Another invite-only “collaborative” leads to unprofessional Forest Service conduct

Yet another invite-only, exclusive “collaboration” involving public U.S. Forest Service land management has sprung up in Montana. This time the collaborative group is called the Whitefish Range Partnership (WRP), and they are focused on roughly 350,000 acres of the Flathead National Forest’s portion of the Whitefish Range above the cities of Columbia Falls and Whitefish.
As you will see below, the leaders of the Whitefish Range Partnership completely admit that they made a conscious decision to exclude certain members of the public. Notably, the WRP admits to purposely excluding any conservation organization that had worked within the established public participation processes outlined within the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in order to comment, appeal and, if necessary, file a lawsuit against a timber sale on the Flathead National Forest. It also appears that the WRP purposely excluded some of the “multiple-use” folks.  Also of note is the fact that Flathead National Forest officials were invited to attend all the meetings of the WRP in an advisory capacity.
The WRP leaders conducted a media blitz last week, announcing an agreed upon deal that, among other things:

• Increases the “Suitable Timber Base” by 45% in order to supposedly achieve “commercial certainty for the timber industry” (in an era where lumber consumption and home construction are down more than 50% and not expected to rebound anytime soon).
• Decreases recommendations for areas protected as Wilderness.
• Increases motorcycle recreation in the southeast portion of the Whitefish Range.
• Provides a large increase in recreation opportunities for snowmobilers.

Q: Has there even been a public lands “collaborative” group that didn’t decide to increase logging, decrease Wilderness and increase motorized recreation?

At the time the WRP deal was made public there were no plan details or maps available to the public.  In fact, board members of at least one organization that did participate in the invite-only, exclusive collaboration also didn’t know any details, except what they read in the newspaper.  A few days after framing the debate and controlling the media messaging, the leaders of the WRP did make this copy of the agreement available to some of people, although I’m pretty sure it’s not available to the general public.

Keep in mind that starting tonight the Flathead National Forest is hosting “Stakeholder Collaboration Orientation Meeting” from 4 to 8:30 pm Kalispell to kick off their Forest Plan revision process.  The weather forecast calls for a low tonight in Kalispell of 8 below zero, with wind chill values dropped to 32 below zero.  Many roads in the area are snow-covered and icy.

Ask yourself this question:  If you are a member of the public who cares about the management of the Whitefish Range and the Flathead National Forest, and you were excluded from the Whitefish Range Partnership “collaboration” and plan, would you venture outside in the cold and dark to attend the Flathead National Forest’s “Stakeholder Collaboration Orientation Meeting?”

Before you decide, read the information below, where you will see that Chip Weber, the Supervisor of the Flathead National Forest, has already publicly claimed that the plan developed by the invite-only, exclusive Whitefish Range Partnership “may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing.”

What follows below are some reactions and more information to the Whitefish Range Partnership plan, and the Flathead National Forest’s “advisory” role in this invite-0nly, self-selected, exclusive “collaboration.” The views expressed below (which are shared with permission) come from long-time conservationists who live in the immediate area, but were not invited to participate in the WRP’s “collaboration” on account of supposedly being too radical or extreme.

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[Founded in 2006, James Conner's Flathead Memo is an independent journal of observation and analysis that serves the Flathead Valley and Montana. Below are some of Mr. Conner's thoughts, including a number of recent posts about the Whitefish Range Partnership plan made at the Flathead Memo. - mk]

Matt Koehler asked my permission to repost some of my essays on www.flatheadmemo.com. Permission granted, and granted with pleasure.

Collaboration is not an intrinsic evil. In fact, when conducted in an ethical manner, it can do good. There’s never any point to fighting over common ground. But, as with the Frenchwomen who “collaborated” with the Wehrmacht’s soldiers, it also can be an act of desperation and betrayal, a lesser of evils in an effort to survive, or simply an outcome of weak character. It can can and does turn colleagues against each other in the pursuit of ephemeral gains, poisoning relationships and weakening communities.

One collaborative effort I encountered involved citizens, who, frustrated with a county commission’s heads-in-the-sand approach to planning in a rapidly growing northwestern valley, decided to take matters into their own hands. They wrote their own master plan which, wrapped in bells and bows, they presented to the commissioners, expecting swift approval. “Here, we’ve done your job for you,” they said in effect. The rump master plan never was adopted, and the collaborationists never realized they were practicing vigilante politics. When government is broken, it must be fixed, for it cannot be sidestepped.

We’re now beginning another round of national forest planning. The U.S. Forest Service, desperate to adopt new plans that enjoy widespread public support, hopes a collaborative process will rally the public around the plans. It won’t, certainly not to the extent the agency desires. The public is too diverse for that. Moreover, not all uses and practices are compatible, not all collaborative efforts will produce wise, or even legal, agreements, and no amount of collaboration can relieve the agency of its legal and moral duties to decide what the plan includes and does.

As these collaborative efforts move forward, those involved must remember that the objective is not compromise, for compromise is not an intrinsic good, but support for that which best protects the land in ways consistent with the needs and aspirations of humanity and the world of living things. – James Conner

Unprofessional conduct at the Flathead National Forest

By James Conner, © James Conner, www.flatheadmemo.com

The man in charge of revising the forest plan at the Flathead National Forest, Joe Krueger, and his boss, forest supervisor Chip Weber, exercised questionable professional judgment in their remarks on the forest plan alternative developed by the Whitefish Range Partnership.

Here’s what the InterLake’s Jim Mann reported:

Joe Krueger, the forest plan revision team leader, said forest officials are impressed with the work done by the Whitefish Range Partnership.

“That’s a very big group,” Krueger said, referring to a membership roster that included representatives for raft companies, timber interests, conservation groups, business owners, hunting and angling, mountain biking and much more. “Anytime you can get a group of diverse folks together and problem solve like that … we’re going to give that a lot of weight.”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Now it will be easy for people who weren’t part of the process to take pot shots at it,” Krueger said. “The hard part was working through this.”

At the Flathead Beacon, Tristan Scott reported:

“This may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing,” [Flathead National Forest Supervisor] Weber told the group at its Nov. 18 meeting, after the members presented him with a lengthy draft plan, the product of more than a year of bi-weekly meetings. “You were first out of the gate, you’ve put in an incredible amount of work and you’ve given us a lot to think about.”

“What the people did here was some yeomen’s work,” he added later. “This group helped set a good example and a model for others to look at.”

One can defend Weber and Krueger by arguing they were trying to be positive and diplomatic, but expressed praise for the WRP’s work in a way that inadvertently endorses the WRP’s proposal. I’m sure someone will make that argument. I won’t. This is more than a case of not being artful — it’s a case of playing favorites, and not in a subtle way.

Had Weber said only “…you’ve put in an incredible amount of work and you’ve given us a lot to think about,” and followed with “your proposal will accorded the same fair consideration as all proposals,” he would have been on solid — and neutral — ground. But he couldn’t curb his enthusiasm.

But Weber’s statements are weak tea compared to Krueger’s “ …we’re going to give that a lot of weight,”and “…it will be easy for people who weren’t part of the process to take pot shots at it.” He’s both endorsed the WRP’s proposal and denigrated as cheap shot artists those who may criticize the proposal. Quite clearly, Krueger is invested in the WRP’s proposal. That’s old school Forest Service favoritism and bully boy behavior, and highly toxic to a successful forest planning effort.

The FNF’s unprofessional conduct imperils the forest planning process from the gitgo, and sullies the hard work of the Whitefish Range Partnership.

[Addition: Here’s an example, captured on video tape, of the Flathead National Forest’s Joe Krueger (at left with yellow hard-hat) mocking a very sincere question from a concerned citizen about the role of science in timber sale management targeting old-growth forests and grizzly bear habitat during a Forest Service public tour of the Beta Timber Sale on the Flathead National Forest in 2005. - mk]

Whitefish Range rump agreement far from a done deal

By James Conner © James Conner, www.flatheadmemo.com

Another rump caucus, the Whitefish Range Partnership, has reached agreement on how a tract of National Forest land, this time in the Whitefish Range, west of Glacier National Park, should be managed. Rob Chaney of the Missoulian has the story.

The agreement has no force of law, but it does have political weight that will be recognized by Congress, which has the power to designate wilderness, and the U.S. Forest Service, which is starting another round of forest planning. Many of the WRP’s proposals are intended to be incorporated in the next forest plan, which will have the force of law.

Here, from Chaney’s report, is what we know so far:

In the final agreement, the [mountain] bikers gained recognition for their trail-building efforts around Whitefish, as well as their interest in using mountain roads and trails elsewhere. Loggers saw their suitable timber base go from about 55,000 acres to 90,000 acres. Wilderness advocates outlined 85,000 acres they want federally protected. Forest homeowners concerned about having federal wilderness bordering their property borrowed an idea from the Flathead Indian Reservation and proposed a buffer zone that would allow reduced logging or hazardous fuels management around their land before the nonmotorized territory began.

All of this remains tentative, as the Forest Service adds it to the public process for its forest plan. The radical fringe of all camps will likely object. But few will have put in the 13 months of Monday nights to present a case as convincing as the Whitefish Range Partnership.

According to the North Fork Preservation Association, maps will be released in early December. They could, of course, have been released now, but the absence of maps makes it easier for the WRP to shape the public discussion, and I’m concerned that part of the shaping will include an attempt to characterize those who disagree with the agreement as radicals or ignoramuses. That was the tactic employed by the rump caucus that engineered the agreement leading to Sen. Jon Tester’s ill-fated wilderness-forest management bill, so I won’t be surprised it’s employed here. (My 2010 comments on Tester’s bill and the rumpery leading to it.)

The agreement was reached not just because the WRP’s members worked hard. It also was reached because the “radical fringe” was excluded. Rump caucuses can do that, but the U.S. Forest Service and Congress cannot. Those excluded from the WRP’s rump caucus have the same right as the rumpers to petition their government. Furthermore, the excluded are not by definition radical or fringe. Some may endorse the agreement. Others, I suspect, will object to parts of it.

Speaking for myself, based on what I know about the Flathead National Forest’s history of logging in the Whitefish Range, I’m skeptical that a 64 percent increase in the suitable for timber management acreage can be justified. There was a lot of old growth mining in the North Fork 40–50 years ago, and the lands not permanently damaged are still recovering. Some never should have been logged or defiled with roads. In the rump agreement leading to the Tester bill, conservationists got rolled by the timber beasts. I hope that didn’t happen here.

I’m keeping an eye on the situation, and from time-to-time will offer my analysis, comments, and recommendations.

See also The WRP agreement – grand bargain or deal with the Devil? by James Conner. © James Conner, www.flatheadmemo.com.

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Keith Hammer, a former logger who is the Chair of the Swan View Coalition, brings up some additional concerns about the Flathead National Forest’s “advisory” role in the WRP invite-only, exclusive “collaboration” process in this recent letter to the editor:

Dear Editor;

It is truly disappointing to watch the Flathead National Forest make a mockery out of the Whitefish Range Partnership collaborative and its Forest Plan revision public involvement process. In local newspapers the past week, the Forest Service demonstrated its utter lack of objectivity and fairness when it comes to public input.

The Flathead Forest Supervisor told the WRP “This may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing,” praising them also for being “first out of the chute.” (Flathead Beacon 11/27/13). This even though he has not yet had his staff or the general public assess the environmental impacts and merits of the proposal.

The Supervisor’s right-hand man made things even worse when he said that those folks that weren’t invited to be a part of the WRP could later “take pot shots at it.” (Daily Inter Lake 11/30/13). What better way to disenfranchise an American public only recently invited by the Flathead to participate in revising its Forest Plan through both a collaborative and a broader public review and comment process?

Ethics, common sense and the law require that the Forest Service not play favorites. The Forest Supervisor and his staff should have thanked the WRP for its proposal and said it would be considered right alongside the many other proposals it will be receiving during the Forest Plan revision process.

The Flathead National Forest belongs to all Americans, not just those that live locally or able to participate in a lengthy collaborative process. That is why the law requires that all proposals be submitted to the entire public for comment – and that those comments be regarded as something more than just “pot shots.”

Sincerely,

Keith J. Hammer
Chair, Swan View Coalition

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Brian Peck, a sportsman and wildlife advocate from Columbia Falls, MT recently shared some good background information about the history of Wildereness advocacy in the Whitefish Range:

I just ran across a Montana Wilderness Association proposal for the Winton Weydemeyer Wilderness in the Northern Whitefish Range from 2005. It noted that in 1925, Weydemeyer proposed a 485,000 acre Wilderness in the Whitefish Range, back when that was still possible.

However, by 2005, just 171,000 (or 35%) of potential acres remained after decades of trashing by the Kootenai and Flathead National Forests. About 100,000 of those acres are on the Flathead NF, but the Whitefish Range Partnership would only recommend 83,000 as Wilderness – a further loss of 17,000 acres of Wilderness.

That means that when the conservation members of the Whitefish Range Partnership agreed to sit down at the table with long-time adversaries, 65% of the Whitefish Range had already been lost to logging, roading, motorized Wreckreation summer & winter, and more recently to “combat mountain biking.”

Clearly, the only responsible environmental position to take was that not so much as 1 additional acre of the remaining 35% would be given up. Yet, by agreeing to a format where all 30 groups had to agree or there was no deal, conservationists guaranteed that that they’d have to compromise away thousands of additional acres – unless they were willing to say no and walk away from the table – something that Dave Hadden said he would do “if things started to go sideways,” but clearly didn’t follow through on.

35 Comments

  1. Matthew, You ask, “Has there even been a public lands “collaborative” group that didn’t decide to increase logging, decrease Wilderness and increase motorized recreation?”

    Increase logging? Here’s one answer from the Idaho Forest Restoration Partnership report that I just posted in another thread:

    The Forest Products Industry Infrastructure Is Essential to Restoring Forests. Forest restoration often involves mechanical treatments such as thinning small diameter trees, removing hazardous fuels, or cutting larger trees to restore diversity in tree stand structure or composition. The forest products produced by these practices can help finance restoration costs, boost rural timber dependent economies, and create jobs. This means that the infrastructure of Idaho’s forest products industry – ranging from small logging contractors to large sawmills – is an important ally to implement forest restoration projects. Markets for logs and biomass are a concern because there are large quantities produced during restoration treatment and markets can help offset the cost of forest restoration. In addition, skilled workers and large equipment are often necessary for watershed restoration projects such as upgrading culverts and obliterating roads no longer needed for access.

    Decrease Wilderness? Wouldn’t that take an act of Congress?

    Increase motorized recreation? I don’t know, but the IFRP report notes that “Roadless Area Protections Help Groups Avoid Past Controversies and Focus on Active Management in the Roaded Front Country.”

    • Hello Steve,

      RE: Your point: “Decrease Wilderness? Wouldn’t that take an act of Congress?” I clearly wrote “Decreases recommendations for areas protected as Wilderness” in the bullet points, sorry if I wasn’t as clear in my Q. I do, however, realize how Wilderness is designated.

      The rest of your highlighted segments don’t really address, or get to the heart of, what I’m referring to. Collaborations that increase the suitable timber base, or promote Congress mandating 7 fold increases in logging, is what I’m talking about. Thanks.

    • Timber industry infrastucture may not be well aligned with the specific restoration needs on the land. Industry wants large trees. Restoration requires retaining them. Industry requires roads for log removal. Restoration requires road removal. Industry wants fire suppression, beetle suppression, and mistletoe suppression to protect their “assets.” Restoration requires reintroducing these natural disturbance agents.

      It would take an act of Congress to reduce (capital “W”) Wilderness, but it just takes a misguided collaboration and a spineless district ranger to reduce lands with (small “w”) wilderness character.

      • 2nd Law: “Restoration” certainly does NOT “require” road removal. And it certainly does NOT “require” “reintroduction” of beetles or mistletoe no matter how much you might think these are “natural disturbance agents”, or why that could possibly be important. I would also question your uses of “misguided” and “spineless”, but at this point I’m realizing it’s probably not worth the effort. I grok your anonymity. I’d be anonymous, too, with trying to spread this kind of claptrap.

  2. Increase the “suitable base” by 45 percent’…” is an interesting goal that to an ex-planner, who with our IPNF forest planning team worked for months to refine and develop criteria for “unsuitable” acres on this forest, knows that a stroke of a pen (or printer) can’t magically change unsuitable to suitable. Unless, of course, the Flathead’s unsuitable criteria were not accurate to begin with. Which should have been scoped out many years ago.
    Unsuitable means the sites are too fragile, too steep, minimally productive of commercial sized timber, with thin, erosive soils that with take decades or more to regenerate, often in subalpine or alpine ecosystems that have no scientific basis for being included in any commercial forest category.
    So it will be interesting to see how the forest soils, hydrology and silvic experts manipulate any meaningful increase in the “base”.

  3. I think a pretty good argument could be made for an agency acting arbitrarily & capriciously if it can be shown that the agency has utilized “collaborations” that don’t meet the rapidly developing definition of what collaboration really means to formulate plans. NEPA does say that the:

    Federal Government shall–
    (A) utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and “social sciences” and the environmental design arts in planning and in decisionmaking which may have an impact on man’s environment;

    As I said, a solid definition of collaboration is making strides among social science disciplines.

  4. Q: Has there even been a public lands “collaborative” group that didn’t decide to increase logging, decrease Wilderness and increase motorized recreation?

    A: Yes, the Owyhee Initiative:

    President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. That legislation was a dramatic step forward in implementing the Owyhee Initiative Agreement, the product of an eight-year collaborative effort launched by the Owyhee County Commissioners and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes and championed by Senator Mike Crapo. The legislation also set in motion opportunities for the collaborative effort that produced the Owyhee Initiative Agreement to continue.

    Taken together, the OI agreement and OI Implementation Act achieves the following:

    •Designation of 517,000 acres of wilderness, including 55,000 acres of wilderness that will not be grazed by livestock.
    •Designation of 316 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers.
    •Closure of 200 miles of motorized trails in candidate wilderness areas and initiation of a travel planning process to establish a designated system of motorized routes for all public lands in Owyhee County.
    •Better regulation and enforcement of indiscriminate and illegal ORV use in Owyhee County.
    •Increased protections for Shoshone-Paiute cultural sites and resources.
    •Initiating of a county process to abandon all of its RS 2477 road claims in designated wilderness.
    •A commitment by those involved to seek support for research and conservation projects in Owyhee County
    •Science review of data and information used in BLM decisions on livestock and other management issues by independent, balanced panel of experts.
    •Opens closed roads across private land to provide better public access to public lands.
    •Resolution of decades-old public lands conflicts that will allow groups to move forward and address other important issues.
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Dear Mr. Koehler,
    I would like to be on the staff or board of directors for the Wild West Institute, what do I have to do to get a place on your staff? I have a strong interest in public land management and I’m educated in natural resources. Oh, and I believe in responsible forest management including logging.

    What? I’m not invited, no room on your staff??? What if I PAY dues or make a donation??? Oh, then I can be a member and help you influence FS proposals? OK, sign me up. I don’t have the time to read all the public land management proposals, so I’m going to send you money to watchdog them for me.

    See where I’m going?
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

    I hate the word “meme” but you are epitomizing the meaning with the “I (the public) can’t attend the meetings” shtick. First, the rub was that the meetings were held during the day when the “working folks” couldn’t attend. So the FS scedules a meeting for after work and now you are blaming the weather? Yes, truth be told, it’s a conspiracy. I’m sure the few people who risk life and limb driving thru poor conditions will indeed be afforded a “special seat at the table” since no one else will be there and there’ll be a lot of empty chairs. Those few will undoubtedly steer the future of forest management. Come on man…

    I’ve noticed you’ve not disputed my previous contentions on this very topic that the NEPA mandated public participation process is equally/more effective at influencing plans/proposals than attendance of bunch of “stakeholder” meetings. Wanna place a bet on whether the Flathead Forest Plan is litigated? I’m willing to go “all in” on that one, and I’ll double down on the bet that the litigants could be identified prior to the start of the NEPA process…..AND I’m guessing they would not attend a meeting regardless of where/when it was held.
    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Who is the “concerned citizen” in your video. I noticed you didn’t identify him but were quick to criticize the FS dude. You must have his name and permission to post him on video. Please share his identity with the rest of us so we may contact him. (If/when you ever get me on video my “JZ” anonymity will gladly be blown – to head off the anonymous commenter bashing folks). I thought the FS dude’s response was completely appropriate, given the situation. I hope it’s not news to you that a lot of things are indeed settled in a bar after a few beverages. Haven’t you ever seen the poster that says:

    “COLLABORATION
    When a motivated group of people join together they can turn problems into opportunities. Especially drinking problems”

    ___________________________________________________________________________________________________
    Finally, Matt,I’d like to see your input to the IFRP stuff that Steve posted, although the links are broken. Would be a good compare/contrast discussion to your experiences in MT.

    • Hello JZ: I’ll respond to a few of your points.

      Regarding your “Dear Mr. Koehler” letter. No, I don’t see where you are going. As I’ve said repeatedly when you try and make the WildWest Institute out to be some well funded group, our organization has a very modest budget of around $30,000 annually, which we use to cover our program expenses and pay for the work of 3 people (when we aren’t volunteering our own time and covering our own expenses). We are not currently hiring, or looking for new BoD’s, and we certainly wouldn’t hire an anonymous commenter in Idaho who doesn’t even support our mission.

      RE: Video clip showing a young man asking a FNF official a question during a public field tour.

      As James Conner correctly pointed out below you are wrong when you claim “You must have his name and permission to post him on video.” Seems like most of YouTube and the internet would go away if that was actually true. Anyway, I honestly don’t remember the young man’s name. I only met him a time or two and that was back in 2004 or 2005. I seem to recall he was a student at the UM (in forestry, biology or some type of science) and that he actually had worked seasonally doing research/inventories, etc for the Flathead NF. I’m not even sure why this is such a big deal to you, but oh well. I also disagree with you that the FNF official’s response was “completely appropriate” given the honest question asked by a concerned citizen about the role of science in timber sale projects.

      RE: Your claim that any group who might file a lawsuit against the new Flathead NF Forest Plan “would not attend a meeting regardless of where/when it was held.”

      You are 100% wrong about that. I have confirmed that reps and members of both the Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan attended last night’s meeting. I also assume some members of AWR attended the meeting, but I haven’t confirmed that. Oh, and if you like betting, I’ll bet you that Montanans for Multiple Use litigate the new Forest Plan. Thanks.

      • Matt, as explained in my e-mail response to you and to clarify for the record:

        I wasn’t aiming anything at WildWest Institute. The point I was trying to make (with your help) was that there was probably good reason that WRP “made a concious decision to exclude some members of the public” – ostensibly because they don’t “support the mission” of the WRP. My “Dear MR. Koehler” letter and your response seem to illustrate why some folks might not be invited. Seems logical to me. Apologize for the confusion.

        As far as the video…I wasn’t clear on what point was trying to be made. Thanks for explaining the situation better. My read was that you were trying to point out some sort of “gotcha” moment. I leapt to my own conclusions about why the Q&A session was even being filmed in the first place. I still don’t understand what was “inappropriate” about his response. He answered the question about the role of science, then when further pressed he humorously disarmed the situation instead of getting into a public debate on camera….again, seems logical. The role of science is always outlined in a NEPA document anyway. Plus that was 7 years ago??? Which brings up my “gotcha” theories….I could offer that digging up 7 year old footage to make a point consitutes “questionable” judgement, but I won’t continue with that line of thought.

        Thanks for pointing out my errors RE: SWC and FWS attending the meeting and to Mr. Connor for pointing out that permission is not needed. That is acually very good information to know.

  5. Regarding “Who is the “concerned citizen” in your video. I noticed you didn’t identify him but were quick to criticize the FS dude. You must have his name and permission to post him on video.”

    Wrong.

    That was a public meeting. Neither the Forest Service employee nor the person asking the question had any expectation of privacy. No permission is required to publish the video of the encounter. And while obtaining the name of the questioner is a good idea, it is not a requirement for publication.

  6. What continues to challenge my sense of logic is that the FS officials say one thing and do another. They tout “caring for the land and people,” the importance of recreation, wildlife, clean water and watershed, yet they are permitting hard rock mines all over the west that will destroy thousands of mature trees and land that can never be revegetated. Here is a transcript of Vilsack and Tidwell talking to the media on the new Forest Plan (it’s a good thing I transcribed it as they had taken the actual audio down). One important point. All the Forest Supervisors get their orders from Washington. Don’t doubt it; the Supervisors do not make any decisions. http://www.mining-law-reform.info/Forest-Planning-Rule-EIS.htm

    • Hi Nancy: Hard rock mines are used for lots of important reasons for all of our daily needs and are one of this nation’s sources of wealth and of national security. They do not have to be in competition with recreation, wildlife, or freshwater, and in fact, add a number of important jobs to local communities needing them — thereby helping to improve such assets with added use, funding and monitoring opportunities. I’m not sure how you “destroy” a tree by mining anymore than you destroy your lawn by mowing, but certainly portions of the landscape need to be cleared in conjunction with many mining activities. I have a cedar section corner from the very first federal forest timber sale under the Organic Act, in 1897, to obtain mine timbers for for the goldmines in Lead, South Dakota. There is also the story about the forests of the Sierra Nevada being moved underground to support mining activities there. All of those areas have become “revegetated,” but certainly not to the standards that existed when they were first logged — or to the very different standards that existed 100 years before then, or 200 years before that.

      • Bobz–anyone who doesn’t know the difference in a blade of grass and a 150-year-old oak lives on a different planet than I do… Do you know how much forest there is in Arizona? Do you know what we will do when there are no trees to clean the water and air or produce oxygen? There are hundreds of tree-planting projects around the world–why do you suppose other places are planting trees while we are destroying them? Of course, you have spent seven years of time and money collaborating with the Forest Service–so you know what it’s all about!

        • Nancy: I don’t think anyone anywhere “doesn’t know the difference in a blade of grass and a 150-year-old oak”, so rest assured — we’re all on the same planet in that regard. I can’t imagine a situation in which “there are no trees” in Arizona, so I really don’t “know” what you are talking about in that regard, either. Hasn’t happened, won’t happen, can’t happen — so what are you getting at? What are you trying to say?

          Regarding the equally bizarre (to me) statement: “Of course, you have spent seven years of time and money collaborating with the Forest Service–so you know what it’s all about!” — I don’t know who or what you are talking about there, either. I’ve never spent “seven years” of my time or money “collaborating with the Forest Service” and have no idea where this is coming from. For your information, I have never worked for the Forest Service and, in fact (regarding your tree planting query) — have planted about 2 1/3 million trees with my own hands during a 23 year period of my relative youth. Too, my crews (“people I hired”) completed over 80,000 acres of successful reforestation during those years. Where are you getting your “information”, and why are you apparently believing it?

          Bottom line: What the hell are you talking about?

  7. My personal rules on collaboration are founded in the statement made by a 3rd party facilitator I met in southern Utah: “The world is run by those who show up.” However, my own personal ‘lessons learned’ have added a conditional statement – Those who want to participate (i.e., “show up”) must be offered the opportunity.

    If the opportunity is not extended, then the resulting outcome of whatever group that convenes cannot be considered “collaborative” under my personal rules. It doesn’t mean that the convening group’s work is irrelevant or less valuable…they just would not be able to claim their process to be collaborative. What you end up with is groups competing against each other to grab the limelight that they have the “answer”. Seems to me that this isn’t that much different from what has been observed/experienced in the past. As long as we continue to see “us vs. them”, we won’t be able to claim that “we” contributed to the eventual decision.

  8. Wow, participation in NEPA is now a litmus test for redicalism?!
    “I will remind you that extremism in defense of public participation is no vice”
    We have to find ways to make collaboration harmonious with NEPA.

      • You’re right, Sharon, at least as far as I can tell. The 2007 CEQ handbook on collaboration(https://www.ecr.gov/pdf/Collaboration_in_NEPA_Oct_2007.pdf) is definitely cheerleading for the establishment of collaborations. They do however include this general disclaimer: “This handbook presents the results of research and consultations by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) concerning the consideration of collaboration in analyses prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It introduces the NEPA practitioner and other interested parties to the issue of collaboration, outlines general principles, presents useful steps, and provides information on methods of collaboration. The handbook is informational and does not establish new requirements for collaboration or public involvement. It is not and should not be viewed as formal CEQ guidance on this matter, nor are the recommendations in the handbook intended to be legally binding. (italics added). And the handbook pretty much downplays or ignores some of the problems/concerns that Matthew, Keith Hammer, and others have brought up here and elsewhere. Is there any federal statutory authority specifically relating to the establishment and use of collaborative groups in the NEPA context? I don’t know (should, but don’t) whether the use of collaborations and their influence on FS decision-making has been challenged in court, but it seems likely at some point. In general, clumsy use of collaboratives by the FS may well result (as has been pointed out before) in increased litigation rather than (one CEQ goal) reduced litigation.

  9. “I will remind you that extremism in defense of public participation is no vice”

    Nice paraphrase, though I think that even Barry mellowed out a bit in his later years

    We have to find ways to make collaboration harmonious with NEPA.

    That seems to be as good a bottom line as any

  10. Two offerings:
    (1) In case it helps, there’s a new training guide of sorts that addresses collaboration and NEPA. It’s called “A Roadmap for Collaboration before, during, and after the NEPA process.” Here’s a link to a webpage that explains what it is and who helped develop it:
    http://www.nationalforests.org/conserve/learning/collaboration-and-nepa%20

    (2) Also, this discussion underscores for me the importance of terminology. For what it’s worth, collaboration seems most usefully understood as a verb, adverb, or adjective, as opposed to understanding it as a noun. For example, talking about “a collaborative” seems to imply a group, perhaps with either implied boundaries between those who are in and those who are out. A collaborative is about the members and participants. At least that’s an easy way to construe it. By contrast, a collaborative process seems to be about how those who participate work together. It’s an adjective or an adverb, perhaps turned into the noun collaboration.

    Previous comments on this thread seem to illustrate what I’m suggesting: the term collaborative seems to attract hostility or provoke defensiveness, whereas the term collaboration seems more often greeted in a more positive way.

    I realize this doesn’t get into the local issues, but I’d be curious if it adds to the discussion. Perhaps it’s just down in the weeds? Thoughts?

    Thanks

      • The problem that some people have with collaboration is that it often leads to consensus and compromise, things that certain people do not want. It is important that people’s opinions are heard in the context of collaboration but, sometimes, those opinions do not fit into the desired complex of results. Some of those people think that participation in such a process implies that they endorse the outcomes.

  11. While I am hesitant to participate in this discussion due to the adversarial and accusatory tone it takes I wanted to offer this information about ways to further your involvement in the actual collaboration process hosted by USFS for this forest. http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/flathead/landmanagement/planning/?cid=stelprdb5422786&width=full

    This link offers the list of scheduled collaborative meetings, background materials and allows you sign up for email alerts about the process for this forest management plan which is how I came by the info. The reading I was able to do about the Whitefish Range Partnership indicates a highly proactive group of citizens who preempted the Forest Service process to organize their own priorities. There is nothing binding in what Mr. Weber said, and collaboration will not succeed if active and continued public participation is not maintained. I hope anyone with strong enough concerns to post on this blog will take part in the collaboration and learn by experience.

    Thanks, Jewell

    • Hello Jewell. Thanks for your comment. I just got the following message from Keith Hammer of the Swan View Coalition. Here’s what participating in the current Flathead National Forest ‘collaboration” process looks like. I agree, people can “learn by experience.”

      Flathead Skews Forest Plan Revision Process!

      The Flathead National Forest has front-loaded its Forest Plan Revision process to reduce wildlife security while increasing motorized access and logging, playing favorites of folks willing to go along with it!

      After telling its newly convened Forest Planning collaborative to use its draft 2006 Plan revision as a starting point, the Flathead has now instead distributed a Modified 2006 revision to the collaborative.

      The modifications most importantly would:

      1. Abandon Forest Plan Amendment 19 and its securing of grizzly bear habitat through limits on roads and motorized vehicles.

      2. Greatly expand the “suitable timber base” where commercial logging is scheduled, partly by logging in areas previously set aside as grizzly bear “security core” under Amendment 19.

      3. Retain and expand already extensive snowmobile areas established by Forest Plan Amendment 24, while not proposing to reduce snowmobile areas to protect grizzly bear denning, wolverine and lynx.

      To make matters worse, the Flathead is playing favorites to the Whitefish Range Partnership collaborative, which has already largely agreed with the Flathead’s modifications for the North Fork Flathead.

      Click here to read our letter to local newspaper editors, which includes links to a couple news articles demonstrating the Flathead’s unacceptable favoritism and skewing of the Forest Planning process.

      We’re working hard to insure your voice can be heard during the Flathead Forest Plan revision process and will advise you of specific points when your comments will be most useful.

      Meanwhile you can track or join the revision process at the Flathead National Forest’s web site and at Meridian Institute, the contractor the Flathead has hired to attempt to sidestep certain requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (the Forest Service cannot ask for collective advice during meetings that it controls, so it hires a contractor to control the meetings).

      • Here’s the result of hundreds of residents whose property values, health and highway safety will be compromised–we have been working diligently and intelligently for seven years to no avail. You do understand that the Forest Service employees do get paid by the mining company for work on NEPA and EIS–and that the mining company writes the EIS.
        http://www.celebrate-earth.com/forest-service-donates-4000-acres-of-public-forest-for-destruction-by-mining-operations/

        • Nancy, in my work before I retired, we had contracts for developers such as ski areas, to write EIS’s. However FS employees had to review them. And the government costs can be reclaimed by the FS, but the way you expressed it is that there might be incentives for FS folks to have a conflict of interest in working on it. Such is not the case. As you can imagine contractor experts of all kinds and FS employees of all kinds as well as regulating agency employees of all kinds can disagree about EIS’s. In fact, they are also reviewed by EPA (in my experience, that can be more ideological than technical). One of that high level political interest will get scrutiny by all kinds and levels of government agencies.

          The key thing is that the proponent needs to have a hands off relationship with the NEPA contractor. Which is difficult in a sense, because the contractor needs to understand the proposal to analyze the impacts. Based on issues with one particular project, our OGC developed a template for a “third party” NEPA contract.
          At the end of the day, the responsible official and his/her higher level supervisors, and the Administration make the decision.

      • Sharon, have you ever thought about the dynamic at play here, especially in the context for your wish that the tone was more respectful?

        The people who put together the Whitefish Ranger Partnership fully admit to everyone that they purposefully didn’t invite and excluded certain organizations and groups, including those who actually living right around the Flathead National Forest and participate in the NEPA process on timber sales and other land management activities.

        Then the private, invite-only group goes about slicing up the Flathead National Forest during a series of private meetings, which Flathead National Forest officials attend.

        When the private groups unveils their plan to the public Chip Weber, the Supervisor of the Flathead National Forest, publicly claims that the plan developed by the invite-only, exclusive Whitefish Range Partnership “may be very close to, if not exactly what we end up doing.”

        Joe Krueger, the Flathead National Forest’s forest plan revision team leader one-ups Supervisor Weber by stating: “Now it will be easy for people who weren’t part of the [invite only, admittedly exclusive] process to take pot shots at it.

        Is that any way for the Flathead National Forest’s forest plan revision team leader to act? Oh, and don’t forget it was also Joe Krueger who just pulled the fast one on the official Flathead NF Forest Plan Collaborative when, after telling its newly convened Forest Planning collaborative to use its draft 2006 Plan revision as a starting point, the Flathead NF has now instead distributed a Modified 2006 revision to the collaborative.

        What is the natural, human reaction to such a dynamic?

        • Matthew, that’s a great question. And I don’t want to pick on you, as many others on this blog maybe step over the line. Which is hard, because we don’t actually know where the line is. Let me do some more thinking on this..and I’ll ask some of my conflict resolution buddies.

          It’s not that frustration isn’t human, but as we learn in conflict resolution at work or at home, there are different ways to express it. Like “I statements”; “when Krueger says that, I feel like he doesn’t really care about others’ opinions.” But that’s for personal kinds of interactions, not like a blog, necessarily… but who knows?

          The other thing is assuming the worst about the other person’s intentions (this is very common in “work conflict resolution”). To me it’s about saying “hey I don’t like that approach, because it seems to have these impacts” or “it appears to me that the starting point was switched and I don’t understand why.” Not “Krueger pulled a fast one.”

        • I’m not liking this style of collaboration. I’ve worked on more than 35 different Ranger Districts, and you always seem to run into those very opinionated conservative guys, who always aggressively seek to get their way. In essence, they are “bullies”, who sometimes reach a position of power. They always seek to surround themselves with like-minded colleagues, or even local buddies they have worked with for a long time. I could easily see an “inner circle” situation like this wanting to exclude groups that would definitely want to de-rail the process, through “monkeywrenching” from within the collaborative. Those “good ole boys” often think they are representing the eco-community by allowing a few middle-of-the-road eco-groups, who have similar pro-management slants.

          This, clearly, isn’t the best way to deal with such groups. The more open-minded conservationist groups want to not lose their voice, so they work within the system, to affect as many issues as they can. Both types of groups are more easily dealt with, face to face, with full transparency. Within the collaborative, rules can be set and undesirable behavior can be minimized. It would be very interesting to see how the Sierra NF is dealing with Chad Hanson, who is a part of that collaborative. I wonder how many collaboratives he tried to get into, before the Sierra NF allowed him to participate. Do they just “outvote” him? Do they qualify their decisions with science? How do they counteract his anti-management mandate?

          I tend to think that if an excluded group goes to court, they will always eventually win in Appeals Court. I’d expect that the Court could order a new Collaboration, which must include the plaintiff(s). Project delays are never a win for either side, from my point of view.

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