Barry Wynsma: U.S. Forest Service Collaboration Process: Solution or Sham?

This is pretty interesting because Mr. Wynsma was able to obtain a great deal of information, (should that information be available more generally?) and also his observations as employee and collaborator. I’m starting a page on ideas for solving “the Problem” and will put his ideas, as well as the ideas found (buried?) in comments here, on that page. Here’s the link, and below is an excerpt.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Truth about Collaboration

Even though I don’t believe the current process for collaboration will solve these problems, that doesn’t mean there aren’t good things about the collaborative process or that the process can’t be improved upon to help solve the problems.

Here’s what I and other current and retired Forest Service acquaintances I contacted think are good things about the collaborative process:

Involving a diverse group of people (I hate the term “stakeholders”) during the project planning process is a good thing. I believe it helps the Forest Service design projects that better meet the desires of the public, even though it’s impossible to meet everybody’s personal opinions on how to best manage the public forests.
With collaboration comes group ownership in projects and support from start to finish.
Joint solutions and commitment means no backing out.
The collaborative program provides assistance with funding to accomplish needed treatments.
Collaboration can help lay people better understand the complexity of forest management.
Collaboration may build community relationships that encourage continuing positive working relationships between Forest Service people and the community.
Collaborative groups police themselves and force extremists on both sides of the spectrum to consider what they are really saying philosophically vs. practically on any given issue.

On the other hand, there are things about collaboration that are not so good, if not bad. Here’s what I and other current and retired Forest Service acquaintances I contacted think are bad things about the collaborative process:

The collaborative process is time consuming and more costly than the traditional process of public scoping and comment gathering for projects. The more people involved in a project, the harder it is to schedule meeting dates and field trips that will maximize the largest group involvement. The results of my inquiry clearly show that projects aren’t moving through the NEPA and appeals process any faster than normal and possibly even taking longer.
The time consuming nature of collaboration can be a major deterrent to people that are not paid to attend meetings during working hours, people who have limited free time or travel. Forest Service people can become weary of after hour meetings, paid or not paid.
Meetings can go on for months, if not years. This consumption of time makes it difficult, if not impossible, for many people to take part.
Poorly managed meetings generate negative emotions and can ruin the entire process.
For individuals or groups with an agenda to limit or eliminate forest management, collaboration can provide an opportunity to wear others down by dragging meetings on and on, then appeal and/or litigate after an extended collaboration process. Collaboration can also usurp the agency’s authority.
The Forest Service may or may not be aware of hidden agendas or games being played by some members in a collaborative group.
Forest Service specialists may feel like they get “cut-out” of project development.
Also considering project specialists: the more days they have to spend in meetings, the less time they have to conduct field work and write reports, which extend the timeline for implementing projects.

The ugly truth is that collaboration won’t reduce analysis paralysis, appeals and litigation. Collaboration also won’t increase the rate at which the Forest Service can reduce fuels and restore unhealthy forests until the appeals process and our current myriad of conflicting environmental laws are reformed.

So what are some possible ways to improve the collaborative process?

Here’s a few:

After all the time and effort put into project development by collaborative groups and the Forest Service, it simply isn’t fair to the collaborative or to the taxpayers of this country to allow an inexpensive process for individuals and groups, whether they were members of the group or not, to stop or delay project implementation through appeals and litigation.

Congress should pass a new law that will exempt collaborative projects from the appeal or objection process. They should also include bonding requirements for any individual or group that file suits to stall or stop collaborative projects.

Congress should also reform or eliminate the Equal Access to Justice Act, which allows litigants to recuperate court costs from the tax paying public.

The Forest Service should develop a new Categorical Exclusion to replace the Healthy Forests Restoration Act version (CE #10) that allowed for fuels reduction timber harvests less than 1,000 acres in size. The CE #10 was rescinded following a lawsuit filed by environmental groups because in my opinion this CE allowed for expedited implementation of fuels reduction projects.

To get a broader spectrum of public involvement, make more use of the internet to gather input from people who want to participate in collaboration but don’t have the time or money to show up for meetings and field trips. The Forest Service could maintain email mailing lists for projects that people want to be engaged in and could be kept up to date on the progression of projects without having to show up for meetings. For example, with the smart phone technology I could imagine a logger sitting in the woods during a lunch break or a hiker up on a mountain top being able to participate in a collaborative project.

Note from Sharon: I was somewhat involved in the development of CE#10, not sure that would help at the end of the day. I really like his last point in terms of the criticism I hear from both sides.

27 Comments

  1. Sharon, this is a wonderful contribution. Very much appreciate seeing Barry Wynsma’s take on things and the work he did to gather thoughts from a wide-range of current and former FS employees. I look forward to seeing responses from other folks who might have their own ideas to add. I especially appreciate seeing emphasis placed on the link between collaborative planning and actual on-the-ground work. Too often that link seems to be missing, with all the emphasis placed on planning, getting to the possibility of a decision, forgetting the importance of growing capacity to work together on implementiing.

    A key point Wynsma seems to be sharing is that a meaningful collaborative process focuses on finding shared capacity to get more done on the ground, including perhaps the joint-monitoring efforts that can help grow trust and understanding from one project to the next. To build on his points, perhaps a difference between what can come out of a collaborative process and what too often comes out of a traditional process is that meaning of “more done on the ground” emerges from the collaborative process.

    This would contrast with a more traditional process that can seem like an effort to convince others to go along with preconceived notions of what’s needed. Through a collaborative effort, initial thoughts about what’s needed on the ground can evolve into better ideas, perhaps even into completely different ideas. Keeping resource specialists part of that conversation–whether inside or outside the responsible agency–can help keep the discussion grounded and legitimate, much as can keeping the doors open so anyone with interest can participate or at least observe. Seems to be another of Wynsma’s key points.

  2. Barry says that collaboration won’t meet his goals until “our current myriad of conflicting environmental laws are reformed.” What if there is no conflict between and among environmental laws? If that’s the case, and I’ve yet to see anyone point out two requirements of law that conflict with each other, then the barrier(s) to achieving Barry’s goals are to be found elsewhere.

    • Andy and others, I don’t like to blog, tweet, text, you-tube, skype or participate in any other new fangled form of communication generally, so I don’t want to get into a long winded discussion at this site. Feel free to send comments to my Evergreen articles directly to Jim Petersen at Evergreen.

      However I’ll make a brief exception to your question and also Sharons. I think Chief Bosworth and Chief Thomas both wrote good papers and/or gave testimony or speeches to Congress about the analysis paralysis problem so I would refer you to their papers.

      On the conflicting laws question, there are many conflicts that I’m sure you are aware of. One that quickly jumps to my mind is an ESA example ovr habitat requirements for grizzly bears versus moutain caribou, which are both found here in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Each species have nearly opposite habitat requirements, caribou prefer lichen found in old growth, bears prefer berries in seral habitats. Which species gets preference for the same acre of ground?

      As to your comment on the usefulness of CatExs Sharon, projects can quickly be implemented (ie 3-6 months typically) if they meet the category. Not only do project leaders love being able to utilize CEs, but also specialists get a real feeling of accomplishment by being able to complete field work and report writing within that time frame, rather than slogging through EAs for 2-3 years or EISs for 5+ years.

      • No, I am a big fan of CE’s in fact, was probably the person who worked hardest on Limited Timber Harvest CE’s which are still working and were upheld by courts.

        I’m a little bit out of date on this, but last I heard CE’s still had to go through notice comment and appeal, based on Son of Earth Island or Great-niece of Earth Island. Some practitioners have said it’s just as easy to do a HFRA EA given that situation for fuels treatment.

        There used to be a rumor floating (or some ethereal belief) that “DOJ won’t defend you if you use a CE” I heard at meetings but haven’t any idea if it was true. Some people did believe it and it influenced their behavior.

        But at the end of the day, if people still appeal and litigate (or object and litigate, I guess, as of Wednesday), is it still worth the work to get a CE developed? It is a lot of work..which people not involved might not appreciate.. and various government agencies need to be willing, which they may not be.

        I think the same people that like the HFRA EA’s don’t take 2-3 years.

        • Hi Sharon, that’s the whole problem and it will take Congress to fix it. In an ideal world the administration and federal agencies should be utilizing CatExs almost exclusively, and if they followed the intended NEPA process, they could develop new categories that are based on all the past EAs that have been signed along with their Finding of No Significant Impact. There’s a long history of analysis showing the environmental effects from forest management activities and could be simply categorized by building in those typical design criteria that are used in EA size projects that result in the FONSI. The process is so far out of whack now most people don’t realize how bad it really is and how simple and low impact most project planning and implementation should be.

      • Grizzles win — they eat caribou.

        Seriously, however, what you’ve pointed out is not a conflict within or between environmental laws. The ESA says conserve and recover listed species. It does not say “put a grizzly on every acre” and “put a caribou on every acre.” Like the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act, which allows that “some land will be used for less than all of the resources,” some land will feature berries and some land will have lichen. I’ll bet that’s the on-the-ground status quo in the Bonners Ferry neck-of-the-woods.

        Grizzlies and caribou have co-existed for thousands of years before the ESA became law. Nothing in the ESA requires federal agencies to interfere in these species continued co-existence.

        • Thanks. Andy: One real problem is that many people are interpreting the law as “put an owl or put a murrelet on every acre — and set aside some additional acres, too, for when they learn to fly and maybe want someplace nice to move to.” How about them Canadian wolves and those Mexican wolf-dogs? Sharon is right — that makes total sense if you think grizzlies should be reintroduced into the Sacramento Valley and Wilamette Valley.

          You are correct, but many of the serial litigators seems to be interpreting this as putting representatives of every species, and sub-species, and varietal, everywhere they’ve ever been known to exist and can be given a name by a budding taxonomist.

          One of the important discoveries uncovered during the California Condor recovery efforts is that “critical habitat” can be a cage and a steady food supply. No predators, lead bullets, or powerlines.

          • Wow…That’s some “old school” rant there Bob. Well done! Except for the small fact that I’m not sure what organization, or what people, actually believe much of anything that you claim they do.

              • I love Oregon. And know many of the forest activists there. I’ve even read some of the newspapers. Just haven’t heard or seen anyone say any of the things you are claiming they have said. Oh well.

              • I think it is VERY important to read the comments sections of newspaper stories about the Forest Service, just to see what kind of ignorance we are still infested with. Especially important is the fact that such political blather applied to our National Forests is happening here and now. Bob’s recent example from the Oregonian has a wide selection of ridiculous comments.

                • One of my reasons for starting this blog was to not have to read the mean-spirited and often ill-informed comments found in responses in newspapers. I used to joke that no matter what the topic, in five comments it gravitated to ” !$#% Democrats or Republicans.”

                  Just for me, reading that kind of stuff is bad for my image of human nature and drags me down psychically.

                  • I think it is a good yardstick to check from time to time, to see how much (or how little) progress is being made in educating the general public. De-partisanization is merely a part of de-polarization. It is easier to get past the scientific disagreements when politics are discounted. Of course, some will say that (partisan) politics are absolutely necessary when dealing with public lands.

                    • I’m all for our form of government; I’m all for political parties. I’m just not for disrespecting other people’s views, uncivil dialogue, and saying bad things about people who disagree with you.

          • Here is one example of the ESA not “protecting” populations. I was doing fire salvage sale administration on the San Bernardino NF, and there were some botanical areas along roadsides. A few of them were small and spotty but one cluster was situated in a patch of older pines, dead after the fire. The Botanist’s decision was to close the road and let the trees fall where they may. I wonder if she understood that directional felling and careful skidding could result in less damage than “whatever happens”.

            Here are the results of my salvage project, ten years ago.
            http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ll=34.32437,-116.998172&spn=0.030303,0.066047&t=h&z=15

            What is interesting in zooming into the scene is the proliferation of OHV trails. I’m sure that some of the skid trails were “converted”. The local Forest folks were, indeed, worried about providing more access to quads and dirt bikes. If waterbars are maintained, would this be a good example of “multiple use”? *smirk*

            • Larry, I’ve read over your comment a few times and also clicked onto the link….and still, honestly, have no idea what you are talking about. What specie(s) is part of your example? How did the ESA not protect them? How does the botanical area fit in? Is your beef with the Forest Service’s botanist? If so, how do you know you were right and they were wrong? If they were wrong, were they punished?

              The google map on the link doesn’t zero in to many trees at all, in fact it looks mainly tree-less or very sparsely treed. Also, are you saying that some of your logging skid trails were illegally made into OHV trails afterward? If so, that’s also very common in the northern Rockies. That seems to be an impact associated with logging, not with the ESA, a botanist, enviros or anything else.

              Bottom line: Without a little more info here it’s hard to take what you are saying at face value.

              • My reply disappeared…

                The botanical area (rare plants) sits along the road that goes north from the crossroads. Instead of directionally-felling and carefully removing logs, they decided that wherever a snag fell, on its own, was better. Of course, some of those snags will fall directly on the rare plants they want to save. Yes, I guess I did have a beef with the Botanist, who could have stayed within the ESA and allowed hazards to be removed.

                There was already significant OHV use in this area. I did take measures to block landings and skid trails but, they always seem to find ways around. If waterbars could be maintained, wouldn’t this be a good example of “multiple use”?

  3. I had the following “run-in” of sorts with Barry Wynsma last summer on the Missoulian website.

    ——————–

    Hey folks: Well, Barry Wynsma has another opinion piece in the Missoulian. This one is an “on-line” only letter to the editor which comes after me for my supposedly “uncivil” comments.

    The funny thing is that my comment was anything but uncivil and it appears that Mr. Wynsma has confused my comments with the comments of someone posting as “MontanaGreen.” Too funny and bizarre. These guys must get so angry they can’t even think straight. Oh well.

    Barry’s new piece is below and my comment, which I just submitted online is below that.

    – Matthew

    Guest columnist responds to online comments about Forest Service timber project

    (Source here)

    Normally I don’t respond to comments to any of my opinion pieces, but I think I am owed the opportunity to respond to the uncivil comments provided by Matt Koehler (in online comments to the guest column published on July 23).

    For clarification purposes, the public can read about the North Zone Roadside Salvage environmental assessment project by visiting the Idaho Panhandle National Forests website: http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/fs-usda-pop.php/?project=29812

    Koehler also mentioned wanting to know about any case studies that show how small timber sales and stewardship contracts can generate enough value to pay for road maintenance work. I would refer him and the other readers to my “Woods Wisdom” column article in the online Evergreen Foundation website titled, “Small Trees, Small Machines, Big Opportunity” at the following link: http://evergreenmagazine.com/web/Small_Trees_Small_Machines_Big_Opportunities.html

    Finally, if the public would care to learn more about how radical environmental groups such as the one Matt Koehler belongs to game the appeals and litigation system to prevent the Forest Service from managing our national forests, readers could also read my other articles in Evergreen, starting with the following: http://evergreenmagazine.com/web/Why_Implementation_Procedures_Of_Federal_Environmental_Laws_Must_Be_Reformed.html

    Barry Wynsma,
    Bonners Ferry, Idaho

    ——————

    Comment from Matthew Koehler:

    Below is a copy of the comment I provided to Mr. Wynsma’s July 23 opinion piece in the Missoulian. As anyone can clearly see for themselves, my comment is hardly “uncivil” as Mr. Wynsma is claiming. In fact, what I did was provided important context and substance about the proposed timber sale in Idaho, which Mr. Wynsma unfortunately failed to include in his rant against the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and The Lands Council.

    I also must point out that it’s quite clear that Mr. Wynsma has me confused with another on-line commenter (“MontanaGreen”) because Mr. Wynsma writes, “Koehler also mentioned wanting to know about any case studies that show how small timber sales and stewardship contracts can generate enough value to pay for road maintenance work.” However, I never wrote anything like that in the comment section. One would think that before Mr. Wynsma tries to take a swipe at me that he’d actually have all his facts in order. Better luck next time I guess Barry.

    Once again, pasted below is that supposedly so “uncivil” comment I made to Mr. Wynsma’s opinion piece.

    —————-

    Here’s some specific information about the proposed Forest Service roadside logging project that Barry Wynsma fails to let readers of the Missoulian know.

    For starters, the public should know that 18,415 acres along 412 miles of roads are potentially affected by tree cutting in this proposal. Some of the main concerns were the effects of displacing firewood cutting done by the general public, because the Forest Service would rather give the trees to the timber industry in the form of a timber sale. This proposed roadside logging project would make it harder for the general public to find suitable firewood cutting locations, pressuring firewood cutters to cut in less environmentally sounds way, further away from roads, etc.

    The Alliance for Wild Rockies and The Lands Council, the groups who raised concerns about this project, wrote “…woodcutters are likely to remove comparable volumes regardless of whether or not the project is implemented, and so may have a more pronounced effect on snags away from project roads: either by moving to areas previously unaffected by firewood removal, or by more completely removing available snags in already affected areas.”

    These groups were also concerned about the loss of cover for grizzly bears and other wildlife along 412 miles of road:

    “Although roadsides are obviously lower habitat quality due to other disturbances, clearing dead and down timber for distances of up to 200 feet along 412 miles of open road on a total of approximately 18,000 acres constitutes a large amount of potential habitat disturbance, including a substantial reduction in roadside vegetative screening/hiding cover.”

    Idaho Fish and Game’s comments on the EA said: “Screening vegetative cover along roadways is important to many species and lessens the impact and disturbance of roadways on all wildlife . Leaving screening vegetation along roadways near riparian areas, natural openings, and along new regeneration cuts [would be] beneficial.”

    It’s not surprising that Mr. Wynsma, and anonymous-posting “snowcrest” don’t bother with too many details about this project. It should also not be surprising to the public that a retired Forest Service employee such as Mr. Wynsma might long for the “good ole days” when logging was King on our National Forests and there was little of that pesky public oversight by watchdog groups.

    The fact of the matter is that these national forests belong equally to every American and the public has a right, and a duty, to ensure that the federal government follows the law and best science when managing our public lands. The public should be wary of those who try prevent and criticize citizen watchdogs from doing this important work, either through one-sided opinion pieces, or anonymously posted attacks. Thanks.

  4. Matt: A civil response would be to answer this legitimate question, based on the discussion you, Derek, and I were having:

    https://ncfp.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/celebrating-lake-como-thinning-by-ignoring-the-fiasco/#comment-16205

    A good quality digital photo — maybe with some basic PhotoShop labeling and contrasting — would be great. I am seriously interested in what both you and Derek might have to say about the answers: total rings and rings/inch would be revealing, is my guess.

    So far as your dispute with Wynsma last year in a different publication, it seems to me that a lot of the muddy water was caused by confusion generated by an anonymous poster: “snowcrest.” Maybe that is Barry’s alter-ego and maybe it is Michelle Obama’s handle for keeping current on environmental affairs — the point is that somehow a shadow person got involved in the discussion and apparent lack of civility.

    One more indication of why I think posters here are given a lot more credibility and consideration when they have real names and reputations — just like the Letters to the Editor in the local newspaper.

  5. BTW, the original Wynsma article was on Evergreen, near as I can tell:
    * http://evergreenmagazine.com/web/U_S_Forest_Service_Collaboration_Process_Solution_or_Sham_-v3.html

    It has the full content and formatting that makes it easier to skim-read.

    Also, in looking at some of the preceding comments, its clear that some of Mr Wynsma’s points don’t sit well with some folks, which is entirely understandable. Still, perhaps looking at what’s valuable or what contributes to the discussion, even if you don’t agree, is useful regardless. For me, despite some points that seem problematic, I can find several ideas worth further reflection, including some insights about challenges–like poorly managed meetings or being oblivious to hidden agendas or gamesmanship–and the point about expanding use of internet technology. As an optimist, I try to remind myself to cherry pick for the good ones, not the pits

  6. Collaboration groups are not fully representative of the full range public interests. Collaboration groups tend to self-select for “team players” – people who value “getting to yes” more than they value clean water, viable populations of wildlife, a livable climate, etc. These problems will only get worse if collaborative projects are exempted from the rigors of legal accountability.

    There are also just a whole lot of sham collaborative efforts where the outcome is decided before the process starts and participants are gathered just to add window dressing to a predetermine outcome. Examples: the “Secretarial Pilots” by Oregon BLM, and the multi-stakeholder process organized by Oregon Governor Kitzhaber.

  7. Collaborative groups are usefull as the “last straw.” The final attempt at appeasement…the final attempt at finding common ground… the final attempt to find compromise. This is our out. With it’s failure…we can say we’ve tried to be reasonable but the radicals won’t be reasonable. It’s time to take back from the few, and give back to the many. They have forced us to take drastic action, and no one can blame us, no one will condemn us.

  8. Barry,

    Are you me? Am I you?

    I am interested, BTW in who “An Optimist” really is……I continually find his/her, “its” (hey, cultural transformation and all that) comments to track much in line with what I’d say….

    Tree….I would offer that a disclamer if “in my experience” would be helpful when describing the “tendencies” of how collaborative groups form and function. I know nothing of the examples you provided, but I can understand the “window dressing” thing (I believe I’ve called it “pageantry” on more than several occasions).

    Personally I’ve been involved in no such perfunctory collaborative efforts. In my experience, the collaboration only serves to strengthen any proposal going forward.

  9. JZ, in an ideal world, people would give their real names.I suspect that Optimist and others, based on their knowledge, might be current employees.

    I had a variety of unpleasant experiences when I was working for the FS that were related (stated to have been about) my blogging, even when it was on my own time.

    Many folks are aware of these experiences, and wisely downplay any activity or do it secretly.

    So I totally appreciate that some would remain anonymous, and I appreciate their contributions!

  10. I think the key is that collaboratives are created to do “something”. When a preservationist group’s preference of “passive restoration” is carefully considered, then rejected, “naturally”, the eco-groups will cry FOUL! They have no other avenue to get what they want. Litigation will always be a “Plan Z”. At the same time, when other eco-groups participate in the collaborative, they are painted as “sell-outs”. This process will not remain static, as all sides learn more about “restoration”, in its many forms.

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