Needed: BLM and FS Lobbying Organization? “National Reserve Conservation Association”

Last week I was in DC and got a chance to ask some knowledgeable folks about the spate of “forests to parks” that have been proposed recently and discussed on this blog.

My personal opinion: I’d like all public land managers to have the funding to protect resources and to manage public use as appropriate. It would be fine with me if all the feds were all one agency and shared zoning of what’s OK and not OK to do in a certain place (say “blue” meant OHV’s OK, but no oil and gas). I just think time and funds spent switching agency ownerships on individual chunks of land could probably be spent better clarifying the issues of concern, and looking for areas where the land management agencies are inefficient or duplicate each others’ actions. I know that there are many obstacles to some kind of major change (one agency for all public lands), but even an effort to harmonize regulations would be a step in the right direction. See, for example, this piece in HCN (assuming that the statements are accurate). Here’sthe entire piece from HCN.

According to putatively knowledgeable sources, there were some efforts in the past, which led to an agreement between the Secretaries of Interior and Ag about “no poaching.” I’d appreciate more information on this history from readers if any of you are familiar with it.

Meanwhile the existence of the National Parks Conservation Association (website here) perhaps in and of itself, leads to the concept that “parks are better.”

Here is the information from their website on how and why that group was founded.

NPCA was established in 1919, just three years after the National Park Service. Stephen Mather, the first director of the Park Service, was one of our founders. He felt very strongly that the national parks would need an independent voice—outside the political system—to ensure these places remained unimpaired for future generations. Now, nearly one hundred years later, NPCA has more than 600,000 members and supporters.

Now, my current hypothesis is that if Parks has an independent group that lobbies for Parks, and if FS and BLM don’t have independent groups that lobby for them (we’ll call a new hypothetical group the National Reserve Conservation Association for now (other titles invited)), we would expect that Parks would get more money and attention to change land from BLM and FS to Parks. I like the term “Reserves” because it implies that the land has been reserved for some purpose. This is true of what NPS calls “reserves,” whose management sometimes allows a variety of preexisting uses, including OHV’s (see photo above).

Perhaps the solution is simply to start a lobbying group to balance the effects of NCPA, and to make sure that the taxpayer gets the best deal from the overall portfolio of public lands.

Last week, when news broke that much of West Virginia’s northern Allegheny Highlands might be considered for national park and preserve status, sportsmen raised a ton of questions:

How big would the park be? Would hunting be outlawed? Would trout stockings be curtailed? Who would manage the fish and wildlife? And what would become of trapping, ramp digging and ginseng hunting?

We have answers now for at least some of those questions. Earlier this week, I spoke with Judy Rodd, a spokeswoman for Friends of High Allegheny National Park and Preserve, who clarified some of the murkier points.

The preserve, as currently envisioned, would be pretty darned big – roughly 750,000 acres.

Rodd said it would start at Cathedral State Park in Preston County and extend southward to Cass in Pocahontas County. Its western boundary would start at Shavers Mountain near Elkins and would extend eastward to include current units of the George Washington National Forest in Hardy and Hampshire counties.

“All the lands that would be included in the preserve would be lands that are current state parks or are part of the Monongahela and George Washington national forests,” Rodd explained. “No private lands would need to be purchased.”

She added that only a portion of the land would be considered a full-fledged national park.

“The main units of the national park portion would include Cathedral, Blackwater Falls and Canaan Valley state parks, and some portion of the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area,” she said.

“The Park Service folks have said units of the park could be spread apart like that. The rest of the land in the Allegheny Highlands – the vast majority of the land under consideration – would be in preserve status, where hunting and fishing would be encouraged.”

Rodd said she wasn’t sure if the Park Service would allow trapping on the preserve. However, a subsequent Internet search of several preserves’ websites showed that trapping is allowed on most of them.

The question of ginseng hunting caught Rodd by surprise; she said she “would have to talk the Park Service about that.” As to ramp digging, she harbored a rather strong opinion: “I dig them too, so naturally I would want [that] to be allowed.”

One of the more ticklish questions surrounding the preserve concept would be whether the state Division of Natural Resources or the National Park Service would have primary control of fishing-related issues.

In the New River Gorge National River, for example, DNR officials manage fisheries as they see fit. One sticking point has arisen, though. Park Service officials several years ago asked that non-native fish – rainbow and brown trout, specifically – not be stocked within the park’s boundaries. Stockings continue to this day.

In the state’s mountain highlands, trout fishing is a big issue. Most of the state’s most popular stocked-trout streams and rivers are in the preserve area, and most of the fish stocked are rainbows and browns. Rodd said she didn’t know whether DNR or Park Service policies would prevail.

“That’s too technical an issue for me,” she said.

Rodd said provisions to address any or all of sportsmen’s concerns could be written into legislation that would establish the park.

“That’s a long way off, though,” she said. “The [upcoming] study is called a reconnaissance study. If it finds that the area is unique enough to be included in the national park system, a resource study would follow. And then there would be a period of time to write the legislation and get it passed. Park and preserve status is still years away.”

7 Comments

  1. The Forest Service had a booster club throughout most of its tenure. It was called the National Forest Products Association. The BLM has a booster club; it’s called the National Cattlemen’s Association. If you want to understand the special-interests that “protect” national forests from designation as parks, you need look no further than the extractive uses of timber, cattle, mining and hunting.

  2. Andy- See, I don’t think it’s about “designation as parks”. I think it’s about what uses are allowed and aren’t. For example, the photo above… OHVs and hunting are OK in parks or some parks if they are called “reserves.”

    PS on your list of “extractives” does fishing, firewood cutting, holiday tree cutting, also count?i

  3. Firewood and Xmas tree cutting certainly count as forest uses; they just don’t count as effective lobbying allies on behalf of the Forest Service. Fishing is a fickle friend to the agency, sometimes backing it (e.g., helping convince Congress to spend $ to fix roads), sometimes not (e.g., suing over livestock grazing).

    Public bureaucracies create a web of influence surrounding them. NPCA is part of the Park Service’s web and an effective agency ally on the Hill. The Forest Service has never had a comparable conservation-oriented NGO ally. It has never really wanted one either. The closest the agency comes are the early-seral outfits like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ruffed Grouse Society and National Wild Turkey Federation. These folks bring some money to the table, like their trees small or non-existent, and their roads open.

  4. I find it odd that, these days, a significant amount of people want MORE development in National Parks (to make the experience more “comfortable”), and LESS development in National Forests. Of course, some people are discovering that nothing short of Wilderness or National Park status is “appropriate” protection, in their minds. I use the comments sections of forest articles to gauge the “enlightenment level” of the general public. I have seen little progress in “de-polarization” or acceptance of varied forest management techniques. When some people wish fiery disaster upon rural people, you know this debate is continuing to go backwards.

  5. Andy- I think the problem is not that the FS doesn’t want a “conservation-oriented” NGO. I think that there is a vast common ground of possible support of non-controversial things (like budgets for grazing and minerals administration, campgrounds and trails? we can talk further about what these might be). I propose we generate a list and then do an informal poll of FS people we know and see what they think. If you want to ask FS leadership, I think we could probably do that (or at least a sample) as well.

    My hypothesis is that somehow we (users of national forests) have become divided and been conquered in terms of budget and marketing and quality land and people care. The only way to break out of this spiral is to find some things we agree on and develop an organization to speak out. IMHO.

    PS I am picturing a “dream team” of the Board of Directors of NRCA including you, Andy :), someone from NA Forest Service Retirees as well as others….

  6. Don’t forget about the National Forest Foundation, while they are not able to lobby, they certainly assist the Forest Service by harnessing volunteers and private dollars to move good projects with public support forward. The NPS has a similar nonprofit partner. And the BLM, too, as of late. Also, the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition comes to mind, although they are not, and do not intend to be, a national organization (I’m sure someone else could speak much more knowledgeably about them), but they do engage in lobbying in the interest of agency budgets among other things…. Although what I think you are saying, Sharon, is that the Forest Service and BLM lack a coordinated body to lobby on their behalf and give voice to the (dare I say?) majority of American’s that do appreciate the fact that we have these “reserves” as a legacy we can pass on to future generations.

  7. Thanks, Chelsea, I didn’t mean to leave out National Forest Foundation and all the good work they do. You are exactly right in your interpretation of what I was saying. If the reason to change a piece of ground to the Park Service is because there would be more money to manage that piece of ground with another designation,

    Just imagine if, say, some branches of science belonged to a lobbying organization and others did not. What kinds of research would we expect to see in the federal research budget?

    I do wonder if funding by forest rather than current line items would be helpful also.

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