The drive from Seattle into the Cascade mountains quickly plunges into dense, green tunnels of evergreen forest — and just as rapidly, reveals patches where the forest has been cleared. Nestled among the trees is the small town of Darrington. A church welcomes visitors with a sign made from a saw blade. Its high school mascot is “the Logger.” And for more than a century, its residents’ lifeblood has been timber.

Logging has put Darrington squarely on the frontlines of rural conservation battles. Things reached a low point in the early 1990s, when environmentalists and timber companies fought over how much, if any, logging should take place on federal forests. Then, in 1994, the federal government quickly passed the Northwest Forest Plan, covering over 24 million acres in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The largest forest and ecosystem management plan in the nation, the policy has safeguarded streams, salmon, and old-growth forests — now crucial for climate change mitigation. Since then, very little management has taken place on federal forest land in Washington. Forests have grown too dense, becoming unhealthy and susceptible to catastrophic wildfire.

And communities like Darrington suffered. As logging dwindled, residents left for jobs and amenities elsewhere, and businesses closed. Today, the population hovers around 1,100 people, and the median income is around $37,000 per year. The majority of people with jobs have to commute out of the area, often for more than an hour.

As the Northwest Forest Plan gets updated this year, community-based groups like the Darrington Collaborative are working to show how conservation can more successfully co-exist with rural communities. They hope to find new solutions for other towns surrounded by federal forest land.

The Darrington Collaborative formed in 2015 to modernize ecological practices and innovate in ways that wouldn’t leave anyone behind. Its ten members include representatives from timber companies and environmental groups like The Wilderness Society, as well as key civic leaders like Darrington mayor Dan Rankin. Since then, the group has launched multiple demonstration projects. Each shows how management techniques can work in practice — like restoration thinning, which involves managers helping forests become more diverse and clearing space for remaining trees to grow.

Read the full article about collaborative approach to conservation at Grist .