Force, which changed its name to Cascade Forest Conservancy in 2016, called a meeting of these warring stakeholders in early 2003.

“We're disappointed that the Forest Service's budget continues to decline. Economic needs haven't been met; tourism needs haven't been met,” John Squires, a founding member of the Pinchot Partners, told The Chronicle in 2003, later adding, “All sides are coming to the realization that the system we have now isn't working to the advantage of anybody.”

On Thursday night, in the now-tourist-flooded town of Packwood, inside a new, locally owned brewery, Squires and two other founding members, Randle resident Bill Little and Thurston-Lewis-Mason Counties Labor Council President Bob Guenther, were honored for 20 dedicated years on the board of the organization that continues to find common ground amid conflict.

The aptly named Pinchot Partners have board members from the Cascade Forest Conservancy, the communities of Packwood and Randle, the timber industry, the Forest Service and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe. In 20 years advocating each for often-conflicting interests, they’ve proved Squires correct. They need compromise to move forward. 

Executive Director Janene Ritchie was proud to share a list of wons in a Thursday night presentation as the group celebrated its anniversary at Longmire Springs Brewing. 

She spoke of the collaborative’s early years working with local contractors to examine trees across nearly 50,000 low-elevation acres of the forest to understand restoration needs and lay out timber sales. 

The organization’s advocacy has resulted in over 30 million board feet of lumber going straight to local mills, Ritchie said. Its representatives work on interdisciplinary committees for planning and executing U.S. Forest Service initiatives, organize huckleberry restoration, advocate for road repair grants, and decrease the number of lawsuits that get filed against the Gifford Pinchot. 

Though they celebrated the nonprofit’s 20-year anniversary last week, the group’s sights are still set on 2103. 

One of the Pinchot Partners’ current projects illustrates why: Some of the trees that benefit from the organization’s work toward a healthier forest will long outlive each of the celebration’s guests. Rounds from a 300-year-old Douglas fir tree felled in 2019 will be donated to every high school across Lewis County as a visualization of a historical timeline.  

One of the rounds was on display on Thursday. Born in 1720, the tree predates the name “Douglas fir” by about 100 years.

The project has been headed by Guenther and designed by Winlock resident Denny Larson over several hundred hours, Guenther said. A previous article by The Chronicle about the project can be found at

“I didn’t do well in school. If I would have had that,” Larson said, pointing to the Douglas fir round on Thursday, “rather than a history book, I would have been more excited. Because every one of us in this room, every one of us, is in that log. And anybody born before 2020 is in that log with George Washington, Abe Lincoln. Clear back when. It’s amazing and I hope that will connect. Maybe a few kids will join the partners and help us keep what we have.” 

Read more on the history of the Pinchot Partners at The group’s monthly meetings are open to the public and are held at 9 a.m. on the third Wednesday of each month on Zoom and in-person in Toledo. Email for more information.