Thanks to a friend from Montana for this one from E&E News. Here’s a link to the principles agreed to by the Montana Forest Restoration Committee. This photo is from the Monitoring tab on the MFRC website.
This quote below is interesting:
“The groups said the project — the first CFLRP-funded project to come under legal fire — is in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The four challengers — the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan, the Montana Ecosystem Defense Council and the Native Ecosystems Council — say the proposal does not consider the potential effects on lynx and other threatened and endangered species.”
IMHO, there’s a difference between “not considering” and “not coming to the same conclusions we did after consideration.” Perhaps they were misquoted. Check out this post for the details of the latest legal exchange, or check out the EA and the letters from FWS, and you be the judge of whether those were “considered”. You can also use the search box on the sidebar to the right and type in “Colt Summit” and find many posts on the subject.
In addition, for some time I’ve been puzzling over understanding the “collaboration backlash.” To me, we must go deeper than the statements about going “against the law.” I have worked with and talked to collaborative groups and they all seem very law-abiding folks, upright citizens volunteering for the good of the land and the community.
So I found this quote from Horning perhaps yielding a clue to a deeper understanding.
Frankly, I feel progressives are frightened of conflict, and therefore we’re suckers for consensus and collaboration as a process, and we’re sometimes willing to completely abandon any measurable outcomes, because it’s consensus. Sometimes you end up appealing to the lowest common denominator.
Of course, I wondered what a “progressive” is in this day and age (having read my history of the Progessive era). I looked at this website and found this quote from John Podesta:
Under a progressive vision of the common good, government must pursue policies that benefit everyone equally. It must ensure that opportunities are abundant and that even those who have been left out and left behind can get the help they need to succeed. Common good progressivism does not meant that everybody will be the same, think the same, or get the same material benefits. Rather, it simply means that people should start from a level playing field and have a reasonable chance to improve their stations in life.
Internationally, common good progressivism focuses on new and revitalized global leadership through the just use of force; multi-lateral engagement; and the creation of new institutions and networks to deal with difficult problems. As in past battles against fascism and totalitarianism, common-good progressives today seek to fight global extremism by using a comprehensive national-security strategy that employs all our strengths for strategic and moral advantage.
To pursue the common good, though, we as Americans owe something to our country in return. People must assume responsibility for their actions, treat others with respect and decency, and serve their families and communities.
Seems like progressives tend to “fight extremism” and treat others with respect and decency, create new institutions to deal with difficult problems.. they sound like…likely volunteers for collaborative groups. Maybe progessives, by definition, can’t be ideologues? What do you think?
Odd bedfellows try collaborating to resolve conflicts
April Reese, E&E reporter
Amid a tangle of lawsuits over controversial logging projects 10 years ago, federal officials in western Montana tried a new approach to forest management that involved gathering input from a range of interests.
First came the Blackfoot Challenge, a group of local residents, timber interests, conservationists and others that came together to address issues in the Blackfoot National Forest. Then, buoyed by the success of that effort, the Forest Service and its collaborators expanded the initiative in 2007 to include districts in the Lolo and Helena national forests.
The resulting Montana Forest Restoration Committee brought together representatives of the forest-products industry, conservation groups, recreation interests and private property owners who were determined to blaze a trail around gridlock that had blocked efforts to thin forests, reduce wildfire risks, stanch a beetle epidemic and restore habitat.
“We were involved in a lot of lawsuits,” recalls Lolo National Forest Superintendent Debbie Austin. “So we made a concerted effort to understand where people’s concerns were, and find places where we could agree and move forward together. We had a lot of meetings with the people who were opposed to what we were doing — mostly conservation groups.”
The project signifies a recent shift within federal natural resource agencies toward collaborative decisionmaking to resolve thorny issues on public lands. The more buy-in there is from those interested in natural resource management, from environmental groups to foresters to recreationists, the easier those projects are to get done, collaboration advocates say.
“A lot of agencies are looking at collaboration, I think because there are so many of the issues out there — water, forest management, climate change, you name it — and collaboration is a good way to do decisionmaking,” said Kimberly Skyelander, associate director of the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. “It’s not so much top-down driven, but bottom-up.”
The Obama administration aims to direct more money at the approach. In a March 2 letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Coalition thanked the administration for proposing to fully fund the agency’s collaborative forest restoration program in its fiscal 2013 budget request at $40 million. The group called collaboration a “win-win solution that provides jobs, restores forests, protects water supplies, and engages people in management of the public lands.”
But collaborative efforts still can hit snags. Four environmental groups last fall challenged in federal court a project on the Lolo National Forest developed through a Forest Service collaborative program, claiming the proposal would log critical habitat for lynx and bull trout as well as prime grizzly habitat, violating multiple federal laws.
And some critics say collaborative efforts run the risk of undermining key environmental laws and can be a recipe for inaction.
Last month, however, a broad alliance of environmental and timber groups defended the Forest Service’s plan for the Lolo, arguing the project must stand up in court in order to prove that the collaborative management process can work (E&ENews PM, Feb. 28).
The Mont. example
After its initial success, the Montana Forest Restoration Committee came up with a set of principles that are used to determine which projects the group will support.
The committee has helped dozens of restoration projects move forward without facing administrative or legal challenges, allowing thousands of acres to be restored.
A couple of years ago, after the Forest Service announced its Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, the Montana group submitted a proposal to create the Southwest Crown of the Continent Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program. The Forest Service selected it as one of a handful of pilot CFLRP to receive funding in 2010. The Southwest Crown collaborative aims to restore 1.5 million acres of national forestland in the Blackfoot, Clearwater and Swan River valleys.
In 2011, contractors hired by the Forest Service restored 11,000 acres of wildlife habitat, 14 miles of streams and decommissioned 10 miles of old roads, according to agency.
“I think [the Montana Forest Restoration Committee and the Southwest Crown of the Continent CFLRP] have been very effective,” Austin said. “The reason is because we agreed up front on what we agreed with. For example, we set restoration principles we could work from, and we know each other, so we really have the social license to move forward with certain kinds of activities. As we go along, we’re building trust with each other, and that’s key.”
Gordy Sanders, resource manager for Pyramid Lumber and co-chairman of the Montana Forest Restoration Committee, struck a similar note.
“Collaborative efforts are definitely successful,” Sanders said. “For a long, long time I’ve said, ‘We can’t do this by ourselves.’ We need to establish relationships and develop long-term relationships with other folks who are interested in working together. In a collaborative approach, you can get more done. So we’re providing multiple benefits for a wide variety of interests, so all the different folks in the collaborative can see good work done on the ground.”
And while some in the industry have been slow to warm to the idea, that skepticism is waning, he added. “There’s growing support amongst the industry for this approach,” he said. “I think there’s a solid basis for collaborative efforts, and it’s building over time.”
The Montana group is a prime example of a larger trend that’s been growing over the past few decades.
Collaborative groups began forming in kitchens and conference rooms in the 1990s, taking on controversial issues ranging from endangered species conservation to logging to watershed protection. The concept has gained favor over the years, drawing support from both Republicans and Democrats.
Under George W. Bush’s administration, then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton made collaborative conservation a central tenet of her reign, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack have been strong advocates of collaboration under the Obama administration.
The Forest Service has also partnered with other entities to achieve management goals, such as the “Forests to Faucets” collaboration between the agency and Denver Water to restore national forestland scorched by the 2002 Hayman fire. The fire stripped much of the land of vegetation and sent 1 million cubic yards of sentiment into the main reservoir that provides drinking water for the city, clogging water treatment systems and affecting water quality. Denver Water had to spend $10 million to scour the reservoir and repair infrastructure.
“We enter into different types of agreements in order to be able to prioritize projects, to ensure that the source of the water is taken care of, and make sure we’re doing what we can on the land to improve water quality and water quantity,” said Janelle Smith, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain region.
Participants often find a collaborative, local approach preferable to a solution imposed from the outside.
And while the collaborative process may take longer than the usual National Environmental Policy Act review process, the benefits of having all interests on the same page and avoiding expensive and even more time-consuming lawsuits is well worth that prolonged effort, Austin said.
Lawsuit over Mont. project
But the collaborative approach has its critics — and occasionally the projects it helps shape do end up embattled, despite the concerted effort to keep such projects out of the courtroom.
Four environmental groups filed suit against the Forest Service over the 4,330-acre Colt Summit restoration project, which was designed with input from the Montana Restoration Committee and funded in part by the Southwest Crown CFLRP. It was intended to thin overly dense forest stands and decommission roads to benefit bull trout, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The groups said the project — the first CFLRP-funded project to come under legal fire — is in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The four challengers — the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan, the Montana Ecosystem Defense Council and the Native Ecosystems Council — say the proposal does not consider the potential effects on lynx and other threatened and endangered species.
Austin said she could not comment on an ongoing lawsuit but added that generally speaking, collaboration is not intended to replace the legal avenues for challenging projects.
“It’s difficult to have absolutely everyone agree with absolutely everything,” Austin said. “The collaborative groups are trying to help people be involved and allow them to be involved. But all those options — administrative challenge and litigation — are still available to people. In general, I just would hope people do come to the table.”
The conservation groups fighting the project were invited to join the Southwest Crown of the Continent CFLRP early in the process, Austin said.
Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, one of the groups challenging the Colt Summit project, said he was asked to join the group but not until the environmental assessment for the project was already done.
And it is important to hold the federal government accountable when it violates the law, as the alliance says the Forest Service did in crafting the Colt Summit project, he said.
“Federal agencies still must comply with the law, regardless of how a management decision was made,” Garrity said.
With a few rare exceptions, collaboration is “a way to undermine good environmental laws, including NEPA,” Garrity said. “The goal is to try to get some resource out rather than improve the environment.”
John Horning, executive director of the Santa Fe, N.M.-based group Wild Earth Guardians, which also has seen considerable success using litigation to advance its conservation goals, is more equivocal.
“I’m of mixed minds on it,” Horning said. “Consensus and collaboration have been the term du jour for over a decade now. Frankly, I feel progressives are frightened of conflict, and therefore we’re suckers for consensus and collaboration as a process, and we’re sometimes willing to completely abandon any measurable outcomes, because it’s consensus. Sometimes you end up appealing to the lowest common denominator. It could be a hardening of the status quo, at worst.”
Wild Earth Guardians does support some of the Forest Service’s CFLRPs: “We’re comfortable with experimentation within some bounds,” he said. But it takes issue with the Four Forests Restoration Initiative, intended to unify and expand restoration efforts across a large swath of northern and eastern Arizona, because it focuses too heavily on logging, Horning added.
But he reserves his harshest criticism for the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program in New Mexico, designed to assuage conflicts over how to balance water supplies and habitat for the endangered silvery minnow and the Southwestern willow flycatcher.
“You have people who have widely conflicting views … it’s a recipe for getting absolutely nothing done,” Horning said.
“Unless there’s a commitment to a new vision or that the current framework is really really dysfunctional and not serving any interest, then collaboration models don’t really work,” Horning added. “If the status quo is serving some interest, they’ll participate as a means of preventing further change.”
Skyelander of Colorado State University said that generally speaking, there are two main problems that can undermine a collaborative effort: trying to impose a particular point of view on the group and turnover within the group over time.
“If they can come to the table without an agenda, of course that’s ideal,” she said. “The best collaboration is when people come with an open mind. They want their voices heard, of course, but they’re also open to hearing other people’s opinions.”