(The following two columns are guest posts from Keith Hammer with the Swan View Coalition in Kalispell, Montana. Feel free to make comments below, but if you have any specific questions regarding the Swan View Coalition’s perspective on collaboration, please contact Swan View Coalition directly. Thank you. – mk)
Swan View Coalition on Collaboration
By Keith Hammer
Swan View Coalition will always follow the legally required National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) public involvement process and will participate in optional collaborative processes as time and funds allow. We appreciate both as avenues to better understand all interests and issues.
But we have seen the collaborative process abused by federal agencies and key “stakeholders.” In 1997, national “conservation” groups joined industry in insisting its Flathead Common Ground logging plan be called “ecologically-driven vegetation treatments,” even though the scientific panel they asked to review their proposal disagreed and concluded “The desire to harvest timber products should be explicitly recognized here as the driving force.” This oft-repeated collaborative myth allows industry to argue old logging roads are ecologically necessary to log the forest back to health!
In 2012, the SW Crown Collaborative down-played opportunities for road decommissioning to benefit fish and wildlife in the Swan Valley, based on a mistaken report by the Flathead Forest Supervisor that “the Swan RD has already decommissioned 800 miles of roads . . .” We had to correct the record by providing the Supervisor’s own spreadsheet indicating less than 10 miles of road have been decommissioned in the Swan Valley! Who’s on watch here?
Forest-based collaboratives are skewed toward logging as “forest restoration,” rather than including a robust consideration of road decommissioning and other time-proven means to restore over-logged and over-roaded forests. Indeed, National Forest Foundation’s “A Roadmap for Collaboration Before, During and After the NEPA Process” helps institutionalize the assumption that trees must be removed to restore forest ecosystems. It offers the following tip: “It can be helpful when in the field to ask stakeholders what they would do to improve the condition of the project area. In the case of forest restoration, it can be as simple as asking stakeholders which trees they would leave on the landscape and why.”
We will continue to provide the Forest Service with the scientific research – most of it its own – indicating most forests suffer from too many roads and motorized vehicles, not too many trees. We’ll always do so through the NEPA process and will via the collaborative process when able. But we’ll continue to file lawsuits when necessary to prevent the Forest Service from continuing to create a landscape “pocked with clearcuts and criss-crossed by roads” (see the comments of Former USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas below) and we’ll refuse to be marginalized simply because we dare speak up and advocate for fish and wildlife.
Why Collaboration and What’s the Fuss?
by Keith Hammer
Definitions of collaboration include “working together” and “traitorous cooperation with an enemy.” Over the past several decades, the Forest Service has increased its use of collaboration to forge consensus among key “stakeholders.”
This has allowed it to marginalize those of lesser means or not in agreement with social compromises that again “cut the baby in half” and perhaps violate laws protecting fish, wildlife, and water quality. Indeed, the National Forest Foundation’s “A Roadmap for Collaboration Before, During and After the NEPA Process” warns of the significant expenditures of “time, effort, funds and social capital necessary for an ongoing collaborative process.”
Current Forest Planning regulations urge that an optional collaborative process precede then parallel the National Environmental Policy Act’s (NEPA) public involvement process. And therein lie two aspects of the rub: 1) collaborators get to front-load the process with their proposals while, 2) many folks who can’t afford to do both must choose whether to collaborate or follow the legally required NEPA process.
The process of seeking consensus through collaboration remains contentious, especially when the Forest Service and industry use it to enlist enough folks to agree with them so they can marginalize those who disagree. Consider these quotes:
“Between private lands and public lands the world that was once covered with a sea of green was now pocked with clearcuts and criss-crossed by roads. But we still continued until we were faced with a segment of the public that had a differing view of what their national forests should be.”
– Former USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas (Chronicle of Community Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998)
“[W]hen local environmental groups and timber representatives learn to reach consensus . . . that will marginalize extremists.”
– Former USFS Chief Jack Ward Thomas (Daily Inter Lake 6/8/97)
“We need to find common ground so the people who want to litigate are marginalized.”
– Former Assistant Secretary of Interior Rebecca Watson (Missoulian 11/28/02)
“The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Act . . . is largely being used to circumvent existing environmental laws and give control of the management of our National Forests to local special interests.”
– Al Espinosa and Harry Jageman, retired USFS fisheries and wildlife biologists (Letter to Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests 8/21/10)
“I believe that we . . . have public lands that belong to all people . . . I fear that localized decisions are usually based on ‘How much can I get now?’”
– Former Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora (Chronicle of Community Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998)
“There’s something unreasonably comfortable about focusing primarily on alternative structures for decision making instead of the issues that lie at the heart of the debate.”
– Economist Tom Power (Chronicle of Community Vol. 3, No. 1, 1998)
“Consensus is the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes; but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner, ‘I stand for consensus’?”
– Former UK Primer Minister Margaret Thatcher