• 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.
[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
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
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.
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:
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.”
Keith J. Hammer
Chair, Swan View Coalition
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.