Review of First Obama Term Forest Conservation Letter- Item By Item #1

Photo from the Allegheny Defense Project, one of the signers of the 2008 letter.

Thanks to Matthew for sharing this letter that some environmental organizations sent to the President in his first term: RE: 100-Day Priorities for Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

It would be interesting to compare this with other letters sent by other environmental organizations last term, and with all of them this term, to be able to understand more about where the different organizations see issues and opportunities. Here’s the link to the letter.

First, they say they represent “grassroots citizen activists.” I think that’s true, but only a subset of grassroots citizen activists. People familiar with FS litigation will recognize many familiar names. Now Andy said in his comment here that “If I were the Forest Service, I’d pick up the phone and start talking with these groups. ” Of course, the FS is talking to them all the time, as is OGC and DOJ. I don’t know why those groups’ opinions should count more than other environmental groups (say, TRCP, TWS, TNC, Sierra Club). Other than the threat of litigation.. which I don’t think is a fair reason for some groups to have more power than others. That’s why I like FACA committees so much.. there’s less “behind the scenes dealing” and more upfront discussions.

If there were a FACA committee, these groups would have to explain to other interests exactly what they mean and have their points of view discussed and debated. Lacking that, though, we can attempt to do it here.
Here’s one of the first sentences:

1) Often federal land and resource management agencies operate under conflicting policy mandates, with timber, mining, motorized recreation, and grazing allowed to exploit resources at both the environment’s and taxpayer’s expense.

Hmm. Who is on this list and who is not?
First, I think the US Treasury comes out ahead in oil and gas receipts (I could look up coal and other mining also.. but). Here’s something from a GAO report…

The Department of the Interior’s (Interior) Minerals Management Service (MMS) collected the equivalent of over $9 billion in oil and gas royalties in fiscal year 2007, more than $5 billion of which it deposited in the U.S. Treasury; it dispersed the remaining approximately $4 billion to other federal, state, and tribal accounts. These royalties–payments made to the federal government for the right to produce oil and gas from federal lands and waters–represent one of the country’s largest nontax sources of revenue. Here’s the link.

(italics mine)

Now I know that many people with forest backgrounds are not familiar with minerals. But this seems like a fairly sizeable chunk of change. Which is one reason I brought it up on the blog.

So is it accurate to say that this occurs “at the taxpayer’s expense?”. That’s not even counting the jobs and tax revenue that wouldn’t exist but for the development of those leases.

Now ski areas, which have been litigated based on their impacts to the environment, are not on the list. Maybe this is because they are “above cost”?

Here’s a press release about this:

This has contributed $4 billion every winter and created approximately 80,000 full-, part-time and seasonal jobs in hard-hit rural communities. Under the new legislation, the Forest Service anticipates roughly 600,000 more summertime visits that may create and sustain up to 600 more full-, part-time and seasonal jobs. The addition of summer recreation is expected to infuse almost $40 million of direct funding into local mountain communities.

It’s actually not clear if this is $4 billion back to the Treasury or not. Maybe someone on the blog knows.

Motorized recreation is on the list, non-motorized not. We have seen a great many impacts to the environment from non-motorized overuse (trash, trampling, waste, dogs chasing wildlife, etc.). Taxpayers in NYC are paying to fund this environmental damage by people. We could argue that more environmental damage is caused by motorized recreation, but much motorized recreation is people driving around the forest and not getting out but looking at the scenery.

If “motorized recreation” in this sense is OHVs and snowmobiles, can we draw a line and say that all other recreation is “non-exploitive”? Are 50 people trampling and littering by a stream less “exploitative” than an OHV that stays on the trail?

It’s actually hard for me to think of any use that doesn’t “exploit” the environment and cost the taxpayer something. Except for concessionaire campgrounds.. still “exploits” the environment but doesn’t cost the taypayer ;).

Gee, that was only one sentence, but it did lead us up some interesting twists and turns. That’s probably enough for the first post on this letter.

3 Comments

  1. Sharon, I don’t know where to start in my response. So I will highlight a couple of points that stand out.
    These commercial uses much too often are allowed or encouraged without recognizing that the income from those uses is not covering the costs to the agency. Grazing is a prime example where forest costs are rarely if ever covered by the pittance of grazing fees collected by the permittees. And not to mention the indirect costs of riparian damage, etc. etc. in allotments managed poorly (or not at all).
    Yes, mineral leases do return a good sum into the Treasury, but are the total costs to the administrative units on the ground fully covered, or even recognized? I doubt that. I know from past experience that the minerals activity on a western forest in Montana were barely funded, and there were significant man-hours of costs associated with this use. Other funds were raided to pay these man-hours.
    And ORVs and snowmobiles? The damages from the 10 or 20 percent of those critters that don’t stay on the roads/trails or permitted “play areas” is never covered. They want more and more of our forests to exploit. But pay nothing, and can’t control their bad apples. Very strong national and corporate voices that care less about the environment that they despoil.
    The most damaging situation is the total lack of adequate funds for forest fire-fighting. Frankly, they need a blank check appropriation that does NOT impact other uses or activities.

    • Ed wrote:

      Ed Javorka :

      Sharon, I don’t know where to start in my response. So I will highlight a couple of points that stand out.
      And ORVs and snowmobiles? The damages from the 10 or 20 percent of those critters that don’t stay on the roads/trails or permitted “play areas” is never covered. They want more and more of our forests to exploit. But pay nothing, and can’t control their bad apples. Very strong national and corporate voices that care less about the environment that they despoil.

      Sheesh…
      I don’t know where to start in my response…. (heh..)

      We want more of the forests to exploit? Really? Virtually all national and state based OHV groups supported the 2005 Travel Management Rule that limited OHV use to designated roads trails and areas. Ditto for similar BLM planning directives.

      This policy resulted in tens of thousands of miles of roads and trails being closed during the Bush Administration alone. (Matt, assuming you’ll be asking for documentation, I’ll refer you in advance to the planning EIS’s and EA’s for the data, and, I’ll remind everyone that the miles closed is underestimated because of the agency’s inaccurate route inventories.)

      OHV users contribute tens of millions of dollars each year via state registration programs. These funds are used to manage OHV use, reclamation efforts and law enforcement. Yes. not all of our “bad apples” are caught. But each year more lands are reclaimed, trails improved and violators cited — via funds and efforts provided by the OHV community.

      Insofar as Ed’s assertion that the OHV community enjoys support from “very strong national corporate voices”… I respond with “I wish.” Check our 990’s ( http://www.sharetrails.org/about/990-forms ) and compare with the top 5 conservation groups with a OHV/Snowmobile action program. You will learn the opposite is true insofar as corporate donations, and the OHV groups are vastly out-funded.

      I agree with Ed that the most damaging situation is the total lack of adequate funds for forest fire-fighting. But the anti-OHV “litany” he cites seems stuck in the 1980’s.

      Sharon’s observation is right on. The annual “environmental priority” letter reads like a “litany” (tedious recital of repetitive complaints). This is why, I think, the letter lands in the “round file” no matter which side of the political isle controls the agencies.

      I recently proffered the notion that: “environmental laws and agency regulations have become one-way gates that largely constrain active management of the Forests and provide fodder for preservationist agendas, which seem to be designed to stop any active management, simply through embroiling the agency in a war of procedural attrition.”

      The “litany” we read from the conservation community each January is exhibit A.

  2. I guess I wasn’t as clear as I might have been. It’s not clear to me that any recreational activity, grazing, or timber “pay for themselves.”

    Special use permits for gas lines to hospitals, outfitter-guides, etc. also may not “pay for themselves” by the time you factor in the costs of administration. I’m OK with this potentially being a criterion, but if it is,then it seems to me that it should be applied across all resources, including dispersed recreation.

    It would be OK to me to say that all uses have to be able to pay the cost of administration or they won’t be allowed. Or even just all commercial uses. Unfortunately, this letter singles out one use that’s not commercial and says the people who use OHV’s shouldn’t pay “nothing”. Should hunters and fishers pay “nothing”? Mountain bikers? Horse users? I’m just trying to get at the logic here.

    In terms of mineral leases, the funding to administer the program comes from appropriated bucks for the FS and BLM. I’m sure someone has compared these, let me look around.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *