The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently overturned a lower court’s ruling, declaring that the Forest Service’s Adventure Pass violated the Recreation Enhancement Act (pdf). What I wonder is how the Forest Service thought that the Adventure Pass could pass a ‘red face test’ both in public and in the courts? Moreover, how did their USDA Office of General Counsel legal advisers feel that they could pass that red face test?
Is this yet another example of the Forest Service pushing forward with an initiative without much regard for the law, with both ‘professional arrogance’ and ‘budget protection/maximization’ motivations as backdrop? Finally, where does the Forest Service go from here?
In my book, given the austerity that the American people now face, and will face more squarely in the future, I think it time to talk seriously about what ought the Forest Service to manage for and at what cost, both in terms of direct cost to the US taxpayer and in terms of environmental costs. For me there are plenty of programs to prune, both within what the agency calls recreation and elsewhere. I believe it past time to take a careful look at Forest Service cash flows, sources and uses. Let’s then try to figure out what more and what less to do, and what to do differently.
Fee Demo and Adventure pass discussions are not new to the Forest Service. The Forest Service had a chance to respond to critics of both way back in 1999-2000 on Eco-Watch [Note this link provides a flat file readout of a forum that was largely devoted to fee demo discussion/criticism]. The Forest Service chose to be silent, just as they did with the recent forest planning rulemaking process. See, e.g my Earth to Forest Planning: Get a Blog. In 1999 I could understand their silence, their reluctance to engage in social media discussion. Social Media was brand new and the Forest Service was toying with it.I no longer have patience with their reluctance to engage.
Evidently the Congress did listen, passing the Recreation Enhancement Act in 2004,to replace the Recreation Fee Demo Program of 1994. But the Forest Service somehow thought that it could evade the clear language of the latter Act.
My question is broader than to allege that the Forest Service routinely ignores the Congress and the Courts. My question is, When will the Forest Service engage in public discourse, in public deliberation? And I’m not taking about the many, mostly facilitated, highly spun so-called dialogue efforts that the Forest Service too often employs. [Note: I am a champion of dialogue, when used for deep inquiry. But I'm afraid that the Forest Service is now in the process of turning "dialogue" into another "inform and involve" spin mechanism.]
Footnote on Framing, Blaming
I threw this post together in response to Sharon’s earlier post on this subject. Both posts are examples of what I call The Frame Game and The Blame Game. Sharon’s post frames this as “a problem if the FS can’t charge fees and doesn’t get funding from Congress.” The Forest Service is framed as the victim and the Congress or those who block general fees/contributions are framed as villains. This remains true (or not) whether or not the frame was imposed innocently. My post frames the issue as one where the taxpayer and/or the public interest are victims and the Forest Service is villain. Neither frame does justice to the problem at hand. But, hey, this is a blog and things are “thrown together” quickly.
In both cases—in every case—we ought not to forget that these twin forces, framing and blaming, are almost always at work. And we must never forget that there are plenty of victims (real and imagined) and plenty of us who can rightfully be viewed as villains from time to time. What remains a challenge and an opportunity is to be able to work together toward betterment of the public interest as best we can when we mostly see only our own shadows playing in reflection off the walls of caves that keep our thoughts narrowly confined.
[Note: 2/24/8:23 AM -- I updated this post slightly, in response to a comment]