Glen Ith’s Enduring Legacy

This week, in a 3-0 opinion, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Forest Service’s use of a deer habitat suitability model was “arbitrary and capricious” because key numbers in the model were altered without any rational explanation. The case is a testament to the persistence of Greenpeace’s Larry Edwards, a Sitka resident, the advocacy skills of co-plaintiff Cascadia Wildlands Project (one of my favorite grassroots outfits for its combination of smarts and passion) and their legal counsel’s (Chris Winter of Crag Law Center) talents.

It is the back story that it is especially poignant to me.

That story begins six years ago, when Tongass wildlife biologist Glen Ith emailed me aerial photographs taken by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game employee. The photos showed on-going logging road construction to access the Overlook project area. Overlook was an old-growth forest timber sale that is prime winter range habitat for Sitka black tail deer. What caught Glen’s eye was that the Forest Service had not yet completed the Overlook NEPA analysis, but had already started building the roads. Turns out that there were several million dollars that Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) had earmarked for Tongass road work; money that if not spent by fiscal year’s end would be lost to the Forest Service, and incur Stevens’ displeasure. Overlook’s NEPA documents were behind schedule, but that didn’t stop the road engineers from moving forward. [NB: The conspiracy to spend the money was broader than the engineers alone, including district and forest-level planning staff, line officers, and contracting officials.]

Glen and FSEEE filed suit, challenging the Overlook and Traitors Cove (another site of illegal “advance” work) road building. It was the first-ever environmental lawsuit by a Forest Service employee. We won. The Forest Service retaliated, suspended Glen from work, and eliminated his job. Several days thereafter, Glen passed away from sudden heart failure.

Early on in our roads litigation, Glen told me that the Tongass was using irrational numbers in its deer habitat capability model. He wanted to cure the errors. We agreed the on-going roads case wasn’t the place to do so, primarily because the issue was not ripe as the timber sale environmental reviews were not complete. Glen said he would try to work internally to fix the modeling problem, but he wasn’t confident he would be successful. He believed the errors were intentionally designed to allow the Forest Service to defend logging high-value old-growth forest habitat.

Glen assiduously documented the problems with the deer habitat model; documents that Greenpeace’s Larry Edwards later found in the administrative records. Glen also administratively appealed the Scott Peak sale on these grounds.

Larry Edwards dedicated this week’s court victory to Glen’s memory.

3 Comments

  1. Well done Andy, and with an amazing reserve and applied discipline to stick to the most basic facts. The rest of the backstory is as voluminously incriminating as it is perversely fascinating. You’ve wisely chosen to leave most of that bureaucratic pathology unexamined along with the rest of the story of forensic pathology filled with tragic character studies more suited to Shakespearean theater, documentaries and novels.)

    A backstory wherein lies all the pathological elements of human nature which fascinated Shakespeare the most: the little voices of conscience silenced in the internal dialogue of personal moral dilemmas created by the little choices made under the psychic duress of implied or explicit threats which cascade down the hierarchical chain of command of an agency long since captured by the same Neoliberal Fundamentalism which has long since infected our democracy, and like most viral infections, results in the death of the host cells.

    But first, it intends to parasitize through privatization’s insatiable appetite for profit taking, feeding on our collective public wealth, to the point of economic and environmental collapse.

    This Corporatism is clearly pandemic, and in this example, presents as an imbedded systemic virus within its host agency. What is an agency but a collection of individual living cells? Only there, within the living cells of the agency, can it be free to replicate. That replication generated with nothing more than a collectively held fear, or a rationalization with an appealing fiction once embraced, gets rewarded with career advancement.

    Meanwhile, all the little daily choices to go along to get along, in order to keep a job, or get promoted, over time, betrays oneself and then others, which then must be justified by repeating fictional accounts to oneself and others, just why those choices were made.

    And there it is, the virology of corporatism. A pathology of parasitism composed of all those little choices stringing out over time forming the tangled tendrils of institutional deceit, the collaborations and partnerships in collusion, the institutional suspension and reversal of personal accountability producing outrageously engineered misfortune.

    Glen refused, in a most honorable fashion, to participate in this pathological process– despite implicit and explicit threats. Glen refused despite enduring severe and outrageous institutional punishment. There is no question that at the height of that institutional punishment, it factored into Glen’s sudden, untimely death.

    Larry Edwards’, Gabe Scott’s and many others’ self effacing character and indomitable spirit applied to the patient pursuit of truth, like Glen’s spirit inspires, represents our only effective immune response to this viral disease. They would be rendered powerless without the very environmental laws routinely excoriated by some on this blog.

    Those who would claim NFMA or NEPA is “not working”, embrace and propagate a pernicious fiction that these laws need to be “improved”, or eliminated altogether.

    This unanimous Ninth Circuit Court decision demonstrates otherwise.

  2. Many thanks to you Andy, Larry and Gabe for honoring Mr. Ith. I did not know Glenn, but the Forest Service retaliation against him is what got me re-involved in Tongass issues.

    It is so unfortunate that whistle-blowers are the primary catalyst for getting to Forest Service to follow the laws of NEPA/NFMA — the people’s collective will and what many Forest Service scientists would love to follow.

    Unfortunately, there is a new paradigm that promotes backroom, power politics using the cloak of collaboration with stakeholders. If successful, it could institutionalize the very problems that Glenn Ith was brave enough to stand up to. It exists under several names — most recently the Adaptive Cycle of Change. This pseudo science ignores the simple solution of putting public stewardship first and agency interest second. It also rationalizes the Forest Service’s long standing and deep disagreement with NEPA/NFMA as the justification to use the stakeholders of choice to promote legislative solutions to divvy up our public resources and maintain the status quo.

    I sure Glenn Ith would strongly disagree with the new paradigm.

    It is really simple stuff, Forest Service, just do your NEPA/NFMA job.

  3. Thanks to Larry Edwards for enforcing the laws of our country. The Forest Service decision to proceed with these timber projects is no different than the decision to drive down the street drunk – it is illegal. I’m glad there’s one good cop left on the Tongass.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>