On September 26, Forterra engaged independent, outside counsel to investigate issues listed by the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe in a letter to the USDA specific to its Climate-Smart Commodities Grant. The work of this external review by the outside counsel regarding the grant application process concluded on November 1 in the form of a written report to the Forterra Board of Directors by Jo Perini-Abbott and Kristen Tranetzki of the Angeli Law Group.
Forterra has shared the external review’s findings with the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe and its partners in the Climate-Smart Commodities Grant. Out of respect for their partnership, Forterra shared the findings with its stakeholders and employees before distributing more broadly and to journalists.
Today’s update includes:
- Embedded is a link to the written report regarding the grant application
- A summary of the report’s general findings, specific areas of concern and recommendations for addressing the report’s findings
- A review of specific actions underway to address systemic issues with its process and protocols
- Statements from Forterra Board Chair Beth Birnbaum and Forterra President and CEO Michelle Connor
Forterra has heard the concerns raised by the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe and the questions broadly shared in our community. Forterra’s Board of Directors and staff are committed to accept what we learn, and to act accordingly. An overview of the report’s general findings include:
- Relating to the overall grant process, Forterra’s pursuit of the Climate-Smart Commodities Grant was in good-faith and driven by Forterra’s mission, without malicious or deceptive intent.
- Forterra’s interactions with the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe did not demonstrate sufficient respect for the Tribe’s status as a sovereign government.
As it relates to the specific areas of concern raised by the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe, the report details where Forterra fell short, including:
- Discrepancies in the quantity and source of timber to be harvested, as well as a clear lack of communication with the Tribe as it relates to quantity and source.
- Failure to clearly communicate with the Tribe on measurement standards and reporting plan used in the application.
- Inconsistencies in language which did not accurately reflect the reacquisition of the Snoqualmie Ancestral Forest.
- Not obtaining the Tribe’s consent to include matching funds in the grant application.
- Providing only generalized statements about the timber expected to be harvested and failure to clearly articulate that timber would be coming from multiple sources while the grant narrative made harvesting from the Tribe’s ancestral forest the dominant narrative.
A full accounting of the findings, methodology and recommendations for changes to better serve all aspects of its mission are included in the linked report.
This external review is specific to the grant application process for the Climate-Smart Commodities Grant. Recommendations in the external review include:
- Improve rigor around grant application process
- Provide transparency to project partners and ensure their informed consent
- Treat Tribal partners with deference and respect as sovereign governments
- Continue building an organizational culture where employees feel safe in voicing concerns and raising questions to supervisors about accuracy of materials
Additionally, over these past four weeks, Forterra has examined its grants process and protocols to identify measures to improve its organizational controls and further its mission. Forterra is committed to addressing systemic concerns raised and working to strengthen organizational controls. These actions include:
- Enlisting outside support to conduct a stakeholder analysis, provide best practices and recommendations for working with community partners
- Participating in a three-part training on how to effectively work with Tribes and Tribal organizations.
- Creating two board-focused ‘task forces’ on best practices for partnership and best practices for Tribal engagement
The urgency of the work Forterra pursues in collaboration with others, and the success of its community partners and like-minded allies is unchanged. Forterra will continue to move forward with resolve.
Statement by Forterra Board of Directors Chair Beth Birnbaum:
“Forterra’s Board of Directors offers an unequivocal apology to the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe. As the findings of the external review make clear, Forterra failed to respect the sovereign rights of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe in the preparation and submission of this grant application. The Board of Directors will be reviewing Forterra’s actions to improve its processes, internal controls and pursue successful collaborations with sovereign Tribal nations as well as Forterra’s community partners.”
Statement by Forterra President and CEO Michelle Connor:
“Our work on this grant fell short of our organizational standards and my personal values. As President and CEO, I offer a full apology to the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe on behalf of Forterra and from myself personally. We are committed to leaning into the findings of the report to inform our broader work and organizational systems. I have enlisted outside support to improve our practices and deepen our understanding of sovereign Tribal governments. How we show up is as important as the outcomes we are working to achieve. We will undertake this work with transparency and in a manner that is inclusive and demonstrates respect for our sovereign Tribal government and community partners.”
Managing Director of Media Relations and Storytelling
Forterra is an unconventional land trust that works across Washington’s communities and landscapes, from the ranches and shrub-steppe of the Yakima basin, to the estuaries, farms and forests of Washington’s coast, reaching more than 100 counties, cities, towns and rural communities. Working cooperatively with people and nature, Forterra drives land stewardship, management and planning; innovative programs and policies; farming and forestry approaches; community ownership opportunities; and development solutions. Visit forterra.org.