New Research: Who Litigates, Who Collaborates and Why?

A few years ago I received a phone call from from a researcher conducting a study about grassroots environmental organizations’ attitudes and behaviors toward ‘collaboration’ in national forest management.

Caitlin Burke, Ph.D., with the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University wanted to know about the factors that affect state and local environmental groups’ participation in collaboration, and how that affects representation, diversity, and inclusion in collaborative processes.

Burke set out by collecting data from eleven western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming), conducting a survey of 101 environmental groups that addressed forest-related issues and operated in the study area.  The survey gathered information about the organizations and their attitudes and behaviors toward collaboration, to test relationships between organizational characteristics and strategy choice.

Next, Burke did case study research of four organizations operating in US Forest Service Regions 4 and 6.  Fourteen interviews were conducted and various archival documents were analyzed to examine in greater detail the correlations between organizational characteristics and the choice of collaboration or confrontation.

Burke’s full research (all 268 pages of it) is available here.  A more accessible summary of the research findings can be found here.  In Burke’s own words, below are some snipped paragraphs from that summary based on her extensive research:

“The results show that large, more professionalized organizations and those with multiple values use a collaborating strategy; small, less professionalized organizations and those with a single environmental value use a confronting strategy. In other words, collaboration is not representative of all environmental groups – smaller groups and more ideological groups are not involved. This research serves as a caution to those who would use, or advocate the use of, collaboration – its use must be carefully considered and its process carefully designed to ensure the most balanced representation possible.”

“If smaller, more ideological environmental groups are not involved in collaborative decision-making, then collaboration is not representative of all affected interests and collaborative decisions do not reflect the concerns of all stakeholders.”

“Given the rocky history between environmental groups and the US Forest Service, it will be hard for the Forest Service to build relationships and trust as it initiates or participates in collaboration. Moreover, given that collaboration does not ensure representation by all interests, it will be hard for the agency to create representative and participatory processes. Finally, given non-collaborators’ reliance on law and regulations to participate in decision-making, the agency will continue to meet resistance to efforts perceived as undermining the statutory framework for environmental protection”

It goes without saying that Burke’s new research certainly provides some additional – and well researched – food for thought on the topic of ‘collaboration’ and how it’s impacting everything from national forest management, politics and public policy, to the relationships between various environmental organizations. Without a doubt, Burke’s research and findings should be required reading for those currently engaged in collaboration and those interested in the future of national forest management.

34 Comments

  1. “Small, less professionalized organizations and those with a single environmental value use a confronting strategy”

    So Matt. If you were a project leader on a controversial project, how would you engage these groups that are opposed to your plan/project? What methods are you proposing to use if a collabrotive approach is not avaliable to you?

    Sidebars: This hypothecial project is core to your organizations mission. Not implementing this hydothecial project would be irresponsible given your mission.

    Thoughts?

  2. Hey there Smokey. I’m a little confused by your question, combined w/ the sidebar.

    The question asks me what I’d do if I were a project leader on a controversial project, how would I engage these smaller groups, right? So I assume you want me to play the role of the FS there?

    However, in the “Sidebars” you write: “This hypothetical project is core to your organizations mission. Not implementing this hypothetical project would be irresponsible given your mission.” To me, with your references to “your organizations mission,” makes it seem like I’m also one of these smaller groups? So I’m confused with your hypothetical situation.

    Anyway, off the top of my head, if I was a FS project leader of a controversial project I’d follow the NEPA process and all that following that process adequately encompasses. That would include gathering comments from the public and doing a couple of field trips to the site. I’d also make sure that the other FS staffers working on the project analysis incorporate the latest science and research and adequately address all of the issues and concerned raised by the public during the process.

    [As an aside, I was once told a story from a high-ranking FS employee that basically, in their opinion, any 18 year old freshman at the U of Montana had more and better access to the latest scientific and research periodicals, journals, etc than most of the scientist in the FS working out in the district ranger stations. This source said he was amazed that the FS refused to even sign up for some of these periodical and journal databases. I also have been amazed at how many of these Forest Service/government scientists only have undergraduate BS degrees and how few of them actually have PhD's in their science area of focus.]

    You also stated, in your hypothetical that the smaller groups would be “opposed to your plan/project”…but that’s a broad statement that isn’t true.

    Let me use the much-discussed case of the Colt Summit Timber Sale as an example. There is plenty of bona-fide restoration work that the plaintiffs support. They have repeatedly stated this fact publicly, but it’s largely just ignored (I would argue for political and PR purposes). Besides, the Forest Service already has a bunch of the Colt Summit restoration work under contract and moving forward. That’s been the case since Sept 2012. It’s not impacted by the lawsuit.

    Also, while the ‘collaborators’ who filed the court brief in the support the Colt Summit project make it seem like the plaintiffs didn’t take part in Colt Summit project development, the truth is that the plaintiffs fully participated in the NEPA process.

    They sent in very substantive, detailed comments at every step of the way. They meet with Forest Service officials in person, over the phone and participated in field trips to the Colt Summit project area. They provided the Forest Service with some new research related to the issues at hand. What’s sort of ironic is that I’m pretty sure that some of the ‘collaborators’ who filed the amici brief in support of the project didn’t actually submit comments of their own during the NEPA process. Go figure.

    Anyway, I hope I sort of answered your question. If not, let me know. I hope people do take a look at this new research from NC State.

    • Thanks for the response Matt. I apologize if I wasn’t very clear. Maybe I can refine my original question here…

      Ok. Hypothecicial situation refined. The Wildlife Habitat Alliance is planning a project that has been planned in cooperation with the USFWS to improve wildlife habitat and reduce fuel loading around a small town in rural Montana by implementing this thinning project . By all accounts, the project looks great on paper. The project objectives will meet its goals, you have support from local residents, the local fire department compeletly supports you, etc. It’s a perfect project to help fullfill the mission of your organization. In fact, not implementing this project would be irresponsible to you mission. You are the project leader. Because you are in cooperation with the USFWS, you need to complete NEPA.

      Regarless of all the great things about the project, there is a small local mushroom hunters association that have used this area for generations. There interests will directly be effected by this project. They don’t want to collabrate with you at all. They just don’t want to see the project happen…at all. They think it’s a horrible idea. They are threatening to sue to stop the project from implementation.

      Now, NEPA doesn’t say anything about making people happy. How would you as a project leader deal with this group of mushroom pickers concerns that doesn’t want anything to do with collabration? You have listened to their concerns and read all of there written comments, but there is no way that you can stay true to your mission and met the needs of this group?

      My question, as previously mentioned; What methods are you proposing to use to engage this group if a collabrotive approach is not avaliable to you?

      Hopefully you get my question…thoes mushroom pickers can be a rowdy bunch ;)

      Cheers.

      • “It’s a perfect project to help fullfill the mission of your organization. ”

        Do you think it’s possible for the mission of the organization to become corrupt? Or, what about the organization hiding behind its stated mission to pursue other outcomes (say for example its own bureaucratic growth and expansion)?

  3. Collaboration, provided there is some give and take from all sides is the only way forest management can ever go forward. All sides need to be informed. All sides need to make themselves heard and all sides need to listen with the expectation that compromise is possible.

    Given that statement, we who oppose a project known as the Goose Project in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon have the belief that we been sold short.

    There was an obscure legal notice placed in a distant paper and, those who registered for information in general were notified of the plans for this project. The net result was, the entire community which is surrounded by this project was uninformed of it’s existance. This project was planned with virtually no collaboration sought from the inhabitants of the community. When we found out that the project was imminent, we were told by the FS that the decisions have been made and if we have specific concerns, they will be willing to hear from us. The project manager states that the FS went well over and above it’s legal requirement to notify the community. They even sent out some postcards to those who had specifically asked to be notified. (interested parties in his words)

    So, we have now known for less than a month that this massive project is at our doorstep and the FS wants us to let them know what specific concerns we have. They have had years to prepare themselves for the answers to our questions, we have had weeks to come up with the questions to ask.

    Given that the FS did not have an independent EIS on this project, rather they compiled a biased EA of their own and given that they allowed virtually no public collaboration in the preparation of the assessment (other than some hand picked individuals – 4 of them I think) AND kept the whole thing secret until the project was ready to commence, the whole idea of collaboration at this point is a farce.

    A public meeting is scheduled for next Monday, at which the FS will tell us all about their plans and listen to our questions. Excuse us if we feel a little patronized. Don’t blame us if we take what ever legal measures we can find to stop this monster.

    Jerry Gilmour

  4. Matthew suggests that Caitlin Burke’s research provides “food for thought.” I agree. And like Matthew has been trying to hammer home in a few “posts,” collaboration must be done within the legal framework of national forest management. That notion doesn’t escape Burke. This is from the Burke’s dissertation (pdf) conclusion:

    [T]his research suggests three challenges related to the participants and process. First, there is a long history of mistrust between environmentalists and the US Forest Service, so the agency’s use of collaboration is immediately suspect. Even the two environmental groups examined in the case studies that supported collaboration noted the agency has misused and mismanaged collaborative processes in the past, particularly when it came to collaboration mandated by HFRA. This makes it difficult for the agency to build relationships and trust as an initiator of or participant in collaboration. Second, as previously discussed, collaboration does not guarantee representation of all affected interests, as not all environmental groups are able or willing to participate. This makes it difficult to ensure that collaboration is truly representative and participatory. Third, some environmental groups that are not participating in collaboration employ a confronting strategy to influence National Forest decisions. These groups rely on legal and regulatory avenues to shape forest management proposals, and to appeal and litigate projects they consider questionable. This means that, as the US Forest Service undertakes collaboration, it must be careful not to undermine, or be perceived as undermining, the statutory framework that not only ensures standards for environmental protection, but also engages a host of environmental groups that are marginalized in collaborative decision-making.

    If the US Forest Service is going to move forward with collaborative decision-making, steps need to be taken to address these challenges. First, the agency must enter into collaboration openly and honestly. It has to be a supportive participant, willing to relinquish some autonomy and discretion to seek the public good through collaborative forums. It has to create and support appropriate and legitimate collaboration. It cannot abuse the process to side step the law and move projects forward without environmental and public review. If the process and outcomes are not meaningful, participants will feel they have been taken advantage of, and trust in the agency will be lost. Non-participants will have their beliefs confirmed, and mistrust of the agency will be perpetuated.

    Second, the agency and policymakers must uphold the legal and regulatory foundation for public forest decision-making while providing opportunities for collaboration. Environmental organizations that are not represented in collaboration must be able to participate in National Forest management. This means ensuring the integrity of NEPA, and making sure collaborative decisions are open to public scrutiny. (p. 225-6)

  5. Thanks for this Matthew, I look forward to reading all 268 pages. By all appearances, the quotes you’ve captured mirror my years of experience following “collaboration” on the Tongass National Forest and elsewhere.

    Given the genesis of the Tongass Futures Roundtable (TFR) has been proudly claimed as a personal achievement by USFS Tongass Supervisor Forrest Cole, the report’s quotes demonstrate a disturbing confirmation of collusion by corporate foundation funders of TFR acting in concert with the USFS. TFR is a textbook demonstration of the use of the collaboration model (in contravention of FACA regulations) to exclude the more principled grassroots activists — to divide and conquer the regional community of environmental nonprofits. This only furthers the mismanagement of what remains of our rare coastal temperate rainforest.

    Stakeholders redefined: Holders of the Stake placed at the Heart of Principled Grassroots Activism

    The Tongass is largely situated in a recently de-glaciated archipelago which is already prone to fragmentation and endemism. It has genetically-distinct populations of old-growth dependent wildlife at risk due to past intensive clear cutting, and 5000 miles of logging roads– many with deferred maintenance. Because of these existing conditions, the Tongass is put at serious risk by the environmental collaborators at the TFR.

    Here’s why.

    At first glance “Stewardship and Restoration” is something anyone following Tongass management could support. Upon further examination it is being marketed and championed by these “environmental” TFR collaborators. Unfortunately, as we look closer, stewardship is little more than standard silvicultural pre-commercial, and commercial thinning. Of course, legitimate restoration is badly needed after decades of USFS mismanagement here.

    An even closer look reveals “Stewardship and Restoration” is tantamount to environmental extortion because it is being funded by deficit timber sales targeting more old growth clear cutting. Stewardship contracting on the Tongass is being shamelessly pushed by green collaborators at the TFR because they are receiving foundation funding to do just that, even though stewardship contracting allows for up to 100% export of raw logs to the Orient. Of course, the timber jobs that the USFS is claiming justifies the timber sale are also being exported to the Orient as well.

    For a long time, environmental TFR collaborators were well aware of corrupted science being used in USFS timber sale NEPA documents — yet they were absent as plaintiffs in the recent Ninth Circuit Court ruling affirming the USFS has been using corrupted deer models to hide the further impacts of timber sales in already-hammered watersheds.

    Corrupted science, in concert with corporate foundations co-opting the largest regional environmental group on the Tongass, is how “collaboration” gets its traction.

    The sudden appearance on the Tongass of “Big Green” national environmental groups such as The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and The Wilderness Society was curiously coincident with the initiation of the TFR.

    Soon afterwards, it became apparent a major objective of these “stakeholder” groups with voting memberships on the TFR, was working in concert to negotiate “place based” legislation in DC. Trout Unlimited is currently flooding the national sport fishing blogs advancing a concept called their “77 Watersheds” initiative.

    At first glance, the Trout Unlimited Proposal called “Tongass 77″ is a great idea to legislatively fortify protection of important salmon watersheds on the Tongass.

    At second glance, “Tongass 77″ is nothing but a rehashed version of the failed “Devils Club” proposal at the TFR, and protects watersheds which already have mandated stream buffer protections and which the timber industry is not particularly interested in targeting anyway. (The TFR Devil’s Club was a collection of TFR members, including TU, trying to cut the same deal.)

    At third glance Tongass 77 is designed to arrive in the legislative hopper coincident with the controversial legislation referred to as a “land grab” by many residents of the Tongass. The largest private land owner and most notorious native corporation land manager in the history of Southeast Alaska– Sealaska Inc. — is seeking passage of legislation it largely helped write (S.730 / HR 1480). This legislation has been pushed at TFR unsuccessfully for years and has failed because it would further impact already-damaged salmon watersheds.

    Passage of Tongass 77 would allow Sealaska legislation to be packaged in an Omnibus bill via Quid pro Quo Wilderness bill model commonly employed by Collaborationists nationwide and also at the Tongass Futures Roundtable. Trout Unlimited needs to come clean and admit to everyone that this is the end game of “Tongass 77″, up front.

    The quotes you have cited from this exhaustive study of the collaborative model ring loud and clear reflecting the history of the Tongass Futures Roundtable. This example like many nationwide, is first and foremost, a collaboration between corporate foundation agendas and the troubled USFS timber programs. Secondly, this type of collaboration is a model designed to exploit the ranks of some unprincipled environmental groups. Lastly, as long as this model is operating as a non-transparent, exclusive self-selecting membership, it cannot ever hope to achieve the legitimacy it claims to possess.

  6. Moreover, given that collaboration does not ensure representation by all interests, it will be hard for the agency to create representative and participatory processes. Finally, given non-collaborators’ reliance on law and regulations to participate in decision-making, the agency will continue to meet resistance to efforts perceived as undermining the statutory framework for environmental protection”

    I still don’t understand why, say, designing a project with a collaborative group that goes out for scoping and public comment on an EA, would be “perceived as undermining the statutory framework” compared to the FS designing it by itself. It seems like it would be more open than the FS alone but less open than including “everyone.” in the design. “everyone” still gets to comment.

  7. Hi Sharon: I think the answer to your question in your bottom paragraph is that the pre-NEPA collaborative processes lead to predetermined results and the predetermined results all seem to dictate a misplaced emphasis on finding a way to make forest products from so-called “restorative” treatments in the face of overwhelming economic and experiential evidence that this simply does not work. Science is frequently ignored; “fuzzy math” is prevalent. Basically, everyone may get to comment through NEPA but they don’t get to comment on a balanced and thoughtful range of Forest Service projects. The collaborative process is highly exclusive. What this brings to mind is that the Forest Service and the collaborative groups have already gone down the path to an unreasonably narrow range of alternative actions before NEPA even starts. A significant part of this issue lies in the financial relationship between the Forest Service’s private foundation, the National Forest Foundation (NFF), its partner foundations, and the “collaborative stewardship” groups that have sprung up throughout the country.

    There is a serious lack of public (and frankly, fiscal and work) accountability by the “collaborative stewardship groups” on the Tongass who seem to selectively manipulate comments from informal pre-scoping meetings which then are transformed into Forest Service projects that they call “watershed restoration” but really seem to be 99% about cutting trees at significant public expense to feed a hypothetical and unlikely future forest products or biomass industry. I have observed comments on environmental documents elsewhere pointing out that collaborative processes have occurred in a manner that violates NEPA because of its professional integrity requirements, and I agree. Public processes need to be run by accountable public officials rather than groups that have a significant financial interest in the outcome of the process in terms of tax-exempt grants or direct public financing.

    But thanks for noting the significance of the issue on your front page. I am a volunteer board member of a grassroots local organization and the compromises of the “big green” collaborative groups and their regional satellites have done real harm to local communities whose resources are just a give and take in “collaborative timber sale planning.” As the TWS brief and similar activities by EDF in other arenas have shown, they actually make it more difficult for the public to ensure that federal agencies authorizing resource extraction activities follow one of a number of laws passed during the more progressive era of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. This has been a shift from simply wasting public money to actually facilitating harm to public resources. While NEPA is not perfect, like democracy, it is the best system we have for all of its flaws. I am especially appreciative of Matt Kohler’s efforts and he speaks for people concerned about our forests throughout the country. Genuine public process has been significantly undermined by funded collaboration. If the Forest Service wants to be more collaborative they need to do more public meetings and open houses at times the public can appear rather than hosting these collaborative sessions that require money (travel) and time during business hours for participation. I would add that it is often public, NFF money that sends collaborative stewards on trips throughout our region for 9 to 5 meetings during weekdays outside of the public eye.

    As a final note, when reviewing a recent environmental assessment I came across comments from a local hunter who has done independent and extensive field review of “stewardship” projects on the Tongass and he used the term “cross-collaboration” to describe the funding relationships between collaborative stewardship groups and the Tongass National Forest and the resulting projects which he alternatively described as “landscaping” or “ruining the forest again.”

    Cross-collaboration. Priceless.

    Again, thank you Matt from hunters, fishermen and conservationists in the Tongass who share your struggle.

    • Paul, could you please explain to me why collaborative groups “make it more difficult for the public to ensure that federal agencies authorizing resource extraction activities follow one of a number of laws passed during the more progressive era of the Johnson and Nixon administrations?”

      Did the existence of a collaborative group make it more difficult for groups to file a lawsuit on Colt Summit? It seems to me that lawsuits are pretty much invariant to the existence of collaborative groups. :In my (albeit limited) iobservation, lawsuits are based on ideology (let’s get grazing, coal mining, oil and gas, timber sales, outta there..!). Ideologues tend not to participate in collaborative groups. Ergo, collaboration may not change the number of lawsuits at all.

      Anyway, I don’t see the mechanism for collaboration making litigation more difficult.

  8. This is definitely thought provoking. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts to consider.

    First, collaboration is a choice made by each participant. No public land management agency, including the FS, can require participation or collaboration. Therefore, whether or not all groups are represented in a collaborative process is nothing more than an artifact of choices made by the participants and non-participants alike. Perhaps this suggests the importance of continuously earning the trust of participants–and seeking the trust of non-participants–such that they are willing to continue to choose to work collaboratively with each other and with the FS or other land management agencies.

    Second, collaboration is perhaps best understood as being about representation of ideas than about representation of groups (people). We have elections and legislative bodies to handle the goal of representation. Moreover, we have to remember that some people will choose to not participate and, thus, withhold the ability of a process to claim representation of them. A good process, however, will seek to represent the ideas or interests of even non-participating groups. The challenge, however, is that a collaborative process is a learning process fundamentally, not a process of positional bargaining. Again, there are other processes available for those who prefer that approach, including litigation and even legislation. While it is possible for a collaborative process to approximately reflect on or respond to presumed interests of a group or individual who chooses not to participate, it is antithetical to collaboration to allow that choice to turn the process into positional bargaining.

    Third, note that one of the author’s findings is that groups funded by foundations tend to prefer litigation. For some reason, the author found it surprising. Seen in another light, the finding would seem to confirm the existence of a plausible “conflict industry” model where some organizations have a business model based on income from court settlements and on the funding stream that comes from the original foundation and any others who like having someone willing and able to fight the good fight, at least as they see it.

    Lastly, as an optimist and a scientist, I would ask readers to note that, as thought provoking as the work is, it is also retrospective–it look backwards and, thus, reflects more about past battles than current opportunities. Perhaps it might be worth some discussion of what could be, of what might need to happen that would address the challenges and issues identified in the survey results. There’s some good food for thought, as Matt said from the beginning. The author offers up some good starting points in her conclusions. Perhaps there are others worth raising?

    • ‘An Optimist’ says,

      [C]ollaboration is perhaps best understood as being about representation of ideas than about representation of groups (people). We have elections and legislative bodies to handle the goal of representation. Moreover, we have to remember that some people will choose to not participate and, thus, withhold the ability of a process to claim representation of them. A good process, however, will seek to represent the ideas or interests of even non-participating groups. The challenge, however, is that a collaborative process is a learning process ….

      My question to Matthew, to the folks on the Tongass, and the folks in Oregon is: Are we dealing with a “good process” in your specific circumstance? I guess we’ll have to wait a bit to see what Monday’s session brings in Oregon, but in the other two venues, I’ll venture a guess that the answer is “No.” And the reason the answer is “No” is, in part, that the self-proclaimed collaborators are violating a primary rule, highlighted above: “A good process… will seek to represent the ideas or interests of even non-participating groups. The challenge, however, is that a collaborative process is a learning process ….”

      It seems to me that too many missiles are flying toward those who have chosen to take the path of litigation. Patience is a must, it one seeks a collaborative future. And patience seems to be in short supply, particularly on the part of the self-proclaimed collaborators. At least it looks that way to me, as an “observer” if not “an optimist.”

      • If a group chooses not to participate, I would take that as an intention to litigate, myself. Some people might view that as an opportunity to eliminate the group’s point of view but, plans must still acknowledge them with alternatives that sample the range of possible outcomes. I still think that more indepth analysis needs to be done on litigation outcomes, through the “No Action” alternatives. This is a big opportunity to educate the general public (and Judges!) about what is at stake. Budget money is more precious, these days, and we cannot continue preparing very labor-intensive projects, only to have them shot down for “more analysis”.

        While we are at it, what would it take to get those non-participants to come to the table? “Following the law” seems more about interpretation and opinions, rather than “law breaking”.

    • “Optimist” stated:
      “whether or not all groups are represented in a collaborative process is nothing more than an artifact of choices made by the participants and non-participants alike.”

      “Nothing more?” How can you know this to be true?

      And “choices”? We seem to be talking about a VERY different collaboration processes. Critics of collaboration have repeatedly stated here on this blog and elsewhere, the collaboration model is comprised of a “self-selected, exclusive membership.” These are carefully chosen, qualifiable statements of fact — not throwaway comments — and certainly not a condition of an “artifact of choices”.

      Membership of the Tongass Futures Roundtable (TFR) is carefully-controlled by an Administrative committee here on the Tongass National Forest. TFR is staffed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) which has received many millions of dollars from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF), (who also funded, at the time, the only regional environmental group (Southeast Alaska Conservation Council– SEACC). In one grant alone SEACC received $650,000. This was a project specific, restricted grant, with obligations of “deliverables”.

      Because of the terms of the contract of restricted grant funding — it bypasses the grassroots deliberation central to any claim of being a grassroots organization. Because of the nature of the collaboration model, one financially conflicted and constrained ED, acted as if she represented all members of SEACC.

      SEACC DID NOT REPRESENT all environmental voices of the region (nor, the oft-stated community concerns) on the matters at TFR — precisely because they weren’t paid to do that. The SEACC ED’s salary was paid by restricted grants to attend the TFR, and fulfill the grant deliverables. That grant was accepted prior to the BoDs’ knowledge. This ED routinely made votes which the board of directors (and certainly the membership) were never apprised of (couldn’t have been — no time to confer). SEACC’s TFR funder and other foundation reps also have voting seats at TFR.

      This creates a decidedly unlevel playing field and makes your “artifact of choices” a certifiable fiction. There is no opportunity for choice — except to exit the organization which is exactly what many member groups and individuals did. Were they represented at TFR? Absolutely not.

      As someone who “chose” to apply for membership (twice– with three open seats available), on the TFR, and was turned down both times, and over the years spent thousands of dollars of my own money following TFR’s “collaboration” meetings across hundreds of miles of the region, (and even out of state) just to have an opportunity to follow the discussion — and in order to get my 5 minutes of time to present testimony — I find your representation of “collaboration” as if it occurred on a different planet.

      There has been a strictly-enforced (by TNC running the meetings) prohibition of the press or the public of recording ANY aspect of the plenary sessions “in order to ensure participants can speak freely”. This is an insult to the principles of open participation by the public.

      These TFR meetings were held exclusively during working hours on weekdays with one instance of a carry-over into Saturday (with much of the public showing up then to testify). Members of the Administrative committee complained loudly when the public did show up, because it interfered with “collaborative relationship building” of this exclusive membership.

      Further, the minutes (recorded by staff of The Nature Conservancy carefully excluding details of discussions) NEVER included any public testimony made at these TFR meetings.

      That’s right– public testimony was disappeared from the record of these “collaborations”.

      Your optimism in this matter of “collaboration” is not only implausible and unwarranted, but rooted firmly in delusion.

      • David,

        You may have missed my point by taking it out of the surrounding context of the paragraph. Please notice that my entire point includes underscoring the importance of earning trust from participants and non-participants alike during a collaborative process. Its related to what some folks call “procedural justice.” There’s an old saw I often relate to folks: If people don’t trust the process, they won’t trust the outcome and we’ll never reach the “willingness-to-live-with-it” standard.

        The situation you’re describing in Alaska (with which I’m largely unfamiliar and so am simply accepting your description as useful for the purposes of this discussion, but without casting aspersions towards anyone involved) would seem to have fallen short, at least from your perspective and probably from that of some others. Perhaps there’s more to the story and certainly other ways of seeing it. Still, your characterization helps illustrate some of what I’m trying to get at.

        Anyway, I’d ask you to consider the importance of connecting the ideas of choice and trust as part of any collaborative effort if it is to be legitimate and successful. That was my only point and I hope this all helps explain things better.

        If you don’t mind, I have a question for you: What, if anything, would you have wanted or needed to see in the process that would have earned your trust or have allowed you to see it as a legitimate process?

        • Optimist,

          [Update: Whoops, I blew it here by replying to what I thought was my comment instead of David Beebe's, but I'll keep the rest as I wrote it, as if it had been a response to my comment.]

          I just wanted to point out that the Forest Service is once-again in the process of destroying trust rather than building it.

          What, if anything, would you have wanted or needed to see in the process that would have earned your trust or have allowed you to see it as a legitimate process?

          That’s simple: To have had any indication that the Forest Service actually did, or even wanted to, listen to its critics!

          • Ditto Dave’s well-stated point.

            The TFR was designed to split the environmental community and it did. The TFR was designed to achieve a manufactured consensus, and it did– to the exclusion of those who would adhere to principled stands on environmental matters.

            This was evident in many instances, such as when SEACC signed-off on the TFR Biomass Statement and ignored the fact that the Tongass is a world class repository of sequestered carbon containing some of the highest volumes of sequestered carbon per hectare of all our national forests.

            SEACC ignored requests to carefully weigh the scientific evidence of the carbon emissions associated with biomass they were signing-off on, which would accelerate climate change and ocean acidification. SEACC ignored the fact that our region has world class untapped reserves of renewable energy which produces no carbon.

            Now, SEACC is (conveniently) the only environmental representative of an Advisory Working Group on an “Integrated Resource Plan” recommending an unprecedented region-wide conversion to biomass space heating in Southeast Alaska.Our region was devastated by the Pulp Mill Era on the Tongass.

            Enter, with SEACC’s help: the Pellet Mill Era on the Tongass

            Considering we are already seeing ocean acidification threatening our salmon fisheries (impairing the development of coccolithophores, an important staple for out migrating salmon), and in some places in the PNW, oyster spat which can no longer develop in the ocean due to existing acidification, there is poignant irony to SEACC’s current deal-cutting to protect salmon watersheds.

  9. You know, what I am hearing is that some might prefer an actual FACA committee just because it is run by known parties (the FS) and the activities are public and transparent and scheduled when people can participate..

    We described the Black Hills FACA committee here…http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/wanted-a-forest-advisory-board/ and here http://ncfp.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/forest-advisory-boards-history-and-future/

    What do those with concerns about collaboration think about that approach?

    Maybe there is some kind of hybrid approach?

    • Exactly! When thinking about a collaborative approach, it isn’t “either/or,” it’s a “both/and” world. In a sense, a hybrid approach is the only approach, even if a FACA committee isn’t always part of the mix.

      One way to think about it is to imagine a collaborative approach to a land management project that requires NEPA compliance. Regardless of the overarching collaborative approach, there are still formal requirements for public participation, review, and commenting that must be met, there are technical evaluations to complete, and there are always courtrooms available. So, even without a FACA committee, there’s typically a combination of venues in play.

      I would suggest that the new challenge we all face is to learn to adjust our thinking. We can all do a better job of making those formal processes more collaborative in appropriate ways. Similarly, just because some participants choose to participate through only formal or judicial venues doesn’t mean that the entire process is no longer collaborative. And, just because some activities, like technical evaluations, occur through appropriately non-collaborative ways, we can find ways to integrate those activities into that overarching collaborative process without compromising the collaborative nature.

      • Those non-participants unwilling to settle on a consensus, towards a compromise action should be assigned an adequate compromise position, even if they don’t like it. Since their “Plan A” is litigation anyway, it would be prudent to come up with a reasonable compromise that includes some of their ideas. If they don’t like that approach, they can always sue! Meanwhile, they should be painted as “uncooperative and inflexible”, unwilling to compromise their extreme positions. It would be unfair to penalize those people who take the time and effort to fix problems instead of “preserving” them. Finally, those in power and the most unwilling to relinquish it. Clinging to litigation as a solution is harming our forests. If you are not a part of the solution, you a a part of the problem. If Americans don’t have to import wood from out of state, or out of country. Wouldn’t it be better for our world’s environment if we “bought local”???!!!

    • I am trying to figure out when a committee that, say, a forest supervisor chairs, is NOT a FACA committee? I’m not sure that committees need to be formally chartered as FACA committees to be treated as such by the courts. Anybody wanna educate me here?

      • You might want to check this out:
        http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5203270.pdf
        Its the “FACA Easy Button” and it explains the “three-prong test” for FACA applicability.

        A general answer to your question, Dave, is that a Forest Supervisor can chair a committee that is exempt from FACA (i.e., not a FACA committee and also not in violation of FACA) as long as (1) the participants only provide individual advice and share information, as opposed to providing consensus advice, or (2) all the participants are federal employees. There are a few other exemptions too.

        There’s a better explanation in the “Easy Button.” And, remember, the answer to whether FACA applies in complex situations often requires a local, fact-based investigation of sorts by a FACA specialist or lawyer, so the better thing to do is to design the process up-front to avoid the main “triggers” while keeping true to the “sunshine law” origins and intent.

        • I followed the link to the “Easy Button on FACA.” http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5203270.pdf I fear that the Forest Service has taken FACA compliance to be easier than it really is, despite these words “Doing this [complying with FACA] isn’t always
          easy”. At the end of an embedded “decision tree” is this little word of warning: “If you have questions about FACA applicability to a general group, contact the [USDA] Office of General Counsel.” I wonder how often that happens?

          I guess I’ll have to dig deeper to see if my “fear” is well-founded.

  10. “Those non-participants unwilling to settle on a consensus, towards a compromise action should be assigned an adequate compromise position, even if they don’t like it.”

    Larry, thanks for your views on public process and democracy.

    I see your point, since might makes right, let’s just “assign” citizens their positions on these “collaboration” matters.

    Thanks for illustrating my points so well.

    • And you COMPLETELY missed mine and AO’s points, David. If you want to childishly “take your ball and go home” to court, that decision to not participate SHOULD have consequences. Such assigned compromise positions would be based on the eco-groups rhetoric, and showcased in an alternative, with well-covered potential and probable impacts displayed for all to see. The public needs to know that the Forest Service is being fair with those who want no part of consensus and compromise. The other consequences of non-participation and gridlock are quite visible in the sad forests, waiting for that inevitable lightning strike, cigarette butt or arsonist to “rebalance” forests, in ways humans won’t like. If collaboration fails, Congress WILL step in and provide less nuanced and more unscientific solutions. Is THAT what you REALLY want?!?!

      The Forest Service is left with no other solutions to these problems, with the current failure of collaboration. We will just have to weather the storm, for now, until people can find ways to “play well with each other”, and actually learn something about forest management options. Again, despite David’s “misgivings”, I am for a fair and critical examination of all our options and potential outcomes, with everyone expressing their opinions, no matter how misguided and non-scientific they are.

      • Larry,

        You may have over-read my point at least to some degree. I’m not suggesting assigning positions in quite the way you may have heard, assuming I understand you right. Instead, I’m pointing out that those involved in a collaborative effort might want to accept some civil responsibility to make sure the concerns of those not present are still part of the conversation. At the same time, those involved have to wrestle with the challenge of avoiding allowing non-participation to drag an otherwise collaborative process into some form of positional bargaining.

        Also, and I may have been too oblique about this earlier, the formal NEPA scoping and comment processes seem important opportunities to hear those positions especially clearly based on the actual words of non-participants, as opposed to assigning them a position based on someone else’s interpretation. My sense is the former may be more in line with what you’re thinking too, so I’m just mentioning this in case other readers might have heard things differently.

        Oh, and while I’m at it, I agree with David Beebe and Dave Iverson about the importance of the FS and other land management agencies finding ways to show they’re listening and, perhaps most importantly, hearing. Perhaps the most important question along those lines is one asked to participants–”what would you need to see to tell you that your points have been heard and taken to heart?” Again, if taken without reflection, some initial answers could tip the process into positional bargaining, so its important to follow up and work with folks to find answers that are consistent with a collaborative effort.

        • Essential to being a “counterbalance” is the ability to compromise. The non-participants want no part of those “C-words”, preferring the table and chairs in court chambers, which have their names engraved on them. They prefer having their own special seat, where compromise is impossible and collaborators are excluded, similar to what some people are accusing the Forest Service of. Would they continue to sue if the profit motive were taken away?!? I really doubt it. They sue for fun AND profit, and isn’t it “convenient” that no one keeps track of those dollars?!?! Full transparency?!? I think not! While there is lots of money in litigation, there isn’t ANY in fair, sincere collaboration.

          • Larry, I think Congress asked the FS to yard up those numbers.
            Also, I don’t believe they do it for the money. I think they use this tactic because it is effective in getting them what they want, and that they really believe that what they are doing is right. It costs everyone more than other ways of seeking agreement, including the taxpayer, and excludes people from the settlement process.

            • However, I still truly believe that there would not be so many lawsuits if the monetary rewards were removed or “radically” reduced. I also believe, short of cutting off the EAJA funds, that audits of claims for money be pursued vigorously. If a group does a “study” in the project area and the results are questionable, I don’t think the taxpayers should have to pay for it. I know it happens, as I have seen how ridiculous it can be. The money issue is a big one, as evidenced by the proliferation of eco-groups wanting in on the gravy train. “Piling on”, I’m sure, has become an issue, as well. We can expect longer lists of plaintiffs, all wanting that money stream.

              The famous CBD quote about “warfare” implies that they do, indeed, enjoy such litigation. I wonder what kind of donation hit they take because of their tactics. Will tactics change if the EAJA funds are more scrutinized, questioned and reduced? I think, definitely, YES!!

            • Sharon: I used to believe (“hope”) that the environmental industry was formed to do the “right thing.” After 30 years of discussion and observation, I think Larry is right. It’s a fun way to make a living for some, and to get your name (and maybe a photo perched in a tree or holding a banner) in the paper for others. These people are opportunistic maggots (in my opinion) being fed and encouraged by industry (!) to stop active management of our federal lands. And now we buy Weyerhaeuser studs from Canada instead of Washington.

              Maybe those kids dressing in costumes and dancing to drums to “save the old-growth” in the nightly news started out being sincere — or maybe they were on mushrooms. News reporters don’t care, nor do multinational corporations. The technical term is “useful idiots.”

              We typically don’t see the actual beneficiaries/investors of/in this process (except maybe at the lumberyard) — we’re too busy dealing with their lawyers and Save the Planet goofballs to see the real problems and begin dealing with the actual issues.

  11. Sooo interesting such nefarious culpability gets heaped upon the deliberately excluded, repackaged, and vilified, as “nonparticipants.”

    But “fair and sincere” compromise and collaboration in a corporate end-game which includes watching “environmental” sell-outs cut deals so their corporate funders can wring the last bit of commodity values out of their “charity” investments in the management of public lands for their hedge fund managers and Wall Street Speculators to scam these remnants of cherished landscapes, to be left as just another sell order chit on the trading floor is the virtuous path — gonna save the planet and put ‘merika back on its feet agin, eh?

    Oh, and “warfare” in the court system?

    How about the Wages of the real Warfare we see as we fly, drive and hike over the checker boarded and recently plundered and denuded, pockmarked, and pumped-dry, fracked and gutted, paved and desecrated landscapes, complete with the desertified former grasslands, and forests– the raw, bleeding sores of open-pit-mines, removed mountaintops, coal ash-filled streams and valley bottoms, the faucets afire, the Superfund sites, the junkyards and toxic waste dumps inhabited by the deceased downwinders cast aside by corporate employers as so many used-up and thrown away lives of countless Americans, Latinos, African Amerikans and crumbled Native Americans dead and gone of genocide and black lung, the cancer-ridden corpses, and the poverty-stricken, anguish-filled ghosts still alive and waiting to die, inhabiting these devastated landscapes of Montana and all across the American West and too far beyond?

    Now that’s warfare.

    That our country is now at a point where it can no longer meet minimum requirements of basic foundational environmental laws, which every once in awhile, our courts will even acknowledge as a sticky-wicket-sort-of-predicament, leaving a desperate set of defunded federal agencies pleading with their corporate “Partners” to please, PLEASE help them convince the rest of America, that the REAL culprits are the last vestiges of principled stalwarts demanding their government abide by its own laws but whom are now the vilified, and the “problem” which much be solved by assigning them a sentence of “fair and sincere collaboration”?

    Ah, but,”they use this tactic because it is effective”?

    Forgive me, but I am deeply, DEEPLY offended that there are those on this blog who shamelessly both defend and pretend none of this has come to pass and cannot even muster a shred of common decency and compassion to understand this must change because the warfare waged in the name of wages and “jobs” they feel, must be allowed to keep conquering unemployment with compromise. (But always with a new improved green washed, come-on, hucksterism such as “Sustainable” (really), “Stewardship” (no, we REALLY mean it this time), “Restoration”, (I mean think of all the JOBss! — and take heart, there’s a sucker born every minute.)

    Regardless, the first rule of compromise is knowing the difference between half a loaf of bread, and half a baby.

    (hint: half a baby is a dead baby.)

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