Our Story

A Journey from Conflict to Collaboration

The team out in the field

In the early 1990s, fierce division and acrimony prevailed in every corner of the natural resources management sector. Lines were drawn in the dirt, lawsuits were filed, and relationships between industry, environmentalist, and government were toxic. The battle was commonly portrayed as "Jobs vs. The Environment."

The conflict made national news when two prominent environmentalists, blamed for the loss of local timber jobs, were hung in effigy on Main Street of a small town in Wallowa County, Oregon. Amidst this crisis over how to manage natural resources, Sustainable Northwest was born.

In the beginning, we had no staff, no office, no funding...only a founder, a small board, and a vision that management of our forests and rangelands could create jobs, strengthen rural communities, and restore the environment.

Our first assignment was to facilitate discussions in Wallowa about the county's future. Some people quietly mocked the term "sustainability" and many were in disbelief when we talked about "collaboration" and "community-based" conservation. These were alien concepts.

18 years later, communities across the region look to Wallowa County for examples of how to manage natural resources in ways that support the community, strengthen the local economy, and restore the environment. Groups like Wallowa Resources, an organization that Sustainable Northwest helped create and fund, are seen as innovators, finding new approaches to conservation and sustainable development. Now we know that jobs and the environment were not incompatible. 

We've come a long way from the days of hanging environmentalists in effigy. We still have a ways to go and even though the challenges remain formidable, we believe we can accomplish as much in the next 20 years as we have in the past 2 decades. And we look forward to you being a part of it.