Dueling Colt Summit Opeds in Helena Paper

Today’s Helena Independent Record included dueling guest columns concerning the Colt Summit timber sale lawsuit, which is the first lawsuit of a timber sale on the Lolo National Forest in over five years.   One oped comes from Michael Garrity, a 5th generation Montanan, who’s the director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.  The other oped is co-written by Keith Olson, director of the Montana Logging Association and Tom France, regional director of the National Wildlife Federation.  The most recent Colt Summit posts from this blog are found here and here.  Click here for the entire Colt Summit archive.

22 Comments

  1. A while back I asked….”To what end?” in reference to Collaboration and the quest for common ground. Why compromise your values?

    http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/working-towards-common-ground-in-idaho/

    It appears the litigants, in this case, are steadfast in their beliefs (for better or worse – no judgement).

    My concerns, however, remain. “Collaboration” is nothing more than pageantry and political posturing. The big name groups are in it for the recognition – to satisfy their organizational needs and generate support for their agendas….to publicize how they are seeking “common ground” over conflict, while the “real” folks (local groups) involved in collaboration are merely along for the ride, hoping to see some incremental change in public land management.

    Yes, the status quo isn’t working, but the environmental groups who choose not to compromise are still (and likely will remain) in control of project planning. It’s great that a project/proposed action has broad public/collaborative support, but there is no mixing common sense and NEPA. Project planning, despite legisative efforts (CFLRA) isn’t a popularity contest, so I’m still wondering why all the emphasis on collaboration? What is the perceived gain?

    NEPA isn’t about content – is the proposed action a “good” or “bad” idea. It is about what can be legally defended and/or supported (by “collaborators” without getting a black eye).

    A NEPA document is crafted to satisfy a veeeeery small slice of the “public” – the routine appelants and potential litigants, who know full well how to manipulate the system. Appeals and litigation attack the process, not the intent…”The FS violated NEPA by…..”, or “The FS violated the APA by……”. It’s about dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s”, not content. Want proof? Ask AWR or WWI or any of the other litigants in the Colt Summit project how many road decom. projects or culvert replacement decisions they have ever appealed. I would venture that the agency could scribble a decision that was frought with NEPA violations on a napkin to decom. a bunch of roads and get no appeal.

    So there has been 99 timber sales on the Lolo since 2005 that haven’t been litigated…how many of those decisions had been appealed? How many acres in those decisions were dropped in appeal resolutions? Matthew? Please publish those statistics as well! Environmental groups are quick to point out how many tax dollars are spent (wasted) on bad projects…howabout asking how many tax dollars are spent responding to comments and crafting decisions that are defensible to appeals/litigations, despite of collaborative efforts?

    Collaborators…what are you really expecting? More? Faster? What???? I’m stumped!

    • I posted this earlier on another “thread??”. It might help to clarify the 99 timber sales. I want to point out that my “critique” wouldn’t have been possible without Mathew sharing the link to the data with me.

      Thanks for the list Mathew. I “saved” this one, fascinating stuff for a “Rain man” to look at.
      However, I want to point a few things out. I think you’re playing a little “fast and loose” with the data.

      #1–26 of the “timber sales” consisted of “10 log truck loads and less.” Several of the sales were for one load.

      #2–It’s neat to see how long the timber sale contract runs. Some of the bigger run for ten years (I suppose some of the HELO contracts got extensions with the current economy). In your “99 active timber sales for the 2005-2010″ statement, you have a lot of “overlap” so to say. You include timber sales that started in 1997 and ended in 2005 and also include sales that started last week and will end in 2016. You’ve got 20 years worth of timber sales in five years.

      #3–currently, there are 10 active timber sales on the Lolo.

      The average timber sale is around 4 MMBF (6 tons= 1 MBF). The Lolo has a five year average of selling around 20MMBF/year. It used to sell 100 MMBF. At the current rate of harvest, the Lolo will log 1.5% of the “forested acreage” in the next decade.

      Thanks for the source Mathew. You didn’t “make it up.” But-I think it’s a stretch. “99″ sure sounds like a lot don’t it.

  2. We cannot consider collaboration to be a panacea for our forest management troubles. When “Plan A” is still litigation and eco-groups reject consensus and compromise, collaboration becomes an educational session. The people involved with reaching consensus need to learn how to use NEPA to get what they want for our forests. They also need to learn that rules, laws and policies are not static, and that improvement is needed to facilitate better restoration. The current process of stewardship has failed, and public collaboration will solidify that idea, Only after the public learns that, can we move on to effective and efficient restoration.

    • Larry, your comment is pretty darn vague, especially as it relates to the very specific issues of the Colt Summit litigation.

      The following information is taken directly from the plaintiffs Summary Judgement Opening Brief. All of the info and dates come directly from the USFS’s own Colt Summit project file. Are you really saying the Forest Service engaging in this type of behavior is OK when planning a timber sale and that the conservation groups who take issue with these USFS actions should just keep quite, say nothing and instead try and reach “consensus and compromise.”

      Again, directly from the Plaintiff’s Summary Judgement Opening Brief on Colt Summit:

      —————-

      …the Forest Service violated NEPA by deciding and directing its staff to issue a FONSI before completing the EA. On September 11, 2009, the Forest Service signed an agreement and entered into a contract with TEAMS LLC in California to provide a “NEPA-sufficient [EA], Decision Notice/FONSI, and project record.” J-1:970.

      The contract also specifies that the agency line officer will provide written approval for the EA and sign the FONSI. See J-1:971. As such, TEAMS LLC was contractually obligated to prepare a FONSI on September 11, 2009 – a year before completion of the EA for Colt Summit. See id.

      Six months later, on April 27, 2010, the Forest Service met to discuss the project and preparation of the EA. See I-8, I-9. During the meeting, the Forest Service explains that the project will “have no significant issues so that a [FONSI]. . .can be written after the [EA].” I-8:926. The Forest Service then coaches its
      staff on how to write the EA to reach a FONSI:

      Working Toward a FONSI . . .

      EA should already have reached conclusions on significance. Write from that point and perspective, providing supporting evidence for no significance. . . .

      The effects are not significant because it is clear there is . . . .No effect, or No Effect on anything important (at any scale that is important) . . ., or Effects are clearly, supportably, on the non-significant side of a reasonable, definable, threshold of significance.

      • Of course, my reply was to JZ’s questions about collaboration, as well as the continued villainization of the collaborative process. Yes, I do recognize the flaws but, I will gladly accept a truly fair system over the current vulnerabilities to the Forest Service. Those most in favor of this broken system are making the most money off of it. The Forest Service is also complicit in this broken system, too. Proposing intensive projects (clearcutting, depending on one’s definition) using economics as an excuse will need to stop. It is very hard to earn trust and consensus with clearcuts.

        • Larry, I think we all welcome a “truly fair system.”

          Many of us view that “truly fair system” to be NEPA and the public process and analysis required of that forward-thinking law.

          I fail to see how “collaboration” – however defined or implemented – is more of a “truly fair system” over NEPA, which is really the great equalizer.

          I’ll take the NEPA process and analysis any day over some of these largely self-selective “collaborative’ processes, which favor larger, well-funded conservation groups, industry and local politicians.

          • When I say truly fair, I mean that everyone gets a full chance to bring their thoughts to the table, and not to bypass NEPA. “Yes, we can” have both! Collaboration was never meant to override NEPA but, it could lead to changed laws, through Congress. All sides need to know that if collaboration fails, then litigation is a certainty. All sides need to know that if litigation fails in producing a compromise, Congress will find a way to make it work, for better or for worse. Meanwhile, forests continue to suffer, the lawyers continue to cash their checks, and the rural poor get poorer.

            • I think the point of NEPA is to analyze environmental effects and to give the public the chance to get involved. Collaborative groups can help develop the proposed action and alternatives. We have to use NEPA so if we collaborate we get both.

              If we have a choice of litigation (plaintiffs and government lawyers in a room for resolution) or a collaborative group (also self-selected but more people at less cost) don’t see why a group of 2 attorneys deciding is more fair than 30 collaborators.

  3. Hey there JZ. Very interesting perspective and thanks so much for sharing.

    You asked, “So there has been 99 timber sales on the Lolo since 2005 that haven’t been litigated…how many of those decisions had been appealed? How many acres in those decisions were dropped in appeal resolutions? Matthew? Please publish those statistics as well!”

    I’m really into numbers and stats of all kinds and personally I’d love to see the Forest Service produce, forest by forest, a very simple accounting of the timber sale program that would include the information you’re asking about.

    The simple fact of the matter is that it’s pretty difficult to even get the Forest Service to produce a simple annual spreadsheet that would include the names of timber sales, location, size (board feet/acres), FS costs to implement, dollar amount of successful bid and whether it was appealed or litigated.

    One would think this information would be readily available and produced annually so the owners of national forests (American people) would have some way to measure the impact/results/costs of the federal timber sale program.

    Unfortunately, as we all know, that info isn’t readily available from the Forest Service. There are many reasons for this I’m sure. Of course it didn’t help that one of Mark Rey’s first steps was to eliminate the TSPIRS report.

    Regarding the Lolo NF info, it’s my understanding that the researcher who put this spreadsheet (http://ncfp.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/timber-sales_lolo-nf-2005-2011.xls) together had to do it by hand talking to each district of the Lolo since the FS doesn’t compile information like this. I too would be very curious to learn how many of those sales were appealed and, if so, how the projects might have changed in the appeal resolution meetings.

    It seems like this would be the job of the Forest Service (ie our federal government) to compile such information. It’s sort of frustrating that we have all these great debates about the federal timber sale program, but for the most part, the Forest Service really does a poor job of sharing with the public critical and substantive (and easy to understand) information about the federal timber sale program. My hunch is that this is somewhat intentional.

    • Matthew, I didn’t remember that Mark Rey had eliminated the TSPIRS report (although certainly I wouldn’t necessarily expect to remember), so I asked Mark yesterday and his memory is that Dave Tenny and Dale Bosworth did it before he was nominated and confirmed.

      They are both around also, so if people are curious about this point or why it was done, I could ask Dave and Dale.???

      • Sharon: Here’s what I’ve been able to re-remember and find concerning the Forest Service eliminating the federal Timber Sales Program information Reporting System (TSPIRS).

        Below is a link to a September 21, 2001 letter written by the General Accounting Office to Rep George Miller and Rep Cynthia McKinney. The subject of the letter is “Financial Management: Annual Costs of Forest Service’s Timber Sales Program Are Not Determinable.”

        http://ncfp.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/d011101r.pdf

        The letter makes it clear that “in August 2001 Forest Service officials told [GAO] they were not going to prepare the fiscal year 1999 TSPIRS report.”

        So, I was mistaken when I wrote that Mark Rey eliminated the TSPIRS. (Sorry Mark). Mark Rey was sworn in as undersecretary for natural resources and environment on October 2, 2001.

        However, that September 21, 2001 letter also makes this statement:

        “As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce the contents of this letter earlier, we plan no further distribution until 30 days from the date of this letter. At that time we will send copies to the Secretary of Agriculture, Chief of the Forest Service, and interested congressional committees.”

        I bring that up because I still have a pretty vivid memory of being at the Farmer’s Market in Missoula on a crisp October morning and walking by a Missoulian newspaper box and a front-page article about the elimination of the TSPIRS report caught my eye. I remember that the article quoted Mark Rey in his position as undersecretary. Unfortunately, the Missoulian website archive doesn’t go back that far. So I think what happened chronologically is that the TSPIRS were eliminated by the Forest Service in August 2001, but the news didn’t go public until October 2001, after Mark Rey was sworn in and a few weeks after the September 21, 2001 GAO letter above.

        • Interesting.. I am intrigued by George Miller’s and Cynthia McKinney’s involvement as I worked on a House staff in 1995 and don’t remember either of them being very active in public lands issues, especially McKinney. Odd thing for them to have taken up.Must be more to the story-perhaps some groups behind the scenes?.

          • Well, George Miller was Chairman of the US House Resources Committee from 1991 to 1995, and served as the Ranking Dem Member of that Committee once Don Young took it over. So, that certainly qualifies as being “very active” on public lands issues. McKinney was also very involved with national forest and public lands issues. She and her staff really took up the cause of ending the federal timber sale program and logging subsidizes and redirecting that money towards bona-fide restoration. She was the lead sponsor of the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act, which was around from the late 90s until about 2004 or so.

  4. Mathew said above: “The simple fact of the matter is that it’s pretty difficult to even get the Forest Service to produce a simple annual spreadsheet that would include the names of timber sales, location, size (board feet/acres), FS costs to implement, dollar amount of successful bid and whether it was appealed or litigated.

    One would think this information would be readily available and produced annually so the owners of national forests (American people) would have some way to measure the impact/results/costs of the federal timber sale program.”

    Now there’s our “zone of agreement.” It bugs me that the state of Montana publishes the “bid results” on timber sales but the USFS doesn’t. Maybe it’s on “FEDBIZOPS”-but I don’t want to wallow into that for a weekend. It should be posted on the individual forest websites.
    Sharon-could you make a phone call and make that happen(just kidding)?

    PS-The “Ouchita” does publish this info.

  5. Derek- on my visit to DC two weeks ago, I made an impassioned speech to one FS person and one academic about your idea of showing changes in vegetation from projects each year.
    We’ll add timber figures and the vegetation changes to the People’s Database idea.

    A number of years ago my colleagues and I worked to get a consistent approach to the Schedule of Proposed Action or (SOPAs) across the country so people could easily find projects. Due to the decentralized ideology of the FS, this was no small feat. I can appreciate that these things are hard, but I think they’re worth doing, especially when data is everywhere and just needs to be reported in a way that’s easy to find and use.

    • Thanks Sharon. You ARE the face of public service.

      Here’s something else the USFS could put on the “People’s Data Base”: how many acres in the individual national forest (example:Lolo)is in the WUI. And most importantly, what “percentage” of the individual forest is in the WUI, and the most important “what percentage of the total WUI is being treated annually.”
      (REmember, big numbers mean nothing-only percentages can lead us to perspective)

      The tough part, as you know, comes in preventing “duplicate acreage reporting.” Which is the norm for monitoring reports. AS in commercial thinning an acre one year, then “pre-commercial” thinning the same acre the next year, then “slash pile burning” the next. But then the FACT’s data base should enable one to limit it to the individual stand.It has to be kept track of at the individual stand level and not as an “output.” Somehow.

      PS-like the name “Peoples Data Base.” A little “chairman Mao’ish” maybe-but I like the concept.

      • Hey Derek, I am a graduate of the University of California Berkeley School of Forestry (from the 70’s, peace.. man) so references to Mao might be hardwired somewhere in my brain ;). I wish a group of say, retirees, would volunteer to start help keep us a list of “data people are interested in but aren’t available” and maybe estimate the costs so the FS could have the info needed to prioritize.

        I don’t believe that the FS is malevolent about data but have never probably consciously prioritized with a process for hearing from people what data they would like to have (yes, FIA has a Blue Ribbon Panel, individual interests do get what they need sometimes, but there are obviously gaps in what people would like to see.)(and yes, maybe they are too expensive to produce but maybe not).

        • Not “malevolent”, just stuck in the 20th Century. I spent about 2 years as the National Coordinator for Resource Information Requirements, when Chris Risbrudt was planning director. I did so because I believe that for trust and collaboration to occur, there needs to be open access to data– ALL data used by the FS to make decisions. I thought that the Agency could accomplish this through standardized corporate data in NRIS- the National Resource Information System. All I got was push back about data security and “giving people all that data will just confuse them.” I gave up and moved on to another job.

          • Not surprisingly we’re still dealing with a lack of a desire to standardize- which means even if we shared it with the public it would be difficult to understand. I agree that the cultural default of “each unit must be allowed to do everything its own way” has serious flaws in this century when people ask us questions above the unit level and we can’t answer.

            • Making data available even if it’s difficult to understand or not particularly useful is important because it helps show that the FS has nothing to hide. Aside from that, a corporate approach to data would save millions of dollars, making NRIS one of the best investments the FS could make– if only it had been implemented correctly. Instead, millions have been wasted and the public still doesn’t trust the Forest Service.

              I once required a district silviculturist to make her field notes available to a potential appellant, pointing out they were not “her” notes, they were the US Government’s. Yes, the potential appellant did not understand them, but they decided that we weren’t trying to hide something from them and subsequently did not appeal the decision.

  6. A lot of good substance above…thanks

    To clear up a couple things…despite what I write, my intention is not to “villify” collaboration. In fact I’m a “collaborator” myself, in it up to my eyeballs. I’m also a true skeptic, so bear with my questions and test of your convictions.

    Seems that “clearcutting” is one of those terms that eco groups and others like to use to polarize their arguments. And why not?… the term itself conjures up all the perceived evil of forest management. What about “variable retention regeneration harvest”, which is supported by science? Eco groups are quick to point out that this equates to “clearcutting”, which is far from the truth…in fact through “collaboration” the agency has strived to better define their intentions (at least in my experiece) and better define what is being planned. No need to get too far into the weeds here but regen harvest (termed “clearcutting”) isn’t all bad in all places. There are a lot of talented folks in the agency who just want to do their jobs..produce some logs and create better conditions than what currently exist without the creating negative effects that past harvest has created (if any).

    The problem, as I pointed out is that no matter how much the agency develops a project around collaborative input, the NEPA process and document still has to be developed to satisfy the appealants/litigants, who choose not to help design a project to be socially acceptable, environmentally desireable and economically feasible. It’s defintinely easier to throw stones than participate in project development. Kudos for sticking by your values but what hapens when appeals/litigation fail and the agency gets to proceed with some “horrible” proposed action? Wouldn’t it have been better to be involved in project development prior to NEPA, where it would have still been possible to infuence what was being proposed? THAT’s what collaborators are trying to do….

    Sure the NEPA process ensures comments are considered from ALL publics, but this is AFTER the proposed action is developed….why not acknowldge that the agency is, and will continue to develop projects that (for lack of a better trm) LOG/CUT TREES from National Forest Lands. Why not contribute PRIOR to development of a proposed action…because it equates to “collaboration”???? Sillyness!!!

    Matthew, while I agree that the agency needs to better track timber/appeals, etc, I will throw your response back at you…appellants have all the same records the agency does and uses them to report out to their constituencies. Ya’ll know full well what you’ve “won” and can display it easier than the agency can. Unless you want the Agency to do it and cost the taxpayer more money, since that seems to be a common appeal point.

    Perhaps you could spearhead a FOIA request to document the agency person hours spent responding to comments, appeals, litgations, etc.and then a joint a cost/benefit analysis could be prepared to determine if the person hours spent collaborating are worth it?!?! Seems like a good idea for non-collaborators to initiate, although the results could obviously be skewed.

    Larry, litigation is certain despite (to spite) collaborative efforts. Changed laws would be great, but not likely in the near future. Until then, collaboration is a great and politcally appetizing solution to increased forest management and all that ails the rural west. The problem is that collaborators have (in my estimation) an unrealistic expectation of what the agency can produce in light of the above…which set the agency up for continued failure and continued poor PR…serving too many masters.

    At risk of becoming a broken record here….I’ll continue to ask…”to what end?”

    • Again, we cannot expect collaboration to work miracles. Who knows how long it will take to educate the public, and give them the tools to advocate active management of our forests? They need to know what kinds of actions are available and what kinds need strict NEPA compliance. It will take time for communities to learn how to push for desired outcomes that pass the NEPA filters. Ditto for the lawmakers, concerned with economic stability. Sometimes, it almost seems like some people push for projects that are likely targets for litigation, enhancing the hidden profits that eco-lawyers, and their groups, thrive upon. It’s no wonder that collaboration is painted as a “boogeyman”.

      Also, regarding clearcutting”, name-games are being used, like you said. I have also seen the term “virtual clearcutting”, meaning that all trees smaller than the diameter limits will be cut. If the small clearcuts (less than 5 acres) have a silvicultural value, then I’m fine with it. If the clearcuts are used for their economic value, like the Quincy Library Group, I’m not onboard (although those aren’t really clearcuts, saving trees bigger than 30″ dbh). “Regeneration cuts” are certain to generate litigation, as the preservationists don’t buy into the silviculture behind them.

      Until people learn about the limitations of NEPA, we need to take “baby steps” before we can make significant progress towards true restoration, of the site-specific kind.

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