Reflections on the Senate Committee Hearing by JZ , and Brainstorming Possible Solutions

JZ sent a comment on the “collaboration is bad for NEPA” thread here. I took part of it out and made a separate post.. as there is a need to ask this larger question . I agree with JZ that the Senate discussion was much more deep and serious. There’s a lot to examine there, including the testimony. They are looking for ideas (that would be acceptable to the Administration, an unknown) so I would propose that we do some brainstorming about solutions that both sides might find acceptable right here on this blog. Mac has proposed Trust lands (as did Jay O’Laughlin in his testimony), some have suggested giving land to the states (don’t think folks on this blog think that’s a good idea), place-based legislation is not popular for a variety of reasons, what else is there?

Here’s what JZ says:

Today’s Senate E & NR committee hearing had a markedly more professional and solution oriented tone than a similar hearing the House NR committee a couple weeks ago:

http://naturalresources.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=206115

The end messages of each of the hearings seems to be the same though. The FS isn’t doing enough (logging) and can not fulfill their mission and provide for local communities. These are issues that have been raised to the point of repeated congressional attention.

What, pray-tell, is at the root of the Agency’s inability to accomplish its mission and provide more logs/timber/jobs particularly here in Region 1??? (the most appealed/sued region in the country).

Is it declining budgets? Lack of workforce (retirements, etc)? Probably a major factor.

How about “analysis paralysis” (over thinking/analyzing the same comments) and dealing with antiquated forest plans and the threat of appeal/litigation? I’d venture this is even more of a factor.

Update: Here’s a story from the Oregonian, and what Wyden said

Wyden supports more cutting but, “Short-cuts like selling off federal lands or ignoring environmental laws cannot be expected to pass the Senate or be signed by the President.” Stephanie Yao Long/The Oregonian
“We now have across the country cash-strapped rural counties facing deadlines later this spring to decide about retaining teachers, whether or not to close schools, what to do about law enforcement and roads and other basic services,” Wyden said.

So, readers, do you agree with anyone at the hearing? With JZ? What are your solutions to the problem, in additional to the ones mentioned above?

8 Comments

  1. I agree with Wyden. I think he should stop ignoring environmental laws, too. They are killing the very forests and wildlife and rural families he represents, and Congress continuously refuses to deal with it. So, like he says, meaningful Congressional action is unlikely. Leadership would be needed first, is one problem area.

    In a perfect world of my own choosing (I’d probably be the benign dictator), I think the land should be given back to the counties and Indian forests that enclose them: maybe on a contract basis with a profit thresh-hold (like printed USFS maps, if I understand correctly); or a management fee basis; something along those lines. They could form their own agreements with the State. Things would improve immediately, I can guarantee. Ecologically and economically.

    Probably won’t happen.

  2. Yes, leadership IS needed, but that arguement transcends lowly forest policy. As far as the Agency is concerned, we’re serving too many masters without a clear mission anymore.

    The idea of State takeover of federal lands lands is a non-starter. Sounds great on its surface, but it’ll never fly. As much as I wanna log the hell out of the National Forest, (including Roadless Areas under the permissions in the rule), I’d never support such an idea. No one has come forward with how, even if legal, the logistics of such a transfer would occur. Goes to show no one is biting, and if that’s the case, why would Congress even entertain the idea?

    I’ve heard from Enviro colleagues that they thought O’Laughlins testimony was BS. I’d disagree, but

    Personally I think there are some meaningful legislative reforms to be made to the NEPA, ESA, and EAJA. Basically raising the bar to challenge projects, while at the same time ensuring the intent of those laws are met. No creative solutions to offer at this point…….

    I thought Senator Risch had some relatively good comments about using a RACNAC type structure to help explore and navigate future discussions. Sorry I didn’t note the time (it was towards the end). I guess you’ll just have to watch the whole hearing (I found it a good investment of my time, unlike the House NR hearing linked above). His comments were basically in FAVOR of place based legislation, much like the roadless rule.

    Just a seat-of-the-pants observation, but my hunch is the solution to SRS will ultimately be “place based” and heavily dependent on local “collaboration”.

    • JZ- did your colleagues say specifically what about Jay’s testimony they disagreed with (I guess that’s how I’d interpret “BS” in civil-speak). I don’t think the trust-dog will hunt but that’s not actually a criticism of the concept.

      I share your perspective, that if we were smart enough we could design something along the lines of raising the bar.

      Idea 1. Required mediation, just like divorce in some states. This would also require a public internet discussion of any issues. perhaps with an IBLA like board to take those discussions and the results of mediation into account.

      Idea 2. RACNAC like groups determine guidelines. If projects follow those guidelines, they are determined to (or the presumptions would be in court?) that they are legally sufficient.

      I think one of the problems is that lawyers would have to design a better system, but it would give them less power, so it might be tough to find ones that would help.

      • Hey! I was the one that called the environmental litigation industry “ambulance chasers” first! Certainly “better” doesn’t cover “more costly” or “even more lawyers” in most people’s minds — “less power” is just a different way to say “less money” and “less opportunity.” Actually, I think there must be a number of experienced and highly ethical lawyers (I think I may even know some), that might see the value in helping make such an adjustment to our current mess? (I was going to say “dysfunction,” but that would further reveal my age.)

      • Sharon,
        i think my colleagues’ disagreement was generally in principle, not necessarily substantive. Probably goes against some of the place-based stuff they’re working on.

        As far as lawyer fees….hmmm….you’ve brought up a potentially interesting solution. Howabout a parallel law to the EAJA that reimburses lawyer fees for those seeking to to increase forest management? I bet groups like AFRC would be supportive.

  3. Question of the day – Why hasn’t “The Administration” (U.S. Forest Service) come up with a proposal, any proposal, to solve the problem of timber non-management? The Chief regularly appears at committee hearings and tells what a great job the F.S. is doing but I’ve yet to hear him propose any solutions to the no-harvest issue. Stewardship (the F.S. program de jour) may be getting more work done on the ground but produces less dollar revenues and does nothing to increase the cut, keep mills from closing, or keep forest-dependent schools and local governments from fiscal collapse.

    Everyone agrees that the system is broken; I believe beyond repair. No-one at the top seems to have a clue as to what to do. May I suggest that the if the leadership would ask the rank and file (rangers and below – those actually doing the job on the ground) for their ideas they might be surprised at what they hear. I suspect there are answers out here, but today the F.S. seems to be a top-down outfit that gives orders as directed from “above”. Meanwhile a divided Congress will do the best it can without in-put from the executive branch and the cut nation-wide will remain at less than 6% of the growth. Pitiful.

    My personal solution is removal of the most productive timberland from F.S. management and placing that land under locally controlled Trust Management. My rationale for this decision may be found in http://www.wvmcconnell.net/?page_id=591. If you’ve got another answer, let’s hear the details.

  4. After reading and re-reading the witnesses’ testimony I’ve revised and added these two pages to my PPt: http://www.wvmcconnell.net/?page_id=591
    on Trust Management. The thought on elected, rather than appointed, RACs is an interesting addition. Comments?

    _____________________________________________
    Slide 18

    TRUST MANAGEMENT

    SOME QUESTIONS TO BE ANSWERED:

    BY THE CONGRESS
     Will Trust Management be “revenue neutral or positive” to the Feds?
     Should payment to U.S. for transferred surface estate be in the form of a percentage of revenues produced by those lands after transfer or as a stated sum ?
     How should transitional financing be handled?
     Should BLM and other federal timberlands be Trust Managed?

    BY THE TRUST:
     Should “on the ground” management, as directed by the Trust, be by the Parent Forest, the Host State, or by a private land management entity?
     Should payments to counties and schools be based on a set percentage of net revenues or be the equivalent of revenues produced under private ownership?
     How would non-revenue producing activities within Trust Lands be funded?
    ___________________________________________
    Slide 19
    TRUST MANAGEMENT

    Some thoughts on the authorizing legislation:
    One size does not fit all!
     Keep legislation broad, permissive, and flexible.
     Let local expertise recognize local needs and solve local problems.
     Provide for balanced, informed local control by making RACs permanent, reimbursed (and elected?).

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