Illegal ‘Adventure Pass': What were they thinking?

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.

A Flashback
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]

13 Comments

  1. Dave- I don’t think it’s productive to say I was making someone a villain. I was curious why if the situation is as bad as it appears to be, someone hasn’t thought up a creative solution to harness the interest, energy and enthusiasm that exists, to yield a setting for recreation that we could all be proud of – as proud as we are of Park Service facilities.

    I don’t see the world as full of villains or victims – I see us all as beloved children of the Spirit who don’t always know the best way forward, and are stumbling together toward a better world.

    • Maybe it was not your intent to make anyone out as a villain. But once words hit paper, there is an interesting thing that happens: they take a life of their own. Framing is important, and we all need to think hard sometimes as to how our frames will be interpreted. Whether our art form is prose, poetry, or camera shots, framing is important. I apologize if my words might have indicated “intent” on your part. That was not my intent. Instead, I thought that your frame was structured innocently, but structured in a victim/blame way nonetheless.

      I updated the post (slightly) to reflect this. One thing that posting this up did for me was to rekindle my anger at those in the Forest Service who brought this particular abomination on the scene. We can have free access to, say, the Smithsonian, but have to pay to see what nature wrought in our national forests, even if we just stop to take a picture? And it rekindled my anger at the arrogance of institutions that refuse to address their critics.

  2. Dave- I have to pay to take a picture in Rocky Mountain National Park, so I don’t think that the Smithsonian is the most appropriate comparison. They’re all public lands.

    You raise an interesting point of “the arrogance of institutions that refuse to address their critics”. Seems to me like FS people address their critics at public meetings, in response to comments and in appeals and litigation. Are you thinking of another venue for this kind of discussion?

    Do you have examples of agencies or organizations that address their critics in a way that you would consider a model?

    If I were “blaming” which I don’t think I was, I think the answer is to use “I statements” about my own feelings.

    I feel that there aren’t enough recreation dollars to do a good job of managing FS recreation.
    I like the idea of more money coming from somewhere, either volunteers or the US Congress.
    I believe that every organization probably can improve in how it manages money and the FS is no different.

    I don’t see the FS as a victim or others to be blamed, we are all part of a system, trying to do our best, that for whatever reason is not working (my opinion). We have identified the major pressure points to make things work better, more money, more volunteers, improved management. We could work on them all at the same time.

    • Sharon,

      You say, “Seems to me like FS people address their critics at public meetings, in response to comments and in appeals and litigation. Are you thinking of another venue for this kind of discussion?”

      Yes… Like social media forums. If people in the agency can’t/will not do so, the agency (and other gov agencies) ought to follow the lead of the NY Times and have an Ombudsman who will do so. In 2000 when so many clamored for a response from the forest service on forest service-sponsored forums, I had to ask them for patience. Since then, the FS has only put up fake forums (e.g. the so-called blog on the planning rule) and given no avenue for working through tough problems via social media. The problem with the other two types of “response” (i.e. in meetings, and in response to appeal or litigation) is that there is almost no venue for “learning.” No “give and take” that is the stuff of conversation, of dialogue. At least in forums like this blog there is a chance for learning.

      You will see this weekend (in a post I’m preparing) my learning from our little chat on this blog post, when I reframe both my “take” and my interpretation of your “take,” following the lead of author Kathyrn Shulz’s BEING WRONG. My whole framing thing is a good example of me falling into a common trap that Shulz identifies. More when I get the post done.

      Do I have examples from other agencies where they do it better? Yes, consider my plea for the FS to wake up from 2007 titled, Blogs and Wikis: Learning from the CIA.

      • Scheduled hours of a chat room could allow the public to ask questions and get links to find more information. An experienced moderator could have an array of “macro” commands to display links to common answers. Maybe have a few two hour sessions to ask specific questions and allow civil discussion. Of course, the moderator would have tools to silence/expel those who don’t chat well with others.

        • Sharon asks, “Did they do what they were proposing?” Who? The FS? Or the CIA? The FS did finally create a blog re: the 2012 NFMA rule, but they never bothered to use it for anything resembling blogging. The CIA. Dunno? I’ll check it out. BTW. We can check out most anything these days, what with Google, WikiLeaks, etc. But we have to be careful what we find, ’cause some of it “just ain’t so.” So too with blogs, or mainstream media, government-speak, and so on.

        • According to Wikipedia, on a page titled “Intellipedia,” the CIA is very well aware of the power of blogs and wikis and uses wikis, and encourages the use of blogs in training sessions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intellipedia

          Here’s a snip from the article:

          “As of April 2009, the overall Intellipedia project [wiki] hosts 900,000 pages edited by 100,000 users, with 5,000 page edits per day….

          “Several agencies in the Intelligence community, most notably CIA and NGA, have developed training programs to provide time to integrate social software tools into analysts’ daily work habits. These classes generally focus on the use of Intellipedia to capture and manage knowledge, but they also incorporate the use of the other social software tools. These include blogs, RSS, and social bookmarking. The courses stress immersion in the tools and instructors encourage participants to work on a specific project in Intellipedia. The courses also expose participants to social media technologies on the Internet.”

          And, of course, our super-spooks monitor closely social media commentary. Who’s watching? The CIA, NSA, FBI, etc. See, e.g In the News: CIA Uses Social Media as an Intelligence Tool, 11/7/2011 (here: http://402webpage.com/?p=320) for more, including some interesting links that I’ve not yet looked at to NPR, The Atlantic, Slate, The Washington Post, etc.

          • Don’t forget about Obama’s desire to have an Internet “Off Switch”. Yep, of course, “it’s for our own good”! Also, the Clinton Administration passed a law saying that “all present and future forms of electronic communication” must be able to be monitored by the government. I rather doubt they have the enforcement tools for THAT!

          • i’d like to see how it works.. but it sounds like it is internal to spook agencies.. I think you meant something more open? This could run into problems with needing statements to be cleared by appropriate higher level officials. It would be interesting to observe an agency that had found some kind of balance with that…

            • I always found it ironic that the CIA, rather than, say, the USFS, would be among the first to champion/use Blogs/Wikis. After all, the Forest Service always talks a good line about “collaboration.” Not so the CIA or the NSA. Still, it is interesting to see the CIA using wikis (maybe blogs) at least internally. And I believe that they ought to take advantage of the technology “in dialogue” with the broader world. But then, it gets hard particularly in their arena, since it’s a MAD world of “Spy v. Spy v. Spy,” etc.

  3. Excellent post Dave.
    You’ve cut to the chase on a complex issue and exposed the roles and holes (rabbit holes, that is) of blame and frame. It has given me pause, and prompted reconsideration of my own choices of rhetorical devices.

    To my sensibilities though, you’ve cut to the bone the most important reference to causation of these issues — which is “austerity.” Austerity was chosen as “word of the year” by Merriam Webster in 2010 and it deserves further inspection here.

    You are decidedly correct, we “will face (the crude realities of austerity) more squarely in the future.”

    The neoliberal project, like irreversible catastrophic climate change, does not have to be an inevitable predicament. We just need more people alerted to these issues, and we need to press these issues with people like Sharon, who has this amazing capacity to say something in this post like,

    “Dave–I don’t think it’s productive to say I was making someone a villain.”

    and in a recent post congratulate a like-minded predator, of an environmentalist being charged for a stupid act painting over marked trees to improve his view,

    “Bob, I think your pedophile example is a good one.”

    • An in-depth documentary of what we face and how it was accomplished, and where we’re headed:
      “Inside Job”
      “Narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job is the first film to expose the shocking truth behind the economic crisis of 2008. The global financial meltdown, at a cost of over $20 trillion, resulted in millions of people losing their homes and jobs. Through extensive research and interviews with major financial insiders, politicians and journalists, Inside Job traces the rise of a rogue industry and unveils the corrosive relationships which have corrupted politics, regulation and academia.”

      You can view it online here:
      http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article30635.htm

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