Collaborative Projects: Advancing Analysis Paralysis?

kumbaya

A reader who works for the Forest Service sent the below in:

Excerpt from AFRC newsletter. Highlighted is what we are finding….takes longer and is more painful. We find that we have to make LOTS more words and speak and field trips, etc., that never change the outcome on the ground…

Each panel member was given five minutes to present a prepared statement, followed by questions from Kilmer. While many of the panel members expressed positive views of the collaborative process, AFRC expressed caution. Most of the positive views focused on the agreements coming from within the collaborative but not on the actual successful outputs of volume or jobs. AFRC presented the view that collaboratives are a tool to accomplishing the needed management of the federal forests but we see three primary key points for improvement in the process. These points are:

 Establishment of specific goals/outcomes using concrete metrics of success, such as number of local jobs created, revenue to local government, and raw materials which fit the needs of local infrastructure. Metrics of success are essential to ensuring there is a focus on economic and social realities, rather than merely emotional satisfying outcomes. All too often the lowest common denominator effect results in projects that are too light touch, uneconomical, and don’t meet the needs of the forest or community.

 Collaborative projects should be given some form of insulation from appeals and litigation by obstructionist individuals and groups who choose not to participate in the collaborative process, but can block a project all too easily through litigation.

 Collaborative projects should result in lower Forest Service unit costs. Unfortunately, collaboration has largely failed to reduce planning and analysis costs (in fact, the costs have typically been higher). Since approximately 70% of project costs go to environmental review and planning, the Forest Service and Congress must focus on modernizing environmental review and planning requirements so we can actually begin restoring balanced management to these forests. Unless Congress or collaboratives address this issue, Forest Service timber harvests will always be limited by the appropriations the agency receives. In these fiscal times it is highly unlikely the agency will receive additional appropriations to dump into an inefficient system.

I think collaboration is good, but how could it be made more effective? What do you think? Has the Forest Service expected too much from collaborative projects, or been intentionally naive about the behavior of frequent litigants?

25 Comments

  1. Sharon

    I have to assume that the USFS leadership had to go way out on a limb to demonstrate to their political appointee supervisors that they were making a good faith effort. I can’t see how there ever was or is now any other option.

    After the first decade of all give and no take, anyone who still believed/believes that such good faith efforts would/will produce workable solutions had/has to be naive imho. But, it would seem that, those who weren’t naive still had no choice but to do or die.

    Just think of all of those USFS employees who poured their lives into constructive efforts only to be repeatedly stymied by the intransigent environmental movement bent on saving and studying every microbe in the forest except those stepped on by recreational users and “ologists”.

    Re: “I think collaboration is good, but how could it be made more effective?”
    –> The only way that two parties can negotiate successfully is when both parties have something that the other party wants. Litigants supported by the writings of USFS ologists and professors like Jerry Franklin have the ear of the courts, the politicians and the public so they have no need to collaborate or negotiate. Between the NSO recovery plan, Tree’s bible by Franklin and company http://www.coastrange.org/documents/forestreport.pdf and no serious effort by the SAF to counter these utopian missives, I am disheartened. Until, a city the size of Denver is wiped out by wildfire, the USFS is doomed to be even more increasingly run under a nature only, old growth philosophy as time goes by. Which basically suggests that the USFS will increasingly become nothing more than a last resort national fire department.

    Tree’s utopian bible by Franklin and Co. has really rained on my parade. 🙁

  2. AFRC’s suggestions are offensive to me.
    1) make sure that collaboration gets the cut out. it’s only “successful” if the industry’s needs are met.
    2) make sure that power is centered within the collaborative, and exclude the general public, many of whom may not have the time to participate.
    3) use collaboration to replace NEPA and ESA, instead of harmonizing NEPA and collaboration, by using NEPA to inform collaboration and vice versa.

    Gil seems to live in a make-believe world where conservationists are all-powerful, all zero-cutters, and have no reason to compromise. That’s just not the real world. The law is heavily tilted toward the agencies, with “deference” given except when they are “arbitrary and capricious.” Conservationists support a lot of good forest management including commercial logging when and where it makes ecological sense. And they regularly participate in good faith compromise.

    • I have to strongly agree with everything Tree has stated here. I think his point #2 is especially important. If our national forests truly should equally belong to all Americans centralizing power over national forest management issues among a small group of self-selected people, industries and/or organizations who have the time, money and resources to attend all these “collaborative” meetings seems like a very dangerous road we need not travel down….at least if you are someone who values America’s public lands legacy.

      • From AFRC: “Collaborative projects should be given some form of insulation from appeals and litigation by obstructionist individuals and groups who choose not to participate in the collaborative process, but can block a project all too easily through litigation.”

      • I’ve also watched Montana Rep Steve Daines (R) use the concept of “collaboration” to promote his mandated logging bill, the so-called,”Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.”

        According to The Wilderness Society, which also ironically supports Senator Tester’s mandated logging bill, Rep Daines and Rep Hastings (R-WA) “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” would establish “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas” as a replacement for the current Secure Rural Schools (SRS) county payments program, simultaneously creating a legally-binding logging mandate with no environmental or fiscal feasibility limits, and reestablishing the discredited 25% logging revenue sharing system that was eliminated over a decade ago with the creation of SRS.

        Furthermore, under Rep Daines and Rep Hasting’s bill, public participation and Endangered Species Act protections would be severely limited. The bill creates huge loopholes in NEPA and such biased ESA requirements that in practice these laws would almost never meaningfully apply. For example, any project less than 10,000 acres (that’s 15.6 square miles) would be categorically excluded from environmental analysis and public participation, and the Forest Service would be required to submit a finding that endangered species are not jeopardized by any project, regardless of its actual effect on the species.

        • Well, the 10,000 acre limit would surely reduce all litigation down to zero, methinks. Until another vulnerability can be found. Impacts aren’t necessarily tied to acres, and I am sure that there would be a flood of 9900 acre projects, to exploit the new proposed rules. This looks like political gaming, as something like this would never make it through the Senate. Let us propose a compromise more likely to pass, instead of a wish list.

    • I agree w/Tree. In addition:
      1. The point of collaboration is that everyone’s needs are met to an acceptable degree in light of the reduction in uncertainties. Goals and outcomes that don’t include metrics — e.g., upland and riparian habitat quantity and quality, reduction in 303(d) listed streams — like AFRC wants will not lead to consensus and is deserving of the endless litigation that their “get the cut out” agenda often produces.
      2. If you don’t have all or most of the major interests at the table, don’t expect their buy in to results. Quincy Library Group, anyone?
      3. “restoring balanced management” always rings the alarm for me. Wow, what an unbalanced piece. Is anyone here surprised?

  3. Tree

    Since the dust ups are all that make the news, please inform us make believe world people of those abundant examples of: “Conservationists support a lot of good forest management including commercial logging when and where it makes ecological sense.” It shouldn’t be hard to do if there are lots of them. In the process, the make believe world people will gain respect for you.

    Re: Your item #2 “exclude the general public”
    –> In the process the USFS will be accused of caving in to industry demands, neglecting some micro component of the ecosystem and denying the public the right to provide input on the use of their lands.

  4. Sharon: I think if we could get the Jewish people to collaborate with Hindu people and arrive at a common religion they could all live with, then we could also collaborate effectively on the management of our federal lands. Of course, there would be a lot of Christians, Buddhists, and atheists left out of the process that might not be happy with the results. Otherwise, no problem.

    • You know, Bob, I have long thought that we could go a long way toward reducing our carbon footprints if everyone who drives to religious services simply switched to whatever religion is closest to their homes ;). Oh well.

      I hear you saying “We have to acknowledge that someone is going to be unhappy and that everyone is not going to agree.”

      So what is the next step for you?
      To me that means Congress should pick a lane for what they want and then make it easy for people to do it. I wonder what that would look like. Maybe O&C could be a pilot.

      • Hi Sharon: The “next step” to me is to revisit NEPA and the EPA and bring them into the 21st century. The science is outdated by 40 years and the current methods of “involving the public” have clearly failed. Bring the science up to date and put management of our forests back into the hands of professional foresters with local and national (clearly delineated) oversight committees, either elected or appointed. That’s what I would do if I were a benign dictator, anyway.

  5. Sharon and Bob, you are much too optimistic. Congress should and could do much to clean up the mess of management on the national forests, but the present set of idiots serving in the House will do nothing.
    They are dead-set on “bigger” issues, such as discrediting the president and his agenda.

    It is politics of the most negative and nasty kind. Fixing our resource issues doesn’t even register on their radar. Maybe in a decade or two the pendulum will swing back to more normal times and something will be done. I for one am not optimistic.

    We skirt around the politics of the time as we discuss these forest problems, but it is foolish. The elephant in the room is a total lack of national concern by our “leaders” in the administration and Congress. Without adequate and continued funding of the resource agencies and some real leadership in the White House (via the resource agency political appointees who call the shots), there will be no meaningful change.

    • Ed. I used to attend events of the other party when my husband was active in it, and there is plenty of negativity and nastiness to go around, in my experience.

      So our issues have fallen victim to partisanship (I think this is the rule rather than the exception, today).. what can we do to make a solution, such that individual Congressfolks will look better by supporting the solution than appealing to the extremists in both parties?

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